Italy (1943 – 1945)
Self-Propelled Gun – 121 built
The Semovente FIAT-Ansaldo M43 da 105/25 was an Italian self-propelled gun developed by FIAT and Ansaldo. It was based on the M42 da 75/18 and used in limited numbers by the Regio Esercito (Eng. Italian Royal Army) before the armistice of 8th September 1943. After the armistice of Cassibile and the occupation of the center and northern parts of Italy by the Germans, the Semoventi were captured and used by the German Army and by the new Italian Collaborationist Army.
After the entry into service of the Semoventi (singular Semovente) armed with 75 mm L.18 cannons, based on the chassis of the tanks of the ‘M’ series (Medi, Eng. Medium), the M13/40 and M14/41, it was found that the vehicles were adequate for infantry support and anti-tank vehicles. However, the Regio Esercito needed something more heavily armed and armored to be able to fight against the more modern vehicles put into service by the Allies. By this point, the Italians were fighting the latest versions of M4 Sherman.
A specification was issued in mid-1942 for a Semovente that could support the infantry, but also fight against such modern threats using the heavy Italian Cannone da 105/23. At that time, Odero-Terni-Orlando (OTO) and the consortium Ansaldo-FIAT, two Italian tank manufacturers, proposed two different self-propelled gun prototypes. The OTO proposal was to mount the 105/23 cannon on the hull of the heavy tank P26/40, which was still under development and entered into service only after September 1943.
However, FIAT-Ansaldo could build a prototype of their vehicle faster because the project was based on the already under construction M15/42 Italian medium tank hull. This had already been tested in February-March 1943 and under construction since April of that same year.
At the same time, the FIAT-Ansaldo project was also chosen because the manufacturers had mastery over the components involved. It also required only small modifications to the assembly lines. This meant it could be put into production very quickly. The Italian Army evaluated it positively for two simple reasons. Firstly, because there were already existing courses for the training of new crews (and mechanics) of self-propelled guns on almost identical chassis. Secondly, because a self-propelled gun based on the modified M15/42 chassis was lighter than a self-propelled gun on the P26/40 hull, which meant that the FIAT-Ansaldo self-propelled gun needed a less powerful gasoline engine. This was a big advantage for the Italian Army that had to replace diesel engines with gasoline engines after 1942 due to the limited resources available.
A prototype was built between 16th and 28th January 1943 and was armed with a prototype of the 105/23 Mod.1943 cannon. It was first examined by the Ispettorato delle Truppe Motorizzate e Corazzate (Eng. Inspectorate of Motorised and Armored Troops) and the Ispettorato dell’Arma d’Artiglieria (Eng. Inspectorate of the Artillery Corps) on 1st February. It was presented to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (Eng: Centre for Motorisation Studies) in Rome on 27th February for official testing. Early photos of the prototype show that the vehicle initially lacked a radio antenna, racks for the 20-liters cans, and headlights, which were fitted before the presentation in Rome. In particular, 6 racks were mounted on the prototype, two on the front, two on fenders, and two more on the rear of the vehicle.
The testing of the prototype took about a month. In the end, the Regio Esercito was very impressed by the firepower of the 105 mm cannon. On 29th March 1943, the High Command of the Regio Esercito ordered 130 vehicles divided into two batches, the first batch of 30 and a second of 100 self-propelled guns. It was now officially renamed as the ‘Semovente FIAT-Ansaldo su scafo M43 da 105/25’, abbreviated to ‘Semovente M43 da 105/25’ (Eng: Self-propelled gun FIAT-Ansaldo on hull M43 armed with a 105/25). It was nicknamed “Bassotto” (Eng: Dachshund) by the crews for its lower and larger profile.
In addition to the first order of 130 units placed in March 1943, the FIAT and Ansaldo consortium received new contracts from the Regio Esercito for the production of 105 mm-armed self-propelled guns. On 10th May 1943, the total order was increased to 200 vehicles, and then to 454 in June. Some sources mention 494 units ordered in July 1943, but this can not be confirmed due to the partial loss of the Ansaldo Archives following the armistice of September 1943.
The first vehicles produced in the gigantic Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, near Genoa, Northern Italy, were completed at the end of May 1943. They were delivered to the Regio Esercito at the beginning of July. According to the records, by 30th June, a total of 30 M43 105/25s had already been completed. After the Armistice of Cassibile and the occupation of the central and northern parts of Italy by the Wehrmacht, production was initially interrupted. However, the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (Eng. Inspector General of the Armed Forces) quickly evaluated the self-propelled gun, and, judging it positively, production was restarted.
By the end of 1943, the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Genoa had produced another 24 M43 self-propelled 105/25 vehicles for the Germans. However, in 1944, only 67 more were produced due to bombing, lack of raw materials and strikes. The production was not continued in 1945 because of heavy Allied bombing that stopped the production of most of the plant and because the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen, together with the Reichsministerium für Rüstung und Kriegsproduktion (Eng: Reich Ministry for Armaments and War Production) in Berlin, had decided to discontinue production of all Italian vehicles except the Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i), Panzerspähwagen Lince 202(i) and the Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 75/46 852(i) self-propelled vehicle which they considered adequate.
The total production of the Semovente М43 da 105/25 was 121 units between April 1943 and December 1944.
Design of the “Bassotto”
Hull and armor
The M42 hull was 14 cm longer than the previous M40 and M41 hulls. The new M43 hull (also called M42 ‘Lungo’ – Eng. ‘Long’) was even longer, with 4 cm more than the M42, reaching a length of 5.10 m (18 cm more than the M41), 17 cm wider (2.40 m compared to 2.23 m of the M42) and 10 cm lower (1.75 m compared to 1.85 m of the M42). Finally, the flameproof armor plate separating the engine compartment from the fighting compartment was moved back 20 cm, increasing the space for the crew. All these modifications brought the total weight of the vehicle to 15.8 tonnes battle-ready compared to the 15 tonnes of the M42.
This made the vehicle’s silhouette more elusive and also allowed the cannon to be positioned in the center of the superstructure, instead of being moved to the right, like on the previous chassis.
The armor was both bolted to an internal frame and partially welded (a great innovation for Italian vehicles) and had great thickness compared to Italian standards. The hull armor was 50 mm on top and 25 mm on the bottom. The superstructure had an armor plate 75 mm thick (some sources mention 70 mm) frontally, 45 mm on the sides, while the rear was protected by a plate 35 mm thick. A plate of the same thickness protected the back of the engine compartment.
The roof and floor of the vehicle were 15 mm thick. New to the vehicle were the side skirts that were divided into three parts. These were presumably 5 mm thick. They partially protected the sides of the vehicle. The side skirts had a hole in the back to allow the crew to be able to reach the track tension adjuster.
In general, the protection was increased compared to the 50 mm frontal, 35 mm side, and 20 mm on the rest of the frame of the previous M42, or the 50 mm frontal, 25 mm lateral, and 15 mm rear of the M41, even if the Italian industry was not able to provide ballistic steel of good quality. In fact, the Italian armor was fragile compared to the armor of equal thickness of other nations involved in the war. When an enemy round hit Italian armor, the armor often broke or splintered even without being penetrated, causing damage to the vehicle and/or crewmembers and leading to the need to send the vehicle to specialized workshops to replace the damaged armor plates.
On the roof, on the left side, there was the radio antenna, a fully rotatable periscope and an opening for the cannon. The commander was equipped with an optical sighting system produced by Ansaldo and weighing about 13 kg. On the left front mudguard, there was a support for the jack. On the sides of the superstructure, there were two headlights for night operations. The engine deck had two large inspection hatches equipped with grills for engine cooling. Behind them were the fuel tank cap and two grills for radiator cooling. At the rear, there was a spare wheel, a hole for the engine crank, the towing hook and a smoke grenade launcher system consisting of a launcher and a rack carrying smoke grenades to reload the launcher.
On either side of the engine deck, on the rear fenders, there were two storage boxes and the mufflers covered by a steel shield to protect them from impacts. Six racks for 20-liter cans were placed on the sides of the vehicle, three on each side, just like other Italian self-propelled guns and tanks. In fact, from 1942 onward, the racks were factory fitted on all vehicles, as most would have gone to operate in Africa, where the cans would have increased the range of the vehicle. It should be noted, however, that in the majority of cases, on the Semoventi M43 da 105/25, the cans were not transported because, in Italy, it was not that difficult to find fuel.
The suspension was a semi-elliptical leaf spring type. On each side, there were four bogies with eight doubled rubber road wheels paired on two suspension units in total. This suspension type was obsolete and did not allow the vehicle to reach a high top speed. In addition, it was very vulnerable to enemy fire and mines.
The tank had 26 cm wide tracks, with 86 track links per side. The drive sprockets were at the front and the idlers and track tension adjusting mechanism were at the back, with three rubber return rollers on each side. The small surface area of the tracks (20,800 cm²) caused a ground pressure of 0,76 kg/cm² (to give an example, the Soviet SU-100 had 0,56 kg/cm² and the German StuH 42 0,92 kg/cm²), increasing the risk that the vehicle would bog down in mud, snow or sand.
The main armament was a Cannone da 105/25 (sometimes also called Mod. S.F. ‘Serico’ for Spherical) produced by Ansaldo. It was developed on the basis of the Obice da 105/23 Mod. 1942, a howitzer developed by OTO-Melara as a prototype for divisional artillery together with the Obice da 105/40 Mod. 1938.
Unfortunately, the two prototypes were produced and tested by the Regio Esercito too late. 600 of the Mod. 1938 were ordered, but only a few were delivered before the Armistice of Cassibile. The Mod. 1942 was not ordered in time.
At least two prototypes of the Obice da 105/23 Mod. 1942 were produced. One, or perhaps more, were on a fielded carriage and one was on a spherical support meant for the prototype of the Semovente M43 da 105/25.
The field version of the gun had a maximum range of 13 km and a practical range of 2,000-2,500 m for anti-tank ammunition. It had a practical firing rate of 8 rounds per minute. Obviously, inside the narrow fighting compartment of the self-propelled gun, this dropped dramatically.
The gun weight is not given in the sources, but we can assume that it did not exceed one tonne together with its spherical support. The Cannone da 105/28 Mod. 1912, also produced by Ansaldo (and with which it shared the ammunition) had a barrel length of 2.987 m (compared to 2.6 m of the 105/25) and weighed 850 kg.
Thanks to the enlargement of the vehicle, the cannon’s spherical mount was centrally placed on the front plate. The gun had a horizontal traverse of 18° to the right and 18° to the left, as well as an elevation of +18° and a depression of -10°.
After the war, some 105/25 guns were used as anti-tank artillery in the bunkers of the fortification line called the “Alpine Wall”, on the border with Yugoslavia, in the early years of the Cold War.
No other data is available on this artillery piece due to the few units produced and their limited use.
The secondary armament consisted of a Breda Mod. 38 medium machine gun, a vehicle version of the Breda Mod. 37 medium machine gun used by the Italian infantry. The machine gun weighed 15.4 kg and was chambered with the 8×59 RB Breda cartridge. It was specially developed for Italian machine guns in 1935 and had a muzzle velocity of 775 m/s. The Breda Mod. 38 had a theoretical firing rate of 600 rounds per minute, which in practice dropped to about 350 rounds per minute. One of the advantages of this machine gun, in addition to its reliability, was its small size. In fact, the machine gun was only 89 cm long, taking up little space when stowed inside the vehicle.
Some sources claim that, due to the lack of Breda machine guns or for simple convenience, some German crews who received these self-propelled guns replaced the Breda Mod. 38 with German-made machine guns, such as the MG34 or MG42. This would have greatly increased the anti-aircraft firepower of the vehicle, but there is no photographic evidence or data confirming the use of Mauser machine guns on the self-propelled vehicles.
Although lacking interior space, the crew brought onboard the Semovente M43 their Carcano Mod. 91 rifles, MAB 38 submachine guns and OTO, Breda or SRCM Mod. 35 hand grenades or their German counterparts for close defense against enemy infantry.
The 105/25 Cannon could fire a wide range of projectiles:
Maximum Range (m)
Penetration at 1,000 m
Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 32
Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 36
Proietto Perforante da 105
72 mm at 90°
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale M43
9,400, effective 2,000-2,500
120 mm at 90°
The Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 32 and the Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 36 were almost identical, but the Mod. 36 with ADE M32 or ADE M36 nose percussion fuze could detonate the ammunition on impact or in the air.
Information about the anti-tank ammunition is provided only by some accounts. The muzzle velocity of the Armor-Piercing, Capped – Tracer (APC-T) was 500 m/s and it could pierce a maximum of 90 mm of ballistic steel inclined at 90° at 100 meters, 80 mm at 500 meters and about 60 mm at 2,000 meters.
The penetration and muzzle velocity of the Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds are unknown. The Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale M43 had a muzzle velocity of 510 m/s. It could pierce a 120 mm plate inclined at 90°. The maximum range was of 9,400 m with anti-tank effectiveness at a maximum distance of 2,000-2,500 m.
There were also smoke and incendiary projectiles developed for the field artillery version. These were apparently almost never used on the Semovente.
The Breda Mod. 38 machine gun was fed by top curved magazines with 24 bullets. This was not ideal, because it did not allow for continuous fire against aircraft or infantry.
The standard 8 mm ammunition had a muzzle velocity of 780 m/s and could penetrate a 11 mm RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armor) plate at 90° at a distance of 100 m.
Although hardly ever used on self-propelled guns, the machine gun could also fire M.39 AP (Armor Piercing) shells. The bullet weighed 12 grams and could penetrate an armor plate of 16 mm at 100 m.
In the wooden rack on the right of the vehicle, there were 864 shells, equivalent to 36 magazines.
Starting from the front of the vehicle, there was the transmission connected to the braking system, which had two armored inspection hatches. These could be opened from the outside by means of two handles, or from the inside by means of a knob located on the right side of the vehicle, which could be used by the gunner.
On the left was the driver’s position with the seat with a fold-down back for easy access. In front, it had the two steering tillers, an armored slot that could be closed with a lever and a hyposcope for driving with the slot closed. On the left was the control panel and, on the right, the gun breech.
Behind the driver, there was a box rack for twelve 105 mm rounds arranged in rows of 4 rounds, with a padding on top that also served as a seat for the loader. Behind this, there was a rack of 24 105 mm rounds, also arranged in rows of 4 rounds.
The loader had, on the left, the radio system and, above him, one of the two armored hatches. In case of an air attack, the loader would also have to use the anti-aircraft machine gun.
On the right side of the fighting compartment, there was the gunner’s/commander’s seat without a backrest. In front of his seat, the gunner had the elevation and swing handwheels. On the left was the gun breech. Interestingly, the lever for opening the breech was placed on the right side of the breech. This meant that, after firing, the gunner had to rotate his torso by about 90° (a very uncomfortable action in the narrow space) and open the breech.
On his right was the support for the anti-aircraft gun (when not in use), a maintenance kit and a fire extinguisher. Behind the support was a wooden rack for the ammunition of the machine gun. In order to prevent the magazines from falling on rough terrain, the rack had a closable curtain.
Behind the gunner/commander was the last ammunition rack with 12 105 mm rounds arranged in three rows of 4 rounds.
On the rear wall of the fighting compartment, there were four cumbersome filters for air, oil and two for the fuel. The engine fan, an engine cooling water tank, the batteries for engine ignition were also there, and the transmission shaft ran through the entire fighting compartment, dividing it in half.
The Semovente M43 da 105/25 was the only self-propelled gun of World War II armed with a 105 mm gun, but with only 3 crew members. The driver was positioned on the left of the vehicle. On his right was the gun breech. The commander/gunner was positioned on the right of the vehicle and loader/radio operator on the left, behind the driver.
Some sources state that the Germans preferred to add a fourth crewman behind the gunner, who would load the gun. The loader’s seat would be occupied by the commander/radio operator and the gunner would perform only one function. Obviously, adding a fourth crewman meant reducing the quantity of 105 mm ammunition on board and, above all, operating in a fighting compartment that was already cramped with three men.
The engine of the Semovente M43 da 105/25 was inherited from the previous self-propelled guns on the M42 chassis, which in turn inherited it from the M15/42. This was the FIAT-SPA T15B. ‘B’ stood for ‘Benzina’ (Eng. Petrol). This was a petrol water-cooled 11,980 cm³ engine developing 190 hp at 2400 rpm. It was developed by FIAT and one of its subsidiary companies, the Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA (Eng. Piedmontese Automobile Company). Previously, on Italian vehicles such as the M11/39, M13/40 and M14/41 and the self-propelled guns on their chassis (M40 and M41), the engine was a diesel. Due to the scarcity of fuel as early as the beginning of 1942, the Royal Italian Army converted to gasoline with the M15/42. However, due to the size of the 307 liter gasoline tank (compared to 145 liters-tanks of the previous diesel engined tanks) and the fire extinguishing system, the chassis was lengthened by 14 cm (5.06 m compared to 4.92 m of previous models).
The engine was quite reliable, with a power-to-weight ratio of 12 hp/tonne and was connected to the Fiat 8 F2 transmission (the same as on the previous vehicles) with four forward gears and one reverse gear. This guaranteed a maximum speed of 35 km/h and a range of 180 km.
The radio onboard the Semovente was the standard Italian tank equipment, the Magneti Marelli RF1CA produced in Sesto San Giovanni, near Milan. It had a weight of 13 kg. The transceiver had the possibility of adjusting the sensitivity of the amplifier by a two-position switch, ‘Vicino’ (Eng: near) for distances not exceeding 5 km and ‘Lontano’ (Eng: far) for distances between 5 and 12 km, the maximum range of the radio.
The equipment was placed on the left side of the hull, above the fender, under its standard 1.8 m high antenna that could be lowered 90° to the rear by means of a knob. The 8 watt radio transformer and four Magneti Marelli 3NF-12-1-24 batteries were on the radio’s right. Further to the right was the driver’s instrument panel.
The first Semoventi M43 da 105/25 were completed at the beginning of May 1943. The first self-propelled gun, plate number ‘R.E. 5846’, was delivered on 2nd July 1943, after testing at the tank crew School of the Royal Army in Nettunia, about fifty kilometers from Rome.
It was foreseen by the Regio Esercito that these vehicles would be used in Gruppi Corazzati (ENG. Armored Groups) of 12 self-propelled guns, subdivided into 3 platoons of 4 vehicles. These would have the task of supporting the actions of the P26/40, then at the beginning of production, and of the P30/43, which was still under development.
Five Armored Groups were created by the Regio Esercito, the DC° Gruppo Corazzato, DCI° Gruppo Corazzato, DCII° Gruppo Corazzato, DCIV° Gruppo Corazzato and DCV° Gruppo Corazzato.
On 25th July 1943, Mussolini was arrested by order of the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III d’Italia, and the Gran Consiglio del Fascismo (Eng: Grand Council of Fascism). The new government, presided over by Prime Minister Pietro Badoglio, ordered the Army to continue to fight alongside the Axis powers even if, almost immediately, in secret, it tried to negotiate an armistice with the Allies.
This situation brought much confusion to the soldiers who, in many cases, were not even informed about what had really happened in Rome.
Only the DCI° Gruppo Corazzato and the DCII° Gruppo Corazzato stationed at Nettunia for crew training received all 12 vehicles.
From what is reported, the DCI° Gruppo Corazzato, assigned to the 135ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ (Eng. 135th Armored Division), was the only one to participate in military actions of the Regio Esercito, participating in the Defense of Rome on 9th September 1943.
As mentioned, Italian Prime Minister Badoglio tried to sign an armistice with the Allied powers and succeeded in his intent only on 3rd September 1943.
The official proclamation was made by U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower on Radio Algiers at 6.30 p.m. and then repeated by Pietro Badoglio in Italian on Radio EIAR at 7.42 p.m. on 8th September 1943.
Needless to say, this threw almost all units of the Royal Army into chaos, as they did not receive precise orders and were forced to act on their own initiative.
Immediately after the Armistice, the German command, which had foreseen the Italian defection, launched Fall Achse (Eng. Operation Axis), meant to take apart the Italian Royal Army.
On 9th September 1943, the morning after the radio announcement of the Armistice, the 135th Armored Division engaged German troops in the city of Cesano, and on the Via Ostiense leading to Rome.
It is not clear in which part of Rome they took part in the fighting, as the Armored Division fought in every neighborhood of Rome supporting the 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” (Eng. 21st Infantry Division) at Porta San Paolo, the members of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (Eng. Italian Police of Africa) and the 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri (Eng. 18th Bersaglieri Regiment) near the Colosseum.
During the fighting, four Semoventi M43 da 105/25 of the DCI° Gruppo Corazzato were destroyed. It is not clear whether they were all destroyed by German weapons or whether some were sabotaged by the crews before escaping and joining the Italian partisan resistance or returning to their homes.
Immediately after the Armistice, the Germans launched Fall Achse, which lasted until 19th September 1943 and resulted in the deaths of between 20,000 and 30,000 Italian soldiers, the capture of just over one million Italian soldiers, 2,700 anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, 5,500 howitzers or field guns, 16,600 trucks or cars and 977 armored vehicles.
Among the 977 captured armored vehicles were the 26 surviving Semoventi M43 da 105/25, which were later renamed Beutepanzer Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 105/25 853(i) (Eng. Captured Assault Gun with 105/25 gun Italian).
For the duration of the war, the Germans received another 91 StuG M43 mit 105/25 853(i) produced after the Armistice. This means that the Wehrmacht used a total of 116 M43 mit 105/25.
While the Germans operated relatively large numbers of M-series tanks and some older Semovente in the Balkans for anti-partisan operations, the more modern Semovente M43 da 105/25 were only used in Italy. By the end of September 1943, the German units had around 221 (both 75 and 105 mm) Semovente at their disposal.
At the end of 1943, the 26th Panzer Division had 7, the 356th Infantry Division had 20 and the Panzer training unit Sued had two Semovente M43 da 105/25 vehicles. The greatest concentration of these vehicles was allocated to the SturmGeschütz Brigade 914 (Assault Gun Brigade) and SturmGeschütz Brigade 21. By February 1944, the 914th Brigade had some 31 Semovente da 105/25 in its inventory. The 21st Brigade continued to operate the Semovente da 105/25 up to the war’s end. By mid-March 1945, it had 56 such vehicles, three of which were given to this unit by the 356th Infantry Division.
The M43 da 105/25 was used by the German mainly in anti-tank roles when possible. The Italian vehicles, in general, were plagued by the lack of spare parts and ammunition. So the relatively large number of vehicles did not always necessarily mean that all were operational, as most would be often stored at the rear for much needed repairs. One occasion where the M43 da 105/25 was used was by Panzer Regiment 26 which attacked the Allied positions at Mozzagrogna at the end of November 1943. The attack was spearheaded by 6 Semovente (three 105 and three 75 mm) and five flame tanks (likely based on the CV series). The attack succeeded with the loss of one flame tank. The unit was later on attacked by Allied ground attack planes and decimated, with only one Semovente M43 da 105/25 managing to survive. The Germans were generally satisfied with the Semovente vehicles, but noted that these lacked proper observation sights, had insufficient frontal armor and a cramped crew compartment.
When production resumed, the Germans ordered the vehicles to be modified by adding four large teeth to the sprocket wheel, which decreased the risk of the tracks falling off or coming loose. Some sources also mention that the Germans had replaced the Italian radio system with a German one and also the machine guns, but there is no evidence of these changes.
Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano
After 8th September 1943, the Germans freed Benito Mussolini and took him to Germany to discuss the continuation of the war alongside the Axis with Adolf Hitler. On 23rd September, he returned to Italy as ‘Duce’ and founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (Eng. Italian Social Republic), a collaborationist state in the territories not yet occupied by the Allies. Some Italian prisoners who had remained loyal to Mussolini immediately joined the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano, ENR (Eng. National Republican Army).
This new army was armed with few armored vehicles, artillery pieces and any other type of military equipment because, after the armistice, the German soldiers no longer trusted their Italian allies.
A good part of the units of the new army and of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, or GNR (Eng. Republican National Guard), had to arm themselves as best they could. They produced several homemade vehicles or recovered abandoned vehicles in very bad condition from former Regio Esercito depots.
One of these units was the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ (Eng. Armored Group) which, during the last two years of the war, was equipped with only 7 L3/35 light tanks, 1 L6/40 light tank, 5 tanks of the ‘M’ series (4 M13/40 and 1 M15/42) and a Semovente M43 da 105/25, the latter from February 1945.
It is not clear how the unit took possession of the self-propelled gun. It is supposed that it was one of the examples in service since February 1944 with the 1° Deposito Carristi (Eng: 1st Tanker Depot) in Verona, where it would have been used for the training of tankers. According to the Army Staff, this vehicle had damaged optics.
The vehicle, part of the Squadrone Comando (Eng. Command Squadron), received the nickname ‘Terremoto’ (Eng. Earthquake) painted in capital letters on the front plate. It also had an Italian tricolor and, on the sides, a lion holding between the paws the fascio littorio, symbol of the Partito Fascista Italiano (Eng: Italian Fascist Party) and Italian flags.
From January to the first days of April, the vehicle was not used in anti-partisan actions, but only for training and was stationed in Polpenazze sul Garda, 130 km east of Milan, at the headquarters of the Armored Group. In April 1945, when the situation was desperate, the Command Squadron was stationed in Milan, avoiding the popular strike and insurrection, but without the Semovente. On the night of 24th April 1945, the day of the partisan insurrection that, in a few days, would lead to the complete loss of the main cities of Northern Italy, such as Turin, Genoa and Milan, a unit formed of the five ‘M’ series tanks, some light tanks and the Semovente, under the orders of the Armored Group Commander Gianluca Zuccaro, moved towards Milan.
During the night, an Allied aircraft noticed the column and attacked the unit repeatedly, but only with machine guns. It disabled an ‘M’ tank that was abandoned on the roadside the morning of 25th April.
After receiving orders to surrender from the Armored Group Headquarters, the tank crews sabotaged the vehicles near Cernusco sul Naviglio, 100 km from Polpenazze and surrendered to the partisans.
Semovente M43 da 75/34
This was a self-propelled gun built on the same hull, but with the Cannone da 75/34 cannon Mod. S.F., the same as on the Semoventi M42M da 75/34. Only 29 were built and they were only used by the Germans in tank destroyer Regiments in Italy and the Balkans. It had more internal space due to the smaller dimensions of the 75 mm cannon breech. The total number of rounds transported was 45, giving the crew more space.
Semovente M43 da 75/46
Developed in 1943, with heavy armament and armor, the main armament was a powerful Cannone da 75/46 C.A. Mod. 1934 and the welded armor had a maximum thickness of 100 mm on the frontal plate, the only Italian vehicle with this thickness. Eleven were built during 1944-1945 and only used by the German Army in one tank destroyer Regiment in the defence of the Gothic Line. One was captured by Brazilian soldiers in Piacenza and one was captured by partisans in Milan. None survived the war.
The Semovente M43 da 105/25 was produced in small numbers during the war and could make little contribution to the Axis forces during the war. Most were used by the Germans, but the lack of supplies and ammunition hindered their use. Their gun proved to be an excellent anti-tank artillery piece. Unfortunately, no M43 has survived to the present day.
Kingdom of Italy, 1942-1945, Medium tank – 167 built
The Carro Armato M15/42 was the last variant of the Italian ‘M’ tank series. It was in service from late 1942 to 1945 in small numbers. For the most part, it was used by the Wehrmacht. Compared to its predecessors, the M13/40 and M14/41, it had a much more powerful engine and a gun with greater anti-tank performance.
Development of the M15/42
In order to discuss the M15/42, its predecessors must be taken into consideration. The ‘M’ series was born in 1938, with the M11/39 (Medium 11 tonnes, Model 1939), itself developed from the Carro di Rottura da 10t (Eng. 10-tonne Breakthrough Tank). This vehicle was, in turn, inspired by the two Vickers 6 ton tanks that the Regio Esercito purchased from Britain in 1932.
Imagining that a hypothetical future war would be fought like World War I in the mountainous terrain of northern Italy, the designers developed a very light vehicle. This was done in order for it to cross small bridges and traverse narrow mountain roads. It had the cannon in the casemate because it was deemed that it was less likely to be attacked from the side in the mountains.
The vehicle was still a long way away from the shape of the M15/42, but the lower hull and suspension were almost unchanged between the two vehicles.
The M11/39 was armed with a 37/40 Vickers-Terni cannon in the casemate. It had a limited traverse range. There was also a single-seat turret equipped with two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns. The vehicle, although modern, did not impress the Regio Esercito, which ordered only 100 units, produced between July 1939 and May 1940.
Considering the limited firepower of the M11/39 and its ineffectiveness in facing other tanks, Ansaldo modified the vehicle by equipping it with a two-seat revolving turret armed with a 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon. The previous gun position in the hull was replaced with a ball mount for two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns.
The new M13/40 (Medio 13 tonnellate Modello 1940 – Medium 13 tonnes Model 1940) was presented in October 1939. After some modifications, it was accepted into production by the Regio Esercito. In November 1939, 400 units were ordered, with the first ones delivered only in July 1940.
The engine of the M13/40 was more powerful than the 105 hp FIAT SPA 8T of the M11/39. This improved power plant was the FIAT SPA 8T Mod. 1940 11,140 cm³ V8 diesel engine delivering 125 hp at 1,800 rpm, allowing a speed of 32 km/h for the M13/40. The tank had a weight of about 14 tonnes.
In August 1941, the first M14/41 (Medio 14 tonnellate Modello 1941 – Medium 14 tonnes Model 1941) came off the assembly line. It differed from the M13/40 in having reinforced fenders, some small external modifications, and the new FIAT SPA 15T Mod. 1941 11,980 cm³ V8 diesel engine delivering 145 hp at 1,900 rpm.
The ammunition supply remained unchanged, with 87 rounds for both the M13/40 of the third series and for the M14/40. A total of 710 M13/40s were produced in three different series and 695 M14/41s in two different production series.
In the winter of 1940 and 1941, the Regio Esercito, in great difficulty due to the numerous defeats on the various war fronts, turned to its closest ally, Germany, placing an order for 800 French tanks captured during the French Campaign.
Given the German difficulties, the order was later reduced to 450 French tanks that arrived in even smaller numbers. 109 Renault R35s, out of 350 ordered, and 33 Somua S35s, out of 50 ordered, were received, while the 50 Char B1 heavy tanks were never delivered. The 142 vehicles were delivered in 1941, but the lack of spare parts and ammunition did not allow their use and the Regio Esercito was forced to look for another solution.
Another request for help was sent to Germany in June 1941, which responded by proposing that FIAT purchase the production license for the Panzer III, at that time the Wehrmacht’s leading tank. FIAT agreed in August, but a clause was added that armament and optics had to be purchased from Germany, as well as half of the raw materials needed to produce the vehicles.
These restrictions led to the cancellation of the contract, as FIAT convinced the High Command of the Royal Army that they should not allow Germany to interfere in the Italian industry.
Also in June 1941, the Regio Esercito tested the Czechoslovakian Skoda T-21 medium tank. Due to pressure from Ansaldo and FIAT, the Army was forced to give up on the evaluation and possible production.
In order to avoid losing the monopoly on the production of armament for the Regio Esercito, Ansaldo and FIAT announced in the summer of 1941 that they would be able to put the P26/40 tank into production by the spring of 1942. This was the same period foreseen for the production of the first Italian Panzer III or Skoda T-21 tanks under license.
However, the Royal Army needed a new tank. This time, it no longer relied on FIAT and Ansaldo, but tested foreign material. The two leading companies in the Italian sector set to work in order to distract the High Command of the Royal Army from its research into alternative vehicles.
The two companies began to work together on the Carro Armato Medio Celere (Eng. Fast Medium Tank) ordered by the Royal Army at the beginning of 1941. Until then, it had remained in an embryonic state.
In June 1941, Ansaldo presented the mock-up of the Carro Armato Medio Celere, now called Carro Armato Celere Sahariano (Eng. Saharan Fast Tank). This was produced in a hurry by mounting a wooden superstructure on an M14/41 hull.
The project was slowed down by the development of Christie suspension and the prototype was ready only in the spring of 1942. The tests lasted until 1943, showing that the vehicle was well designed, but it was too late. The North African Campaign was coming to an end and the vehicle lost its purpose.
Due to delays in the production of the vehicle, FIAT and Ansaldo had to devise a stratagem to prevent the Royal Army from canceling the contract in favor of a foreign vehicle. In fact, in February 1942, Germany once again proposed the production of the Panzer IV under license.
After August 1942, the official Regio Esercito nomenclature for tanks changed from vehicle type, weight in tonnes, and year of production to type and year of production. For example, the M13/40 became the M40, the M14/41 became the M41, and the M15/42 became the M42.
Thus, the correct name for this vehicle would be M42. However, it was still called the M15/42 by the crews, and many book sources and contemporary companies call it the M15/42. In keeping with the popular usage, this article will use the M15/42 designation from here on.
History of the Prototype
In 1941, a 47 mm L.40 cannon was mounted in the turret of an M14/41, but continuous delays slowed down the project. Finally, in 1942, with the experience gained with the Carro Armato Celere Sahariano that mounted the same gun, it was possible to modify the turret to resist the firing recoil.
The M14/41 hull was also modified by lengthening it to accommodate a new gasoline engine with greater power than the FIAT SPA 15T. The side access hatch was also moved to the right side of the vehicle. After testing, the first batch of the new M15/42 Tank (Medio 15 tonnellate Modello 1942 – Medium 15 tonnes Model 1942) was ordered in October 1942.
In October 1942, after tests, 280 units were ordered, stopping the production of the M14/41.
In 1943, however, with the planned start of production of the P26/40 and with the obvious backwardness of the ‘M’ series, the High Command of the Royal Army decided to rely only on heavy tanks and self-propelled vehicles. They cut the order of M15/42s to 220 in March 1943.
Entering production in autumn 1942, the first vehicle was registered on November 21st, 1942, with plate number R.E. 5022, and assigned to the Centro Carristi di Civitavecchia on November 28th in order to train new crews.
The data on the production of the M15/42 are very discordant. Some sources claim numbers even beyond the two hundred units produced during the war.
An Ansaldo source states that the first batch of 103 vehicles was produced in 1942 and a second batch of 36 by March 1943. A third batch of 80 was due by December 1943 but was never fully completed.
The number of 103 vehicles produced between October and December 1942 seems slightly exaggerated given the short period of time and state of the Italian armament industry. According to this document, 139 M15/42 were produced by March 1943, plus another unspecified number between March and September, before the armistice.
After the armistice, 28 M15/42 were produced for the Germans in 1944. The total number of M15/42s produced should be at least 167, while the maximum number could be at most 248 (considering the entire last batch was finished in addition to the German vehicles).
At the front, the rounded transmission cover had two hooks and a towing ring. There were also two inspection hatches above the clutch. The two hatches could be opened or closed from the inside of the vehicle even while driving by means of a lever located on the right side of the chassis. This allowed the driver to better cool the clutch while driving if needed and when not in combat.
On the right side, the front superstructure had a ball mount armed with two machine guns. On the left side, there was a slot for the driver, who also had a hyposcope for use when the hatch was closed. For night driving, there were two headlights on the sides of the superstructure.
On the left side of the superstructure, there was a pistol port behind the headlight, used for close defense. Three canister holders were mounted on this side. These were used to carry fuel to increase the range of the vehicle. On the right side, there was a large hatch for crew access. It was also equipped with a pistol port for close defense.
On the rear side of the superstructure, there were two more pistol ports and an air intake. On the mudguards, behind the superstructure, were a glove box on each side and the mufflers behind. These were equipped with a heat sink.
In order to make room for the new engine, the engine compartment was lengthened by 14 centimeters (5.06 meters length compared to the 4.92 meters of the M13/40 and M14/41). Because of the lengthening, extra armor plates were added and the track tensioning system was modified. The engine deck received inspection hatches which could be opened at 45°. Cooling grills were added. Between the two inspection hatches there were the tools, including a shovel, a pickaxe, a crowbar, and a track removal system.
The rear of the vehicle was completely redesigned compared to previous ‘M’ series tanks. The radiator cooling grills were much larger and the rear was much more sloped. The rear had a towing ring and two hooks, two spare wheels, and a license plate. There was a brake light on the left side.
During production, a smoke launcher was added to the rear. In order to make room for it, one of the two spare wheels was removed. The jack that was previously positioned on the back was moved to the front, on the left fender, in front of the superstructure. This was like on the M13/40 first Series.
The armor thickness was slightly increased compared to the previous models of the ‘M’ series. The frontal armor of the transmission cover was rounded and 30 mm thick. The frontal plate of the hull, inclined at 12°, was 42 mm thick. The sides of the hull and superstructure, inclined at 8°, were 25 mm thick. The back of the superstructure was 25 mm thick, while the back of the hull was 20 mm thick.
The turret, on the other hand, had a maximum armor of 50 mm on the mantlet and 45 mm frontally inclined at 13°. The sides and the back were 25 mm inclined at 20°. The roof of the hull and of the turret and the engine deck had a thickness of 15 mm, while the floor of the hull had a thickness of only 6 mm.
The armor was bolted to an internal frame, making the structure more fragile but with faster replacement of damaged armor plates than models with welded or cast armor.
The armor was produced with low-quality steel because, while the demand for ballistic steel to produce armored vehicles had increased since 1939, the Italian industry was not able to supply very large quantities of high-quality steel. This was further worsened because of the embargoes that hit Italy in 1935-1936 due to the invasion of Ethiopia and the almost total isolation after 1940.
In fact, the Kingdom of Italy counted on the fact that, in case of entry into the war on the German side, their new allies would supply the majority of raw materials needed to produce high-quality steel. Obviously, starting in 1942, Germany could not supply these large quantities of raw materials since it had to replace its own losses.
The suspension was of the semi-elliptical leaf spring type. On each side, there were four bogies with eight doubled rubber road wheels paired on two suspension units in total. This suspension type was obsolete and did not allow the vehicle to reach a high top speed. In addition, it was very vulnerable to enemy fire or mines. Due to the lengthening of the hull, one of the two suspension units was mounted a few inches back.
The tank had 26 cm wide tracks with 86 track links per side, 6 more than the other tanks of the ‘M’ series due to the hull lengthening. The drive sprockets were at the front and the idlers with modified track tension adjusters at the back, with three rubber return rollers on each side. The small surface area of the tracks (20,800 cm²) caused a ground pressure of 0.76 kg/cm², increasing the risk that the vehicle would bog down in mud, snow, or sand.
The two-seat turret had a narrow mantlet armed with a 47 mm cannon and a coaxial machine gun on the left. There was a turret basket attached to the turret, with a support connected to a circular platform above the transmission shaft. Two folding seats for the loader and the commander were welded on the same support.
In addition to the gun breech and the machine gun, the gunsight was on the right, while a small rack for 13 magazines for the machine gun was on the far left.
On the roof of the turret, there was a rectangular split hatch, two panoramic monocular periscopes produced by the company San Giorgio, a bulge that allowed better depression for the cannon and a support for the anti-aircraft machine gun.
On the sides were two pistol ports for viewing the exterior and for close defense. At the back were stowed ready-to-use 47 mm rounds in two different racks.
The main armament of the M15/42 was the Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938. It was a significantly more powerful cannon than the 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon used on the Semovente L40 da 47/32 and the previous M13/40 and M14/41 medium tanks.
This cannon was also used on the AB43 ‘Cannone’ and the Carro Armato Celere Sahariano. It was developed starting from the 47/32 Mod. 1935 in 1938 and was produced only for vehicles. It was made by the Ansaldo-Fossati factory of Genoa. The elevation in the M15/42 turret was +20° and the depression was -10°. The maximum firing rate, thanks to the semi-automatic breech, was 14 rounds per minute. Due to the reduced space inside the vehicle, in practice, this dropped to about 8-10 rounds per minute.
The cannon had a maximum range of about 9,000 m, but its effective anti-tank range was only 1,200 to 1,500 m.
In addition to the 38 cm longer barrel (1.88 meters compared to 1.5 meters), the breech was larger. This meant that it could fire round with a longer casing, increasing the muzzle velocity, the accuracy at long range, and penetration.
The secondary armament consisted of four 8 mm Breda Mod. 38 machine guns, one mounted coaxially on the left side of the gun, two in the hull’s spherical mount, and a fourth which could be mounted on the anti-aircraft support on the turret roof.
These machine guns were the vehicle version of the Breda Mod. 37 medium machine gun used by the Italian infantry and had a top curved 24-round magazine.
In 1943, smoke grenade launchers were introduced. Smoke grenades were stored in a box mounted on the right side of the rear of the engine compartment. A box for carrying smoke grenades was also mounted on the rear of the superstructure, above the protective plate of the air intake.
When activated, the box would drop a smoke grenade, masking the position of the vehicle. It is unclear how effective this rear-mounted system was, but it was fitted to all vehicles produced from 1943 onwards, including the last series of AB41 and AB43 armored cars.
The Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938 used the same ammunition as the previous Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun, but its cartridges were 10 centimeters (32,8 centimeters versus 22,7 centimeters) longer. This increased the muzzle velocity by 43%. This also increased precision and penetration.
The ammunition types consisted of:
Cartoccio Granata da 47 mod. 35. High Explosive (HE) with percussion fuze mod. 35 or mod. 39.
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto. High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) round with internal fuze mod. 41, distributed after 1942.
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale. High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) with IPEM front fuze, distributed in early 1943.
The advantage was that the new gun had a larger breech. This allowed the use of 328 mm long shell casings, instead of the 227 mm ones on the previous gun. The Proietto Perforante mod. 35. fired from the 47/32 Mod. 1935 had a muzzle velocity of 630 m/s, while the same ammunition fired from the 47/40 Mod. 1938 gun had a muzzle velocity of 900 m/s.
The Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale could penetrate 112 mm at 100 m and 43 mm at 1,000 m, instead of the 30 mm at 1,000 m of the 47/32 Mod. 1935 round.
The M15/42 carried a total of 111 shells onboard in three different racks. The first two unprotected racks were in the turret and contained 9 rounds each. The third, containing 93 47 mm shells, was positioned on the bottom of the hull.
None of the racks were armored. Often, when the racks on the back of the turret were hit, the result was a catastrophic explosion that destroyed the machine. The same thing is true for the rack in the hull even if, because of its lower position, it was rarely hit.
For the Breda machine guns, there were 108 magazines of 24 rounds each, for a total of 2,592 rounds. The 8×59 mm RB Breda cartridge had two types of bullets. These were standard ammunition and the M.39 AP (Armor Piercing) that weighed 12 grams and, with a muzzle velocity of 780 m/s, could penetrate a 16 mm RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armor) plate at 90° at a distance of 100 m. The standard ammunition, with the same muzzle velocity, penetrated 11 mm at 100 m.
The Breda magazine racks were mounted on the sides of the superstructure, 54 on the left side and 41 on the right side, with 13 more carried in the turret.
At the front of the fighting compartment were the transmission and the braking system. On the left side of the superstructure was the driver’s seat, which has a folding backrest to facilitate access. In front of this position, the driver had a large slit with a lever used to open or close it. Above the slit was the hyposcope.
The driver also had two tillers to move the vehicle. The handbrake handle was on the left, while the gearshift was on the right. On the left side was the dashboard, a box with spare hyposcopes, and the pistol port. Behind the dashboard, there were racks for machine gun magazines.
On the right-hand side was the machine gunner, who also sat on a folding seat. In front of the machine gunner were the machine guns while, on the right, there were some magazines for the two weapons and the radio.
In the middle of the right side was the access hatch. On the lower side was the storage place for the anti-aircraft machine gun, which was fixed to the hull with straps. In the middle of the vehicle was the transmission shaft, which was largely covered by the circular platform which served as a floor for the two crew members in the turret.
On the left side, at the bottom of the hull, was the largest 47 mm ammunition rack. The rear of the superstructure had two large cylindrical filters and the engine coolant tank. On the floor and on the sides of the superstructure were more racks for machine gun magazines.
The engine of the M15/42 medium tank was inherited from previous tanks of the ‘M’ series. However, in addition to the increase in displacement that increased the overall performance of the vehicle, the novelty was that the new engine worked on gasoline. The change of fuel from diesel to gasoline was due to the fact that the Italian diesel reserves were now almost completely exhausted.
The new FIAT-SPA T15B (‘B’ for ‘Benzina’) petrol water-cooled 11,980 cm³ engine developed 190 hp at 2,400 rpm. It was designed by FIAT and one of its subsidiary companies, the Società Piemontese Automobili, or SPA (Eng. Piedmontese Automobile Company). It gave the vehicle a maximum velocity of 38 km/h on-road and 20 km/h off-road. It had an on-road range of 220 km and an off-road range of 130 km, or 12 operational hours.
Thanks to the increased space in the engine compartment, the tank’s fuel tanks were increased to 367 liters in the main tanks, plus 40 liters in the reserve tank. This gave a total of 407 liters. The fuel consumption was almost two liters of gasoline per kilometer.
The engine was better suited to the new vehicle, with a power-to-weight ratio of just under 13 hp/tonne. It was connected to a new transmission produced by FIAT, with five forward and one reverse gears, one gear more than the previous vehicles.
The crew was composed of four. A driver on the left side of the hull and machine-gunner/radio operator on his right. Behind them, sitting in the turret, were the tank commander/gunner on the right and the loader on the left.
The crew of 4 was insufficient. The tank commander had to perform too many tasks, having to give orders to the rest of the crew, examine the battlefield, find targets, aim at them, and fire.
The Regio Esercito received about a hundred M42s by September 1943. However, the Army was never able to use these vehicles, except during the clashes against the Germans between September 8th and 11th 1943. In Sicily and Southern Italy, the M15/42 was never sent to fight the Allied troops. The Regio Esercito used them only for the training of the crews and in the new armored units it had created after the loss of Tunisia.
85 M42s were assigned to the 135ª Divisione Corazzata “Ariete II” (Eng. 135th Armored Division “Ariete II”) together with 12 M42 Centro Radio,164 other tanks (medium and light) and self-propelled guns, and 80 AB41 armored cars and AS42 and AS43 trucks. This unit was formed in July 1943 and was part of the Corpo d’Armata Motocorazzato (Eng. Armored Motor Corps). It was stationed in Rome.
After the fall of Benito Mussolini on July 25th, 1943, at the behest of the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II, the Italian Marshal Pietro Badoglio was brought in to command the army. He continued the war on the side of the German allies but secretly tried to make contact with the Allied powers to surrender.
The Chief of Staff of the Royal Army, Vittorio Ambrosio, moved the Armored Corps to Rome for two reasons. The first was to defend the capital from a possible Allied landing. The second was to defend Rome from a possible coup attempt by the fascists still loyal to Benito Mussolini.
The Armored Motor Corps was formed from the 10ª Divisione fanteria “Piave” (Eng. 10th Infantry Division “Piave”), the 136ª Divisione Corazzata “Centauro II” (Eng. 136th Armored Division “Centauro II”) (not considered loyal to the King, but to Mussolini) and the 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” (Eng. 21st Infantry Division “Granatieri di Sardegna”). It was equipped with 11 self-propelled guns and 31 tanks of the ‘M’ series (probably including some M15/42s).
Obviously, there were other units in Rome, such as the 220ª and 221ª Divisioni della Difesa Costiera (Eng. 220th and 221st Coastal Defense Divisions), 103ª Divisione fanteria “Piacenza” (Eng. 103rd Infantry Division “Piacenza”), the X° Reggimento Arditi (Eng. 10th Regiment Arditi), as well as smaller units, such as those of the Corpo dei Carabinieri Reali (Eng. Royal Carabiners Corps), the Corpo della Regia Guardia di Finanza (Eng. Corps of the Royal Finance Guard) and the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (Eng. Italian African Police). This totaled 88,137 soldiers, 124 tanks, 257 self-propelled guns, 122 armored cars and trucks, and 615 cannons and howitzers in the capital.
The proclamation of the surrender was made by Pietro Badoglio on Radio Algiers at 0745 pm, on September 8th, 1943, catching the Italian troops unprepared, as they did not expect the surrender.
The Germans were, however, not unprepared for the Italian defection. They had already prepared Fall Achse (Eng. Operation Axis). In the north of Rome, they had at their disposal about 25,000 soldiers, 71 tanks, 54 self-propelled guns, 196 armored cars and 165 cannons.
Already by 1000 pm, the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division “Ramke” (Eng. 2nd Parachute Division “Ramke”) attacked the airport of Pratica di Mare, which was 30 km south of Rome. During the morning of September 9th, German units repeatedly attacked a stronghold of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II”. This position resisted throughout the day, losing 4 tanks and 20 soldiers.
Other units of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II” were in the area between Bracciano and Menziana. They blocked the 3. Panzergrenadier Division, which had to give up the attack against Rome, heading towards Naples.
The men of the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division succeeded in forcing the Italian troops to retreat inside the city on September 9th and restarted the attack on September 10th. The 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” had established itself at Porta San Paolo, part of the ancient Roman walls, together with some groups of Allievi Carabinieri and other units of the Royal Army. They were also supported by several civilians who took to the streets either unarmed or armed with hunting weapons.
The 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division was slowed down significantly and, only at 1700 pm managed to penetrate the rather poorly organized Italian defenses.
In the fight for the Porta San Paolo and in the defense of the nearby Forte Ostiense, some ‘M’ series tanks of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II” were damaged or destroyed by German troops. The numbers and the exact model of the vehicles are unknown, it can only be assumed that there were some M15/42s among them.
During the clashes of Porta San Paolo, a Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger hit an ‘M’ tank of an unknown model. Only one member of the crew survived, saved by a young civilian woman who, under German fire, climbed into the vehicle, pulling him out of the turret and carrying him to safety.
At 1600 pm on September 10th, 1943, the Italian command proclaimed Rome an “Open City”, even if some Italian units fought until the evening. Most of the Italian soldiers surrendered to the Germans while others, along with civilians, fled the city to form the first partisan nuclei.
In the battle for Rome, 1,167 Italians died, of which between 200 and 400 were civilians. 597 Italians fell at Porta San Paolo, of which 414 military and 183 civilians.
The fate of the Italian vehicles present in Rome was threefold. Most were captured by the Germans or were handed over intact by the units that surrendered. Others were sabotaged by the crews before surrendering to the Germans. A small number were hidden from the Germans, waiting for the right time to use them.
In addition to Rome, the Regio Esercito defended itself also in Piombino, a Tuscan seaside town, where the Germans had landed on September 9th to occupy the city. The XIX Battaglione of the 31° Reggimento Carristi (Eng. 19th Battalion of the 31st Carristi Regiment), equipped with 20 tanks of the ‘M’ series (among which probably some M15/42s) and 18 M42 self-propelled guns contained the German troops until September 11th with heavy losses.
The CCCCXXXIII Battaglioni Complementi Carri M (Eng. 433rd Tank Complement Battalions ‘M’), which had training duties, was in Fidenza. After receiving news that the Germans were besieging Parma, at 0100 pm on September 9th, in the absence of orders, the unit unilaterally took the decision to support the troops in Parma. At 0530 PM, the unit left with 1 M15/42 tank, 7 Semoventi da 75/18 and 12 Autocannoni da 20/65 su SPA Dovunque.
Having had training duties, the vehicles had racks full of target practice rounds and had only 5 live rounds on board. The Germans discovered the column and organized an ambush outside Parma, knocking out 3 self-propelled guns and capturing another one.
The other vehicles managed to enter the city, creating a defensive perimeter until 0800 am, when the ammunition ran out and the CCCCXXXIII Battaglioni Complementi Carri M was forced to surrender after having sabotaged the vehicles.
Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano
After the Armistice, the Fall Achse operation, which lasted until September 19th, 1943, resulted in the killing of between 20,000 and 30,000 Italian soldiers and the capture of just over one million Italian soldiers, 2,700 anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, 5,500 howitzers or field guns, 16,600 trucks or cars, and 977 armored vehicles.
A small part of Italian soldiers immediately sided with the Germans but was deprived of their armored vehicles. The majority of Italian soldiers were captured and placed in prison or concentration camps until September 23rd, 1943, when Benito Mussolini returned to Italy after his release. He founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (Eng. Italian Social Republic) in Salò, in the province of Brescia.
Many Italian soldiers loyal to Mussolini and fascism adhered to the new republic, joining the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (Eng. National Republican Army). They were then released from prison and re-equipped.
Given previous events following the Armistice, the German soldiers did not trust the Italians and they re-equipped them with few Italian tanks, preferring to keep the captured tanks for themselves and, where possible, to replace their own losses.
The Italian soldiers were thus forced to re-equip themselves with the few armored vehicles not seized by the Germans, by looking for vehicles abandoned and hidden by the crews after September 8th or by repairing some damaged ones.
The Gruppo Corazzato “Leoncello” (Eng. Armored Group “Leoncello”) was established in September 1943 with the aim of defending the Ministry of the Armed Forces in Polpenazze del Garda, in the province of Brescia. It was commanded by Captain Gianluca Zuccaro.
Initially named Battaglione Carri dell’Autodrappello Ministeriale delle Forze Armate (Eng. Tank Battalion of the Armored Group of the Armed Forces Ministry), it was established without the authorization of the Germans. The group recovered armored vehicles from almost everywhere in Lombardy, Veneto, and Piedmont.
At the end of 1944, it received 5 tanks of the “M” series from the 27° Deposito Misto Provinciale (Eng. 27th Provincial Mixed Depot) of Verona. Four M13/40s and one M15/42s were used only in training and exercises until April 1945.
On the evening of April 24th, 1945, General Graziani himself called at Polpenazze del Garda and ordered the Squadrone Comando (Eng. Command Squadron), which had the 5 tanks of the “M” series, a Semovente da 105/25 M43 and some L3 light tanks, to move towards Milan.
During the night march, one of the five ‘M’ tanks was abandoned due to a breakdown following an Allied air attack (with only machine guns). In the morning, at Cernusco sul Naviglio, 100 km from Polpenazze, the squadron received the order to surrender, managing to sabotage two ‘M’ tanks and the Semovente M43 before surrendering to the partisans.
It is not clear if the M15/42 was sabotaged or was hit by the aircraft, but the two vehicles captured by the partisans were M13/40s.
Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana
For the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, or GNR (Eng. Republican National Guard), the situation was more drastic, as the ENR, some soldiers in prison camps swore allegiance to Mussolini and Nazi Germany, and those who did not join the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano joined the GNR but only the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” (Eng. Armored Group “Leonessa”, not to be confused with “Leoncello”) was able to recover some ‘M’ series tanks.
Some were recovered from Lombardy, Piedmont, and Emilia Romagna. According to some German documents, about thirty ‘M’ tanks were recovered from a unit in Milan before being dismantled.
Of these thirty or so tanks recovered in Milan, at least five were put back into service, while the others were used for spare parts. In total, the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” had 33 tanks of the “M” series (of which only a small number were M15/42s) and two M42 command tanks.
The 33 tanks were deployed with the four companies of the unit located in Lombardy, Piedmont, and Emilia Romagna.
There is only one record about the M15/42s of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa”, from December 16th 1944 in Milan. There, a large parade was held in honor of Benito Mussolini visiting the city. After the parade, Mussolini paid a visit to the Distaccamento di Milano (Eng. Milan Detachment) that had at least 2 M15/42s. He climbed on the turret of the M15/42 under the command of Vice Brigadier Donati, haranguing the gathered soldiers and people.
The Germans managed to acquire, either by capturing or producing, over 100 M15/42 tanks. The Italian equipment, including tanks, was mainly used to replace the older French captured vehicles which were operated in the Balkans fighting the Partisan forces there.
The units that used them in Yugoslavia also had other M-series tanks in their inventory, which may sometimes lead to confusion. Another quite common issue with determining the precise type of tanks was the poor knowledge of the Partisans in identifying the enemy armor. Being that the Italian M-series tanks were quite similar to each other, distinguishing them was not always an easy task.
Some M15/42 used by the Panzer Abteilung 202 were used to defend the vital Belgrade-Zagreb railway line during mid-1944. During skirmishes against partisans, many M15/42s were also damaged or lost by anti-tank gunfire.
During the Battle for Belgrade, there was an accident when a Soviet T-34 rammed an M15/42 and completely turned it on its side.
From late October 1944 onwards, Panzer Abteilung 202 would be involved in the German defense line on the so-called Syrmian Front in the northern parts of Yugoslavia.
At the end of the war, what was left of the equipment of Panzer Abteilung 202, which was attempting to evacuate from Yugoslavia, was captured by the Partisans in Slovenia.
Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was another unit stationed in Yugoslavia from 1941. It was heavily involved in fighting the Partisan forces there. At the beginning of March 1944, Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was in the process of reorganization and the older French tanks were slowly being replaced with Italian-built vehicles. By April 1944, there were some 42 Italian-built M15/42 tanks in use by this unit.
Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 had some 33 M15/42 tanks reported in October, which were reduced to 15 vehicles by the end of the following month.
The M15/42 tanks employed by the Germans in Yugoslavia were plagued by a lack of spare parts, ammunition and fuel. Many tanks were not used in combat, as they needed constant maintenance and repairs, and, too often, these would be simply cannibalized for spare parts.
Another unit that used M15/42s was the SS Panzer Abteilung 105, which was part of V-SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgskorps. It was involved in fighting Bosnian Partisans during 1944.
At the end of 1944, when the unit was recalled to Germany, it had 5 M15/42 tanks in its inventory. While the unit fought the Soviets in the defense of Frankfurt, it is unknown if by that time it still possessed any M15/42 tanks.
Yugoslav Partisan service
The Yugoslav Communist resistance movement managed to capture a number of M15/42 tanks. Some of these were probably used in combat, while smaller numbers were even used as training vehicles. The M15/42s were also used in military victory parades, like the one held in Kragujevac in May 1945. Following the end of the war, the M15/42s, together with other captured vehicles, was employed by the new Yugoslavian People’s Army. Their use would be quite limited due to the general lack of spare parts and ammunition. Nearly all would be scrapped a few years later, with one vehicle being preserved at the Belgrade Military Museum.
Camouflage and Markings
The Italian Royal Army received most of its M15/42s in Kaki Sahariano (Eng. Saharan Khaki). Only in late 1943 did some M42s receive the Continental three-tone camouflage (Eng. Continental). This was a Kaki Sahariano base color with dark green and reddish-brown spots.
Some photos show an unusual two-tone camouflage, quite surely applied independently by some crews during training in Italy in the summer of 1943.
The vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leoncello” were painted in standard Saharan khaki camouflage with the department’s coat of arms on the sides of the turret, a tricolor on the sides of the turret and on the front plate of the hull.
On one vehicle, on the front plate, the nickname “DERTHONA” (name of the Tortona soccer team) was painted in capital letters, along with the name Silvio Pelati, perhaps a dead comrade, a footballer or the name of the driver.
The M15/42 and M42 command tanks of Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” were painted in standard Kaki Sahariano with the symbol of the unit, a red M with the fascio littorio, symbol of Italian Fascism, and the inscription GNR until late 1944. After that, all vehicles were repainted with a three-tone camouflage called Continentale, in some cases covering the symbol of the department.
In the case of the M15/42 of the Distaccamento di Milano, in addition to the ‘M’, a white thunderbolt whose meaning is unknown was painted on the turret.
Wehrmacht troops repainted captured vehicles in Saharan Khaki with two- or three-tone spot or line camouflage, depending on the unit employing them. The 28 vehicles produced for the Germans, on the other hand, received Continental camouflage at the factory. Pz.Abt.202 camouflaged its vehicles with dark green spots. This unit also received newly produced vehicles.
Carro centro radio
Like in previous versions, the M15/42 chassis was used for a modified command tank variant (carro centro radio/ radio tank). For the modification, the turret was removed, the superstructure’s twin-machine guns were sometimes replaced with a 13 mm heavy machine gun, and, lastly, extra radio equipment was added. By the time of the September Armistice, some 45 M15/42 CC vehicles had been built. An additional 40 vehicles were built after September 1943 under German control.
The M15/42 was also used as a field modification by replacing its original turret with one taken from a Panzer 38(t). This vehicle is quite a mystery regarding who made it and why. What is known is that it was built during 1944 or in early 1945.
Semovente M42 da 75/18 and M42M da 75/34
Due to the general ineffectiveness of their tank designs, the Italians introduced a series of vehicles called Semovente. These used tank chassis (starting from the M13) by replacing the superstructure and turret with an enclosed casemate and a 75/18 mm gun. The M15/42 chassis was also used in this manner. By the time of the Italian surrender in September 1943, around 200 vehicles were built. Under German supervision, an additional 55 vehicles were built with the materials available on hand.
The Semovente based on the M15/42 was further improved by adding the longer 75/34 gun. By May 1943, some 60 vehicles would be completed by the Italians. An additional 80 new vehicles would be built by the Germans after the Italian Armistice.
In total, thirteen M15/42s have survived to this day. Only three are outside Italy.
One of those three is at the Musée des Blindés of Saumur, France. Another is exhibited in the Belgrade Military Museum, in not a great condition. The last M15/42 outside Italy is in a private collection in the San Marino Republic and is in running condition.
In Italy, of the ten vehicles that survived, eight are conserved in military barracks around Italy. One is at the Caserma “de Carli” of the 132º Reggimento carri in Cordenons, Friuli Venezia Giulia. One is at the Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare in Cecchignola, near Rome, and another one is in the Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra in Rovereto, northern Italy.
The M15/42 was built by the Italians as a makeshift solution to their need for a better tank design. While it offered some improvements over the previous M13/40 and M14/41 series, by the time it was ready for service, it was already obsolete. Its armor and firepower were simply insufficient in comparison to the enemy tanks that would be used against. While less than 200 would be built, ironically, their use by the Italians was minimal at best.
The Germans managed to get their hands on nearly all M15/42s. These were used against the Yugoslav Partisans in the Balkans. Their performance was limited, due to many factors, including a lack of spare parts and frequent breakdowns, which prevented many vehicles from being used in combat. They did achieve some success against poorly armed Partisans, who lacked proper anti-tank weapons. Once the Soviets started to closely support these fighters with modern tanks, the M15/42 was unable to do much.
In the end the M15/42 proved to be a quick solution to the Italian need for a proper tank, but it ultimately failed in this regard.
Semovente da 75/18 specifications
5.06 x 2.28 x 2.37 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready
15.5 tons battle ready
4 (Commander/gunner, loader, machine gunner and driver)
FIAT-SPA T15B, petrol, water-cooled 11,980 cm³, 190 hp at 2400 rpm with 407 liters
Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 38 with 111 rounds and 3 or 4 Breda Mod. 1938 with 2,592 rounds
Germany 1943 – 1945, Light Self-Propelled Gun – 194 captured and produced
The Semovente L40 da 47/32 was an Italian light Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) developed as an infantry support vehicle. It entered service in 1942, immediately proving to be obsolete. The Regio Esercito (Eng: Italian Royal Army) used it until September 1943, when the Cassibile Armistice was signed, the Italian Royal Army was disbanded and the Italian peninsula not yet under Allied hands was occupied by the German troops.
After the armistice, from 1943 to 1945, all the surviving Semoventi (Italian world for self-propelled guns, Semovente singular) that were deployed, not only in Italy, but also in the Balkans, were captured by the armies or militias in the area.
The Semovente L40 da 47/32
The development of a new light infantry support gun that could support the assault of the Bersaglieri units (Eng: Italian Light Assault Troops) started in the late 1930s, but the first two prototypes were not accepted into service.
Another prototype development started in January 1941. On May 10th, it was presented to the Royal Army. After the tests, the Italian Royal Army High Command requested some changes to the prototype. It was renamed Semovente Leggero Modello 1940 da 47/32 or Semovente L40 da 47/32 (Eng: Lightweight Self-Propelled Gun Model 1942 armed with 47/32).
A total of 402 vehicles were produced under Italian and German control based on the hull of the L6/40 light reconnaissance tank.
German Operation Achse
After the arrest of Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Partito Nazionale Fascista Italiano (Eng. Italian National Fascist Party), on July 25th 1943, the Germans had foreseen the Italian surrender. They planned Fall Achse (Eng: Operation Axis), which they launched on September 8th when the signing of the Armistice of Cassibile (which had been secretly signed on September 5th by the Italian Royal Army and Allied Forces) was made public. In 12 days, the German troops managed to occupy all the Italian command centers and divisions in Italy and in the other occupied territories.
The Germans captured all the Italian factories that produced armaments or military equipment. They also captured 977 Italian armored fighting vehicles, of which about 400 were tanks and self-propelled guns, 16,631 trucks, over 5,500 artillery pieces, 2,754 anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, over 8,000 mortars, 1,285,000 rifles, 39,000 machine guns, and 13,000 submachine guns. They imprisoned 1,006,730 Italian soldiers stationed in Italy, the Balkans, Greece, and France.
By October 1st, 1943, Wehrmacht documentation stated that German units had captured 78 L40 da 47/32s in all occupied territories (including the 20 L40s produced before the Armistice and not delivered). In German service, this vehicle was known as the Sturmgeschütz L6 mit 47/32 770(i). For this reason, some sources wrongly call it Semovente L6 or StuG L6.
In addition, many former Italian factories, such as FIAT, Lancia, Breda, and Ansaldo-Fossati, were also under German control. With this and with the acquisition of many spare parts and materials, it was possible to restart the production of nearly all Italian vehicles. This was the case with the Semovente L40 da 47/32, with the Germans producing 74 new Sturmgeschütz L6 mit 47/32 770(i).
Under German control, another 46 Command and Radio Center vehicles on the L40 hull were produced, which brings the total number of L40 produced by the Germans to 120 units.
Operational service in Italy
While the Semovente L40 da 47/32s were available in some numbers, their use in Italy by the Germans was limited. The units that had this vehicle in Italy were the 305. and 356. Infanterie Divisionen, Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590, 114. Jäger Division and the 20. Luftwaffe-Field-Division.
The 305. Infanterie Division fought between September 8th and 10th to occupy the port of La Spezia. It was transferred in the following weeks to near Rome, where it was supplied with some Italian vehicles, among which were some L40 from 47/32s.
The 305. Division then defended the Gothic Line and the Gustav Line before surrendering, together with most of the German divisions that remained after the Battle of Bologna, on the Po River.
The 356. Infanterie Division fought in anti-partisan actions between November 1943 and January 1944. It was transferred to Anzio and was provided with the self-propelled L40 vehicles along the way.
The unit fought fiercely for the defense of the region together with the Italian Republican National Army units until they were forced to retreat along the Gustav Line in March 1944. After the Gustav Line was broken through, the unit fought in Tuscany. retreating to the south of Florence in July 1944. In January 1945, it was transferred to Hungary but, according to the surviving documents, it was no longer equipped with Italian self-propelled vehicles.
The Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590 was used from June 13th to September 14th, 1944 to secure central Italy. In order to perform this task, the unit was provided with some L40 self-propelled vehicles. From September 15th, 1944 to January 15th, 1945, the unit was involved in defensive combat in the Emilia-Romagna region.
Due to the scarcity of artillery towing vehicles and the obsolescence of the self-propelled L40 variants, many self-propelled vehicles were modified by removing the cannon to be used as artillery tractors.
From April 22nd to May 2nd, 1945, the unit was involved in the fighting retreat, desperately battling against the Allied forces.
The 114. Jäger Division was transferred to Italy from Yugoslavia in January 1944. It was supplied with material captured from the Italian Army, including some L40 self-propelled vehicles. After the Battle of Anzio, the unit was employed only in anti-partisan roles. It was responsible or co-responsible for three different massacres in the region of central Italy against innocent civilian victims. The unit was completely annihilated in April 1945 during fighting with Allied forces.
Panzer Ausbildung Abteilung Süd (a training tank battalion) was equipped with the Semoventi L40s, but these were used mainly for crew training. Organization Todt, which was present in Italy, operated an unknown number of L40 da 47/32s, but mostly as tractor vehicles without their guns.
In May 1944, the 20. Luftwaffe Field Division (20. LwFD), previously employed in Denmark, was sent to Italy, more precisely to Lazio. There, it was re-equipped with a number of Semoventi L40 da 47/32s and immediately participated in hard clashes with the U.S. Army units in the Terracina area. On June 1st, the unit assumed the designation of 20. Luftwaffen-Sturm-Division.
The division retreated to Tuscany and established defensive positions near Roccastrada. From there, at the end of June, it was again engaged in heavy clashes against U.S. forces.
After fighting house by house for the control of Siena against the units of the Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Italie (Eng: French Expeditionary Force in Italy), in July 1944, the division withdrew to the area of Volterra. It was then withdrawn from the front to be sent to the rear to guard the coast between Viareggio and La Spezia, where it absorbed the remains of the 19. LwFD. In mid-September, the division received orders to move to the coast of the Adriatic Sea, facing the Commonwealth forces between Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna and then south of Cesena.
After the killing of their commander in Bologna by the partisans and further heavy losses in the fighting between Cesena and Forlì, the division was disbanded on November 28th, 1944 and its survivors were reassigned to other German units.
Operational service in Balkans
In the Balkans, the L40 da 47/32s saw extensive use against Yugoslav resistance movements. Several German units were equipped with them. Some of these were the 117. and 118. Jäger Divisionen, 11. Luftwaffe-Field-Division, and the 181., 264. and 297. Infanterie Divisionen. Many police units of different sizes (such as the 13. Verstärkt Polizei Panzer Kompanie, 14. Panzer Kompanie, 4. SS Polizei Division) were also equipped with this vehicle. Some smaller units were also supplied, such as SS Panzer Abteilung 105. and Panzer Kompanie z.b.V 12.
In 1944, due to the availability of Italian armored vehicles, it was possible to resupply many German units which fought in Yugoslavia with them. The Germans did not form dedicated Panzer units with these vehicles. Instead, these vehicles were usually used to equip reconnaissance or anti-tank units (Aufkl. Abt and Pz.Jag. Abt.). By May 1944, German forces operating in Yugoslavia had at least 165 Semovente 47/32 vehicles.
By the end of 1943, Panzer Kompanie z.b.V 12 had in its inventory 12 operational Semoventi L40 da 47/32s and 4 in repair. In early 1944, it received an additional 14 Semoventi da 47/32, one L6 light tank, and 4 M13/40s. By February 1944, there were only 2 operational Semoventi da 47/32 and 2 in repair. On March 1st, 1944, some 10 were operational and 3 in repairs. These were allocated to the 2nd Company, which took action against partisan units around the city of Kraljevo. In July, the number of Semoventi da 47/32 was increased to 15 vehicles. The reason for the large monthly oscillations in available numbers is not clear. It could be either a mistake in sources or, because of the poor mechanical reliability, some vehicles were simply not listed. By September and October 1944, while this unit still had 16 such vehicles, they were replaced in order to increase the number of M15 tanks.
The 14th Panzer Kompanie was another example of a German unit using the Semovente L40 da 47/32. This unit, which was active in Slovenia in September 1944, was reinforced with two 8 vehicle strong platoons equipped with the Semovente L40 da 47/32. One smaller unit with four such vehicles was kept in reserve.
While fighting the Partisans in the Balkans, the L40 da 47/32s were usually dispersed and used in smaller groups. The usual tactical employment was that one vehicle would advance while the remaining vehicles provided cover.
By the end of 1944, on the Yugoslavian Front, the Germans and their allies had less than 80 Semoventi L40 da 47/32. Near the end of the war, in March 1945, the numbers were reduced to less than 40.
In German hands, the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was modified in order to improve its performance. As the L40 da 47/32 was initially only armed with the main gun, it was less effective against infantry attacks. For this reason, the Germans added machine gun mounts that were protected with an armored shield at the front. The machine gun models used included the Breda Mod. 37 and Breda Mod. 38, both 8 mm caliber, and, in some cases, MG34s or Fiat-Revelli Mod. 14/35. Additional armor plates were added to the side of the superstructure, and in some cases, even on the top. Additional spare part boxes were also sometimes added.
Also, as previously noted, a significant number of these vehicles were modified to be used as towing tractors or as training vehicles. For these modifications, the main gun was removed. In the case of the training vehicles, a wooden shield was simply added where the gun was.
The SS Polizei-Regiment 18 Gebirgsjäger was equipped with two Italian armored cars and at least five Semoventi 47/32s when it was relocated from Greece to the northern regions of Serbia in October 1944. It was engaged in a failed German attempt to stop the advancing Soviet Forces in Vojvodina and suffered heavy losses, probably losing all its vehicles.
In general, the German view of the L40 was very negative. It was small and narrow and the cannon was not able to face the most modern opponent vehicles. In anti-partisan actions in Italy and in the Balkans, it proved relatively effective, as its small shape and weight allowed it to climb very steep mountain roads, where only mules could pass. The cannon, even if almost useless against the armor of Soviet or American tanks, had a good High Explosive round that was effective against infantry.
The Germans, as well as the Italians, realized that the vehicle was very vulnerable to ambushes. Consequently, German tankers learned to wear the Stahlhelm helmet and carry MP40s and hand grenades inside the vehicle for close defense.
The Germans repainted the L40s that they captured from the Italians or that they received after November 9th with a three-tone camouflage, depending on the unit that used them.
For example, Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590 repainted its L40 da 47/32s with dark green and dark brown stripes on a standard khaki base. SS Polizei-Regiment 18, stationed in Greece, repainted its vehicles in three-tone camouflage, dark green, and brown spots on standard khaki. The 20. Luftwaffen-Feld-Division, which used some L40s in anti-partisan duties in central-northern Italy, camouflaged its self-propelled guns vehicles with patches of green and dark brown.
The Semovente L40 da 47/32, while cheap and small in size, was by 1943 standards generally an obsolete vehicle. For the Germans who were at this stage of war becoming ever more desperate to find any additional armored vehicle, it was a welcome addition. The use of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 by the Germans in its original role against the Allied forces in Italy was limited. They did see service in other secondary roles for example crew training or as armored tractors. They were more deployed in combat against the Partisans especially in the Balkans where the enemy had limited anti-tank capabilities.
Semovente da 75/18 specifications
3.82 x 1.92 x 1.63 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready
3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader)
Fiat SPA, 6 cyl. gasoline, 68 hp
(road) 42 km/h (off-road) 20/25 km/h
200 km on-road
Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935, 70 rounds
30 mm front, 15 mm sides and rear, and 10 mm floor
74 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 captured and 120 produced under German control in all variants
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (1948-present)
Medium tank – ~ 2,000 purchased from Soviet Union
After fighting during the final stages of World War II, from the spring of 1944 until May 1945, the T-34-85 was then supplied to states under the influence of the Soviet Union, such as Poland, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. Thanks to these supplies, by 1948, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and its army, the Korean People’s Army (KPA), were able to equip themselves with relatively modern medium armored vehicles capable of far outclassing the troops of the Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) of the southern Republic of Korea (ROK).
The T-34-85s were used extensively in the first phases of the Korean War, where they were the only medium tanks used by the Chinese and North Koreans along with a few T-34-76s.
Foundation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Exactly 3 months after the end of the hostilities in Europe, on August 8th, 1945, Stalin declared war on Japan. On August 15th, the troops of the Soviet Red Army crossed the border that separated the Soviet Union from Korea, advancing without meeting Japanese resistance and entering victoriously into Pyongyang on August 24th.
As previously agreed with the Western Allies, the Soviet troops ended their advance about halfway down the Korean peninsula, where the 38th parallel passes through. There, they waited for the US troops that landed on the peninsula on September 8th.
After an attempt to reunify the two states failed, on August 15th, 1948, the Republic of Korea was proclaimed in the south, with its capital at Seoul and president Syngman Rhee. On September 9th, 1948, the birth of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was proclaimed in the north, with its capital at Pyongyang. This embryonic Stalinist state was guided by the first of a dynasty, the ‘Great Leader’, Kim Il-sung.
The Korean People’s Army
The T-34 was the standard medium tank of the Red Army in World War II and was produced in two major versions, the T-34 and T-34-85. The first version, armed with a 76 mm gun, had 35,120 units produced between 1941 and 1944, but during operational use, some defects were found. Chief among them were ergonomic problems with the initial two-man turret, clutch, gearbox, suspension and the fact that the 76 mm guns were eventually outmatched and deemed ineffective against the new German tanks.
The T-34-85 was the latter version of the famous Soviet T-34 medium tank, the most produced WW2-era design. 44,380 units were produced from January 1944 to early 1950. Another 3,185 were produced by Czechoslovakia from 1952 to 1958, 1,980 by Poland from 1953 to 1955, and 7 by Yugoslavia after 1950, for a total of 48,952 T-34-85 produced. About 95,855 vehicles were produced on the T-34 chassis.
The new model had a turret ring diameter of 1,600 mm, compared to the 1,425 mm of the previous models. This allowed it to mount a larger and wider turret that housed three crewmen and a new 85 mm D-5T cannon (later ZIS-S-53) which greatly increased the anti-tank characteristics. It was, for example, able to penetrate the frontal armor of the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger at a distance of about 1,000 meters.
This cannon could fire four different types of ammunition.
The engine was a V-2-34 38.8-liter V12 diesel with an output of 500 hp. This propelled the tank to a maximum speed of 55 km/h and a range of 300 km, thanks to the 556-liter internal fuel tanks. With the 5 external fuel drum-tanks with 95 liters each, this reached a total of about 1,030 liters of fuel, increasing the maximum range to around 550 kilometers.
The armor was of adequate thickness for a medium tank of the era. *Values taken from Engineering analysis of the Russian T-34/85
During World War II, the Soviet Union began developing new armored vehicles to replace the T-34-85 as the main medium tank in the ranks of the Red Army. The first design was the T-44, which retained the turret fitted with an 85 mm gun, but had a new hull with torsion bar suspension and thick, well-sloped frontal armor. However, mechanical problems and the inability of mounting a new turret armed with a 100 mm cannon that would increase anti-tank performance meant that the project was abandoned after only 1,800 units were produced.
The second vehicle on which the Soviet Union focused was the T-54. This entered production in 1946, although, due to the defects found, by the end of 1947, only 25 had been made. In 1948, production of the T-54-1 began, but this was once again interrupted due to the defects of the vehicle and the low quality of materials used to make it. In 1949, the production started again, this time with the T-54-2, with 423 units produced by the end of 1950. This was not enough to be supplied to Korea or China for the Korean War. In fact, these started arriving in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1958.
According to a CIA analysis titled Engineering analysis of the Russian T-34/85 written in September 1951 and made public on April 18th, 2000, some T-34-85s and engines which had been captured in Korea and arrived in the United States in late March 1951. The T-34s were considered good vehicles by their American reviewers, even if not without defects.
One of the vehicles in question, called ‘G812’, was analyzed in detail. It was produced in the Soviet Union in late 1945 and captured in Korea in mid-1950. During the analysis, some defects were found, such as the gears being hard to shift, a lot of noise in the crew compartment, the lack of a turret basket, and the quality of the armor fabrication. Specifically, the welds between the plates of armor were criticized, even if it should be noted that the same CIA report states that some are not critical defects, but simply that some features were not up to the minimum standards required by the US Army.
The same report, however, praised the armor, stating that it was composed of materials that were, in some cases, better than those of US armor. Also, it was noted that it was forged by unskilled workers and turned out to be harder than U.S. armor, at 413-460 BHN for Soviet steel compared to 280-320 BHN for US steel.
The abbreviation BHN – Brinell Hardness Number (unit of measurement kg/mm²) is a figure used to determine the hardness of a material from a hardness test. The harder a steel is, the better it will be at resisting shell impacts, but would also be more vulnerable to shattering. In this case, the two values were adequate for ballistic steel, even if, obviously, the T-34 armor had less ductility.
On the battlefield, this increased the crew’s chances of survival against certain types of impacts at the expense of the vehicle’s structural integrity.
The same report emphasized that, despite the less malleable armor, the lower quality, and more fragile welds, Soviet vehicles should not be underestimated. With a well-trained crew, they could be very difficult targets.
Another detail to be mentioned was the cost and time of production. In 1945, a T-34-85 cost 142,000 rubles. During World War II, this was equivalent to about US$26,000 dollars. Considering that an American M4 Sherman cost between US$45,000 and US$64,000 dollars and that the T-34 was produced in about half the time of an M4 Sherman, the T-34 was both quicker and substantially cheaper to manufacture. However, given the disparity between the economic and industrial powers of the US and USSR, the US could still outproduce the Soviets, which they did during WW2, during which time there were more Shermans built than T-34s.
Most of the T-34-85s that arrived before and during the Korean War were late production versions. Most had been produced in the months immediately after World War II, between May 1945 and August 1946, when it was no longer necessary to produce vehicles in the shortest possible time and save on money and raw materials. This increased the quality of the armor and the strength of the welds.
Before being sent to the DPRK in 1948, the worn-out engines, automotive components, and guns in the vehicles were replaced with newly manufactured parts, thus providing the Korean People’s Army with an efficient and almost brand new vehicle.
With the KPA’s coat of arms
Before the Korean War
At the end of the 1940s, the Soviet Union supplied the DPRK with several thousands of tanks, including a batch of about 170 SU-76M self-propelled artillery vehicles, an unknown number of T-34-76s, and 258 T-34-85s. These T-34-85s were mostly late production vehicles of the latest batch, produced between late 1945 and early 1948.
While the first Korean People’s Army Ground Force (KPA-GF) soldiers were training at the KPA School No. 2 for Officers in Pyongyang and the KPA Military Academy for the education of both political and military officers, the first North Korean tankers were trained in North Korea. After 1949, they were also trained in China on US and Japanese-made tanks, and on some T-34-85s from the Soviet Union.
In 1948, before Soviet vehicles arrived, the Soviets helped form the 15th Tank Training Regiment under the command of Tu Lying Su, a former Korean Red Army Lieutenant and the brother-in-law of Kim Il-Sung. The regiment was stationed in the village of Sadong, near the DPRK capital of Pyongyang.
This training unit was equipped with only two T-34-85s and consisted of a squad of 30 veteran Soviet volunteer tank officers. Of these, most did not speak Korean and needed to be constantly followed by interpreters, which were in short supply.
All of the recruits had previously served in Korea’s anti-Japanese guerrilla warfare, while the officers and NCOs had served in the Red Army or the Chinese Liberation Army as volunteers.
In May 1949, the regiment was reorganized and the cadets were all promoted to officers and NCOs of the newly formed 105th Armored Brigade, the first armored unit of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In the original plans, the 105th Armored Brigade was to serve as a breakthrough unit against South Korea and was (and still is) considered the elite armored unit of the Korean People’s Army. It is still equipped with the best vehicles in the possession of the KPA and the best training.
At its founding, the brigade consisted of five regiments, of which the 107th, 109th, and 203rd Tank Regiments were equipped (grades were not completed until October 1949) with 40 T-34-85s each. The 206th Motorized Infantry Regiment was equipped with Soviet-made trucks. The 303rd Motorcycle Reconnaissance Battalion and the 308th Armored Battalion had 16 SU-76Ms self-propelled assault guns. This gave a total of 120 medium tanks, 16 self-propelled guns and, according to Soviet and US documents, a total of 12 ZIS-3 76 mm field guns, 28 M42 45 mm Anti-Tank guns, 18 82 mm mortars, 12 37 mm K-61 Anti-Aircraft cannons, 12 DShK and DShKM heavy machine guns, 59 trucks, 201 cars and artillery tractors, 218 motorcycles and 8,442 officers, NCOs, and soldiers.
Prior to the war, the ranks of an armored regiment consisted of 40 T-34-85 tanks divided into three battalions, with one command tank and 13 tanks per battalion. Each battalion was then divided into three companies of four tanks plus one command tank.
Some sources state that the ranks of the armored battalion of an infantry division or a mechanized division would contain a minimum of 25 up to a maximum of 33 tanks. It is not specified if these were formed by T-34-85s only and what their structure was.
Thanks to the training of experienced Soviet veterans, at least at the beginning of the war, the North Korean tanks tended to fight in pairs, so that they could support each other in case of an attack by enemy soldiers.
From what is reported, however, only the 105th Armored Brigade had formed such ranks. In fact, due to the immediate need for vehicles and soldiers at the front, the crews of the other brigades received little training, often no more than one month per crew. Before being sent to the front, the full personnel complement was not completed.
At the outbreak of the war, the 41st, 42nd, 43rd, 45th, and 46th Armored Regiments were in training, but they did not receive more than 15 T-34s tanks each. Two other tank brigades were formed, the 16th and the 17th Armored Brigades, but they were formed only on 23rd June 1950, two days before the start of the war, and could not take part in the first battles.
A very interesting fact about the organization of a Korean Armored Brigade was discovered through documentation captured from the enemy during the war. The unit in question was the 17th Armored Brigade, which never received its full complement of T-34-85s.
Formed on June 23rd, 1950 at Sŭngho-ri, 19 km east of Pyongyang, it had only 43 T-34-85s and 16 SU-76Ms in its ranks. Of the 280 tankers, only 20 (promoted to officers) had 8 months of training and the rest barely exceeded 2 months. The brigade commander was Senior Colonel Chong Pir-u, who had served in the Red Army as a tanker, participating in the Battle of Berlin. For the first 2 months of the war, until August 23rd, the unit continued to train with the help of four Soviet trainers. Essentially, the 16th and 17th Tank Brigades were formed only to free up space in training camps where new tankers could be trained to replace losses.
At the end of August, the brigade (now renamed 17th Tank Division) had a staff of 4,200 soldiers under the command of a Headquarters commanded by the now promoted Major General Chong Pir-u. The change from rifle to tank division neither increased nor changed the number of T-34s and SU-76Ms available to the unit. It kept the 1st Tank Battalion with 21 T-34-85s and the 2nd Tank Battalion with 21 T-34-85s. There were also the 1st and 2nd Infantry Regiments, a Self-propelled Artillery Battalion with 16 SU-76Ms, an Artillery Battalion with 16 ZIS-3 76 mm cannons and 4 122 mm M30 mortars, an Anti-tank Battalion equipped with 16 45 mm guns and 18 PTRD-41 Anti-Tank rifles, and an Anti-Aircraft Battery with 18 DShK machine guns.
The 1st Tank Battalion, commanded by Major Kang Hui-il, had, in addition to 21 tanks, 141 tankers, and 8 trucks, just like the 2nd Tank Battalion of Major U Pong-hak. The numbers painted on the T-34-85s were progressive and ranged from 700 to 742. T-34-85 number 700 was that of General Chong Pir-u, 701 was that of the 1st Tank Battalion Commander, Major Kang Hui-il, 702 was the T-34-85 of the 1st Company commander, and 703 was that of the 1st Platoon leader. T-34 number 705 was that of the 2nd Platoon leader and 707 was that of the 2nd Company commander.
Following this reasoning, the 722 was the T-34 of the 2nd Battalion commander, Major U Pong-hak, and 723 was the tank of the 1st Company commander of the 2nd Battalion.
The training unit was equipped with 30 T-34s and renamed the 208th Tank Training Regiment. Colonel Kim Choi Won, a veteran of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, was put in charge.
The Korean War
North Korean Attack
At the outbreak of the Korean War, on June 25th, 1950, the forces of the Korean People’s Army were divided into two armies. The 1st Army, under the command of General Kim Ch’aek, consisted of the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 6th Infantry Divisions, and the 105th Armored Brigade. They were ordered to take the Ongjin Peninsula and Seoul, the capital of the ROK.
The 2nd Army, commanded by General Kim Kwang-hyop, was instead composed of the 2nd, 5th, and 7th Infantry Divisions, with the task of invading the central-eastern part of South Korea, in the direction of Inje.
The 208th Tank Training Regiment was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division with its full complement of 30 T-34 tanks.
In total, in the first phase of the invasion, there were about 150,000-200,000 KPA soldiers, 150 T-34-85s (120 from the 105th Armored Brigade), and 120 SU-76M assault guns. In addition to these units, there were another 30,000 soldiers and 105 T-34s available in reserve. Thus, at the outbreak of the war, the KPA had in its ranks 255 T-34-85s out of 258 delivered by the Soviets.
At the beginning of the war, the North Korean vehicles were unrivaled, as the ROKA had no tanks and only a few 2.36 in (60 mm) Bazookas and some 57 mm anti-tank guns. These turned out to be useless against the T-34s because of the poor training of the servants, who in some cases had never fired a single shot before the war.
The only vehicles the ROKA was equipped with were around 200 M8 Greyhound armored reconnaissance cars, some Dodge WC54 ¾ ton truck-based technicals armed with 57 and 75 mm recoilless rifles and some M3 and M5 Half-tracks.
Moreover, the lack of training of ROK Army troops in fighting armored vehicles allowed the T-34s to act practically undisturbed in the early stages of the war.
The 105th Armored Brigade divided its regiments to support the infantry units in the assault. Under the command of General Choe U Sik, the 107th Tank Regiment, supporting the troops of the 4th Infantry Division, attacked to the west, along the lines controlled by the 12th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division of the ROKA at Kaesong. Kaesong would be conquered at 0930 hrs in the morning, after only five and a half hours from the start of the war. The ROKA 13th Infantry Regiment was stationed near a ford on the Imjin River, near Korangpo. During these battles, many US military advisers were captured before the South Koreans were able to organize a defense.
The troops of the ROKA 13th Infantry Regiment claimed to have destroyed a total of 11 T-34-85s during the battle, but it was later discovered through the testimony of captured North Korean tankers that no T-34s were destroyed that day, although several were damaged.
Although the offensive in Korea was immense in scale, US Ambassador in Seoul John Muccio phoned the White House only at 0900 hrs, catching everyone unprepared. Some US generals did not believe the Korean People’s Army would be a problem and took the attack lightly.
Meanwhile, two Yak-9s from the Korean People’s Army Air and Anti-Air Force (KPAAF) attacked the residence of South Korean President Syngman Rhee, who decided it was time to leave Seoul. John Muccio managed to convince him that if he left Seoul, the ROKA would be demoralized and collapse in less than a day. Together they began to organize the evacuation of politicians, foreign citizens and others.
To counter the T-34s, TNT charges and improvised demolition charges were used. These did not provide the desired effects, not destroying a single T-34 and costing the 1st Infantry Division 90 soldiers. According to some unconfirmed sources, the high number of losses was also due to the attempt to destroy the tanks using improvised suicide teams. According to Joseph C. Goulden‘s book Korea, the Untold Story of the War, the anti-tank suicide teams were created because South Korean soldiers were so poorly trained that they did not even know how to use the simple anti-tank mines of US origin.
Despite the ineffectiveness of ROKA’s anti-tank weapons and tactics, Radio Seoul continued to read made-up war bulletins throughout the day, claiming that President Syngman Rhee‘s troops were advancing north of the 38th Parallel towards Pyongyang.
Between 25th and 27th June, the KPA 107th Tank Regiment destroyed most of the South Korean 7th Infantry Division and advanced eastwards, meeting up with the 109th Tank Regiment in Uijeongbu, 20 km north of Seoul. From Uijongbu, the attack towards the South Korean capital started that same day.
On June 26th at 0900 hrs, Kim Il-sung sent a message to his citizens stating that the war they were fighting was necessary to unify the Korean peninsula. At 1100 hrs, Radio Seoul stated that the “Fierce Tiger” unit commanded by Maengho Dae (belonging to the 17th Infantry Regiment commanded by Colonel Kim Chong Won, a former sergeant of the Japanese Imperial Army, who fled North Korea in 1945) liberated the city of Haeju north of the 38th Parallel and continued its advance, having killed 1,580 soldiers of North Korea.
Some of the South Korean regiments were commanded by Korean soldiers who had participated in the Second World War as soldiers or NCOs for the Japanese Imperial Army. They were, therefore, well organized and trained, but not even they could do much against the communist T-34-85s.
On June 26th, 700 American civilians were embarked on a Norwegian ship at the port of Incheon under Ambassador Muccio’s supervision. That night, President Rhee, his collaborators, and their families fled from Seoul on a train without saying anything to the Americans.
General Douglas MacArthur still believed that the ROKA could repel the KPA, even though Ambassador Muccio informed him that North Korean cannon explosions could be heard from Seoul.
On June 27th, Muccio also fled the city trying to get to President Rhee in his Jeep. Panic was rampant in Seoul, even though Radio Seoul claimed that ROKA troops were besieging Pyongyang. Refugees and soldiers fled Seoul on the Han River bridges that were rigged with explosives 2 days earlier by Republic of Korea Army troops.
US war advisors and South Korean General Chae wanted to wait before detonating the charges. Due to his refusal to blow up the bridge, General Chae was replaced by General Jung Il Kwon, a former captain of the Japanese Imperial Army. He obeyed the command to blow up the bridge at 0215 hrs, killing several hundred soldiers and refugees and trapping some 10,000 ROK 5th Infantry Division troops.
For this reason, the engineer who detonated the charges was executed. General Chae died a few days later in unclear circumstances. Kim Paik, the Minister of Defense who issued the order, never received any blame.
On June 29th, after very light fighting, the troops of the Korean People’s Army conquered Seoul, even though Radio Seoul continued to report ROKA victories north of the 38th Parallel.
Not everyone in Seoul was desperate. Some civilians cheerfully welcomed the communist troops. General Song Ho Song, commander of ROKA’s 2nd Infantry Division, offered to create a volunteer army with South Korean POWs, while many young students and workers volunteered for the Korean People’s Army.
The vehicle that first entered Seoul, the T-34-85 312 of the Commander of the 3rd Company of the 1st Battalion of the 105th Armored Brigade, is still preserved at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang. It is treated as a valuable relic (like the T-54 that first entered Saigon, Vietnam in 1975) together with the DPRK flag that the soldiers hoisted on the Seoul government building and the Korean flag with 105th Armored Brigade’s colors.
After the excellent work done in liberating Seoul, the 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions were renamed “Seoul”, while the 105th Armored Brigade was promoted to the 105th “Seoul” Tank Division.
In only five days of war, the ROKA lost 70,000 soldiers dead, wounded, prisoners, or which had deserted. It still had only 22,000 men who managed to resist until the American intervention.
Two days after the beginning of hostilities, on June 27th, the United States entered the war on the side of South Korea by sending a contingent of the 24th Infantry Division, Task Force Smith (named after commander Charles Smith) by ship from Japan.
Their armored component consisted of only M24 Chaffee light tanks. In fact, the U.S. occupation forces in Japan was equipped almost exclusively with M24s, as heavier vehicles could not transit the Asian nation’s bridges and roads.
After the intervention started, M4 Shermans and M26 Pershings arrived in the Pacific. These had been rusting for 5 years in warehouses or used as gate guardians in front of barracks. They were hastily put back into service and sent to Korea in the following weeks.
The Republic of Korea Army troops were so unprepared for war and demoralized that, according to some US officers, they abandoned their positions without even fighting. On some occasions, however, they resisted to the last, such as at the Battle of Suwon.
After the capture of Seoul, the Republic of Korea Army tried to maintain a line along the Han river. This was broken through by the Korean People’s Army between 3rd and 4th July 1950, as they resumed the advance towards the South.
In order to continue to slow down the lightning advance, ROKA General Jeong Il-kwon ordered the 1st Infantry Division to defend Pungdeokcheong, 5 kilometers north of Suwon, where the rest of the ROKA was attempting to create a defensive perimeter.
After exhausting the ammunition that had arrived in the previous days, the troops of the 1st Infantry Division, commanded by Kim Hong-il, tried to slow down the T-34-85s of the KPA with tree trunks laid along the road, but with little success.
Sensing the failure of the plan, Jeong Il-kwon withdrew with the bulk of his troops and headquarters from Suwon to Pyeontaek, leaving a small contingent in Suwon. These barricaded themselves in the Hwaseong Fortress built in 1796.
US warplanes bombed the ROKA army headquarters in Suwon, along with ROKA armored vehicles and trains loaded with ammunition that were still in the hands of the South Korean Army in order to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Communists in the following hours or days. Korean police committed mass killings in Suwon with the connivance of United States Air Force intelligence officer Donald Nichols and US troops.
About 1,800 political prisoners were shot dead by the retreating ROK Military Police. After the massacre, two US bulldozers buried the victims.
At the Hwaseong Fortress, in the beginning, commander Choi Chang-sik ordered that the North Gate, called Janganmun, be blown up. Later, thanks to the intervention of Colonel Lee Jong-chan, the destruction of this historical relic was avoided by creating a defensive perimeter along the North Gate.
Instead of undermining the north gate, it was decided to place 20 M15 Anti-Tank blast mines that had arrived from Japan a few days before.
In the afternoon of 4th July, the troops of the Korean People’s Army arrived in Suwon and began the attack. During the attack, 2 T-34-85s were destroyed because of the mines. One was Number 208 of the Commander of the 1st Company of the 1st Battalion of the 105th ‘Seoul’ Armored Division, while the second is unknown.
ROKA sources state that another T-34 was destroyed by a 57 mm anti-tank gun. However, in his report, Vladimir Nikolaevich Razuvaev, a Soviet military advisor in the DPRK, did not mention any T-34s destroyed by anti-tank weapons. It is possible the vehicle was only damaged. The use by the ROKA of anti-tank guns in Suwon is not certain. Despite great effort, the fortress was abandoned at 1700 and the north gate was destroyed either by manually placed explosives or by T-34-85 fire.
Ascertaining that the two vehicles could not be repaired after the battle, the KPA removed the tracks and other parts that could be reused and abandoned them.
The citizens of Suwon later went to retrieve other parts of the tanks at night and used them in various contexts. Some parts of the engine deck, for example, were used by the town blacksmith.
Unfortunately for the civilians, the ROK Military Police considered that the possession of tank parts, cannon shells casings (used as lanterns), helmets (used as bowls), or other kitchen or work utensils made from vehicle parts or parts of military equipment, equated to being leftist subversives, communists, or worse, supporters of the North Korean regime. Those found in possession of such items could even face summary execution without trial.
The first battle between the KPA and the US Army was fought on July 5th, 1950 at Osan, 50 kilometers south of Seoul. Two regiments of the KPA 4th Infantry Division (about 5,000 men) and the 107th Tank Regiment of the 105th ‘Seoul’ Tank Division (36 T-34-85s, although some sources claim 33) attacked the 406 soldiers and 136 servants of Task Force Smith. The Americans were equipped with a battery of 105 mm howitzers, some 60 mm mortars, a 75 mm M20 recoilless rifle with 12 rounds, and 6 60 mm bazookas, the latter of which fired 22 rockets without effect.
The outcome of the battle, which lasted more than 3 hours, was a foregone conclusion. Before retreating due to the exhaustion of ammunition, the Americans managed to inflict losses on the North Korean tanks. Thanks to the 105 mm cannons and their six High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) projectiles, the US troops succeeded in destroying a T-34-85, damaging 1 other and stopping the other 2, as well as killing 42 Korean soldiers and wounding 85 more. This was in exchange for the loss of 60 American soldiers, the wounding of 21, and the capture of 82 others.
The North Korean army advanced further. Under the command of Lee Kwon Mu, the 16th and 18th Infantry Regiments of the 4th Infantry Division and the 107th Tank Regiment of the 105th Armored Division defeated the South Korean 34th Infantry Regiment in the Battles of Pyeongtaek and Chonan. During a battle in a district of the city, the commander of the US 34th Infantry Regiment, Colonel Bob Martin, was killed after hitting a T-34-85 with a Bazooka rocket that did not penetrate.
By July 9th, the 105th ‘Seoul’ Armored Division had lost only four T-34-85s, two by mines and two more during the previous battles with Task Force Smith. It also lost 7 SU-76Ms during the Chunchon Battle.
In the Battle of Chochiwon, the Americans put up a strenuous resistance. On the mornings of July 9th and 10th, a series of air attacks succeeded in destroying some vehicles approaching the city of Chonjui.
The Koreans did not give up the offensive and, on July 10th, they attacked the village of Chonjui, where some US mortars were positioned. The Americans requested an air attack. However, due to the fog, this attack did not destroy a single T-34 but accidentally destroyed A Company’s radios. The soldiers on the front line of Company A of the 21st Infantry Regiment that were under attack could no longer request the support of 155 mm guns. These instead began shooting blindly, hitting allied positions.
Also on July 10th, the North Korean 2nd Corps, led by General Mu Jong, advanced south along the west coast of Korea without encountering much resistance. The 6th Infantry Division commanded by Pang Ho San conquered Chinju.
Before the war, there had been communist uprisings against the government in that region. The guerrillas who had escaped the ROKA massacres came out of their hiding places and joined Kim Il-sung’s troops.
In the afternoon of the same day, during a counterattack, the first tank vs tank battle of the Korean War was fought. Three M24 Chaffee light tanks of Company A of the 78th Heavy Tank Battalion fought against some T-34-85s, probably of the 107th Tank Regiment. The small and fast US reconnaissance vehicles were inadequate for fighting against the Soviet-made medium tanks and two of them were destroyed, in turn knocking out one T-34.
The fighting continued throughout the afternoon and night, and, by the morning of July 11th, the North Koreans were only 3 kilometers from Chochiwon. In the morning, an attack was launched by 4 T-34-85s of the 107th Regiment and about 1,000 soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division against the US 3rd Battalion, which was almost totally annihilated, together with 3 other M24 Chaffees.
On July 12th, 2,000 North Koreans attacked the US positions at Chochiwon, forcing them to retreat towards Taejeon, destroying another 3 M24 Chaffees. By August, of the 14 M24 Chaffee tanks of Company A of the 78th Heavy Tank Battalion, only 2 remained operational. Some had also been knocked out by 14 x 114 mm PTRS-41 Soviet anti-tank rifles.
The other two tank companies in Korea at the time, Company A of the 71st Tank Battalion and Company A of the 79th Tank Battalion, had similar losses by August, causing a fall in morale for the troops who could not stop the advance of the Korean’s People Army.
During the Battle of Kum River, fought between July 14th and 15th, 1950, the KPA troops were not supported by tanks. After July 16th, T-34s of the 107th Tank Regiment took part in the fighting.
On July 19th, the North Korean 3rd and 4th “Seoul” Infantry Divisions and the 105th “Seoul” Tank Division, with a strength of about 20,000 men and about 50 tanks attacked Taejeon. They captured about 80 vehicles and several artillery pieces of the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion on the first day alone.
The plan was to encircle the city. Despite continuous attempts to break the attack, even with the support of M24 Chaffees, the North Koreans managed to encircle the US units. They destroyed most of the enemy’s food and ammunition stores rapidly thanks to the suggestions of South Korean citizens and their own agents, who continually sabotaged US units by mixing with the civilian population.
On July 20th, while the US troops of the 24th Infantry Division engaged the Korean People’s Army on the north and west defensive lines, some T-34s penetrated a point in the lines, entering the city.
At six o’clock in the morning, General Willian F. Dean was awakened by his orderly, Lieutenant Clarke, who informed him that some enemy tanks were advancing isolated towards the city. The General, his interpreter, and Lieutenant Clarke decided to join an Anti-Tank team to destroy those tanks.
When the general arrived in the area of operations, two T-34s lay destroyed, along with a U.S. ammunition truck, in the intersection in the center of town. A third tank lay motionless in an open field near housing built for US soldiers during the occupation between 1945 and 1948.
Dean’s team, with a ¾ ton truck, probably a Dodge WC64, equipped with a 75 mm M20 recoilless rifle, fired 4 or 5 rounds at the T-34 without hitting it once. Fortunately for them, the vehicle was already knocked down or abandoned.
In the afternoon, Dean and his two comrades joined an anti-tank team with a Bazooka that had only one rocket left. Two more T-34s were positioned in the same street where lay the previous two-tank wrecks destroyed in the morning and the ammunition carrier were still burning because of the white phosphorus rounds it carried.
After being targeted by machine guns, without casualties, the team went around the two tanks, passing behind the houses, coming to only 15 meters from the two tanks. The crews of the vehicles, probably sensing the danger, retreated and the shot fired by the soldier armed with the Bazooka did not hit. At that point, General Dean drew his .45 caliber pistol, firing at the two retreating vehicles.
In the evening, a T-34 that had bypassed the US defenses from the left side entered the city from the south and passed at low speed through the main street of Taejeon. It passed in front of the headquarters where General Dean was and in front of some artillery positions without firing a single shot and without the shocked American soldiers shooting at it.
At the northern edge of the city, the vehicle turned around and drove back, passing again in front of the headquarters. It then positioned itself about 800 meters from the headquarters, in a street, protected by some riflemen, probably North Korean agents infiltrated in the city with civilian clothes.
After several attempts to get around the vehicle, William Dean, the Bazooka man, and the rest of the group (consisting of cooks, messengers, and radio operators) entered a house that was right in front of the tank.
The General, in his book, General Dean’s Story, tells that he was only a few centimeters from the cannon barrel when he leaned out of a window to tell the Bazooka man where to hit the tank.
Three shots were fired against the T-34. The first one hit the turret ring. It did not set the vehicle on fire, even if the chilling screams of the crew were heard. The second and the third shots hit the turret ring again, making the screams inside the tank stop and starting a fire.
By July 21st, the withdrawal of US and ROKA troops from the city was being organized, but sabotage by North Korean infiltrators slowed it down. A locomotive connected to wagons loaded with ammunition was stolen. When a second locomotive was brought to Taejeon, rifle shots killed the train drivers.
Eventually, a third locomotive, protected by riflemen along with a few M24 Chaffee light tanks of the A Company of the 78th Tank Battalion, arrived. The tanks were not used for a counterattack, but to escort the convoy of trucks and guns out of the city.
This column, however, was ambushed by elements of the 3rd “Seoul” Infantry Division, which were hidden in the houses next to the street. Several trucks and jeeps were destroyed. General Dean, who was among the last to retreat, managed to escape from the city aboard his jeep but was still captured sometime later, after rescuing some wounded soldiers.
The city was occupied by the North Koreans after losing a total of 15 T-34-85s (the highest number since the beginning of the war). 7 of these were destroyed by American anti-tank teams. This battle cost the US Army a high price, with the 24th Division losing 30% of its soldiers, some M24s, and losing almost 3,000 prisoners, including General William Dean.
After the battle, KPA troops exhumed the corpses of 7,000 political prisoners and former guerrillas captured in the years or months before the war. These had been executed by the ROK Military Police before the North Korean’s arrival.
It was now clear that the North Koreans could no longer be pushed back. Thus, on July 20th, it was decided to hold them back as long as possible in order to create a defensive perimeter on the southeastern tip of the peninsula, the ‘Pusan Perimeter’. This 230 km long defensive line along the Naktong River defended the extreme south-eastern tip of the Korean peninsula.
During this period, due to the poor quality of the roads, the T-34-85s of the KPA began to suffer wear and tear of the mechanical parts after almost a month of intense use.
The 105th ‘Seoul’ Armored Division had to cannibalize some of its running T-34s for spare parts.
On July 22nd, the Battle of Yongdong began, where US Army troops, with their M20 rocket launchers, managed to disable at least 3 T-34s and others were lost in the minefields. The battle, which lasted until July 25th, cost the lives of about 300 U.S. soldiers, another 700 who were taken prisoners, and 11 M24 Chaffees who were captured or destroyed.
The North Koreans were slowed down quite a bit by the Battle of Hwanggan, fought until July 29th, which cost the US Army nearly 500 dead, wounded, and prisoners. On the other side, 3,000 North Koreans were dead, wounded and missing, as well as 6 T-34-85s damaged or destroyed. Five of these destroyed T-34-85s were lost as a result of air attacks with napalm and missiles.
The first use of the M26 Pershing during the Korean War was on June 28th, in Chinju. 3 M26s that had been recovered from a US Army depot in Tokyo were put in operational condition and shipped. The platoon that used them, along with some M24s, was forced to abandon them on June 28th. It is not clear if all three broke down irreparably during the fighting against the 6th Infantry Division of the KPA or if they were destroyed by T-34-85 fire.
Between the end of July and the beginning of August, the KPA continued to push back the ROKA and US Army troops as far as the Pusan Perimeter but suffered many losses. Of the 120 T-34-85s in service at the beginning of the war in the 105th Division, at the beginning of August, only about 40 remained, although some others were waiting for repairs in the rear.
On August 4th, 1950, a very fortunate event happened for the US Army. A 230 kg bomb accidentally dropped by a US fighter exploded on the roof of an abandoned factory 25 km from Pusan.
The headquarters of the Korean People’s Army was placed in that abandoned factory. The explosion injured General Kang Kon, Chief of Staff, and almost killed General Kim Chaik. The equipment was less fortunate. The bomb destroyed the radio room and left only a single radio still working. This slowed down the attack on Pusan, losing the golden opportunity to oust the US and its allies from the peninsula.
Between August 19th and 23rd, 1950, the 17th Tank Division was finally ordered into action.nThe 43 T-34-85s of the 1st and 2nd Tank Battalions, plus that of Major General Chong Pir-u, went from Sungho-ri. There, they were stationed at the Mirim-ni railway station near Pyongyang, where they were supplied with extra ammunition and fuel and loaded onto flatcars to await departure for the front.
Because of continuous air attacks, the division, in order to avoid losses, moved slowly at night, hiding during the day inside railway tunnels. The Division repaired the rails when they were damaged by air attacks by itself or with the help of the civilian population. They arrived in Seoul only between 23rd and 27th August (the tanks arrived first, then it was the turn of the other regiments of the division).
Regrouping in Seoul, the division left by train and crossed the Pyongjomgo-ri railway bridge at night. From there, it went to Wonju and then to Yongju under the command of Lieutenant General Mu Chong. There it was finally attached to the 8th Infantry Division under the command of II Corps, with headquarters in Mun’gyong.
The 1st Tank Battalion, under the command of Major Kang Hui-il, together with part of the division’s anti-aircraft battery, arrived in Yongju on August 28th, unloading its tanks and moving at night and moving towards Andong, Uisong and, finally, Uihung. During the last leg, between September 1st and 2nd, the battalion lost 3 T-34-85s to an air attack.
For the 2nd Tank Battalion, under the command of Major U Pong-hak, more precise data is available thanks to the testimonies of some prisoners of war that were interrogated.
It arrived in Yongju between the 29th and 30th of August 1950. In the evening, all the T-34s were unloaded from the flatcars and moved about 8 km away to Pyongun-ni, and parked on the sides of the road and camouflaged within 0600 hrs. At 1800 hrs the unit resumed its march, following the 1st Tank Battalion, arriving at Uihung on 1st September with only 6 T-34-85s. 5 were destroyed by airstrikes or had mechanical failures along the way.
On September 2nd, 4 more late T-34s arrived, followed by others, but the total number is unknown. Moving towards Sinnyong to support the 8th KPA Infantry Division’s attacks against the 6th ROKA Infantry Division, the unit arrived at 0300 hrs on September 3rd.
Three T-34-85s crossed a 10-meter long bridge while the fourth collapsed the bridge under its 32 tons of weight. This incident slowed down the attack, forcing the three tanks on the south bank of the river and the six on the north bank to camouflage themselves for the day. After a ROKA artillery bombardment that lasted for half a day, until 1500 hours, ROKA troops of the 6th Infantry Division captured the four tank crews that were south of the river, while the other six tanks fled north and were damaged in an air attack launched against them at 1600 hours.
It can be supposed that the data provided to the UN intelligence about this unit came from the tankers of the 4 tanks captured on September 3rd. From hereon, the information becomes fragmentary. It is known for sure that, between September 3rd and 15th, the 1st and 2nd Tank Battalions supported the attacks of the 1st and 8th Infantry Divisions of the 2nd Corps.
UN defense and counterattacks
In the Battle of Masan, a series of skirmishes that lasted from August 5th to September 19th, 1950, North Korea lost at least twenty T-34-85s and about 11,000 men, including dead, wounded, missing, prisoners, and deserters.
The situation remained in a stalemate, as every attempt by the KPA to break through the perimeter was in vain thanks to the arrival of new US and British troops. The USAF (US Air Force) destroyed most of the bridges, refineries, fuel depots, harbors, ammunition depots, etc. in DPRK territory between August and September. It also reduced daytime traffic of supplies to the KPA soldiers on the front lines to practically nil.
The damage to the logistic lines of the KPA was so serious that some prisoners later told that the soldiers had to move at night riding bicycles full of ammunition and hand grenades or fishing boats armed as best they could and loaded with ammunition if they were in areas near the coasts. These actions were needed in order to supply the North Korean soldiers on the front line. In other cases, weapons and equipment captured from ROKA troops or the US Army were used.
In addition to destroying North Korean supply lines, the USAF, available 24 hours a day, was called in to repel any attack attempted by the KPA on the UN lines. The North Korean lack of supplies during the Battle for the Pusan Perimeter was a great advantage for the UN troops, which were able to overwhelm the KPA. The North Koreans suffered losses of about 63,000 dead, wounded, missing, and 3,300 prisoners.
The UN forces, for their part, lost about 60,000 soldiers (40,000 of the ROKA) but managed to maintain their positions. In fact, thanks to continuous air support, from August 2nd, 1950 onwards, UN forces began to land in force. By the end of August, these reinforcements in the Pusan Perimeter came to about 500 tanks, split between M4A3 (76)W Shermans, M26 Pershings, and M46 Pattons. In September, the UN troops in the perimeter had risen to about 180,000 soldiers against the 90,000 of the Korean People’s Army.
By the end of 1950, U.S. troops had received 1,326 tanks, of which 138 M24 Chaffees, 679 M4A3 (76)W HVSS Shermans, 309 M26 Pershings, and 200 M46 Pattons.
The 105th ‘Seoul’ Armored Division crossed the Naktong river on August 12th. The next day, the 109th Tank Regiment, which remained in the rear, was targeted by several US airstrikes at Chonjui, losing over 200 vehicles, including 20 tanks, and many others damaged.
Another series of targeted airstrikes along the Naktong River dispersed the T-34-85s of the Korean People’s Army, which did not attack the Pusan Perimeter en masse, but in small tank units (more difficult to detect by scout planes) which attacked towns along the perimeter.
On 15th August, 21 T-34-85s from the Sadong Tank Training Center arrived to reinforce the units at the front and to replace the losses. It is not clear if they were the only replacements that arrived during the battle. During the Battle of Pusan Perimeter, the KPA received another 100 (some sources claim 150, due to the impossibility of checking North Korean sources, it is impossible to say which number is correct) T-34-85s from the Soviet Union. About eighty of those went to arm the 16th that had just finished the training phase of the crews and were still in North Korea, while the remaining twenty had to replace the losses of the 105th Armored Division. According to some sources, almost all were destroyed by U.S. airstrikes before reaching the front.
Battle of No Name Ridge
On the evening of 17th August 1950, thanks to the reinforcements received, the 2nd Battalion of the 109th Tank Regiment of the 105th ‘Seoul’ Armored Division launched an attack on the positions of the 9th Infantry Regiment, which was supported by a platoon of Company A of the 1st Marine Tank Battalion.
The 1st Marine Tank Battalion was called to duty on July 7th, 1950, but at the time it was equipped with only M4A3(105) HVSS for infantry support. An unknown number of M26 Pershings were recovered from a depot in Barstow, California, and shipped to San Diego, where the unit was quartered.
Due to the limited time available, while the majority of the M26s were unloaded from the trains, two were taken to Camp Joseph H. Pendleton, where the crews were briefly familiarized with the tanks.
On 11th July 1950, the 1st Marine Tank Battalion sailed aboard USS Fort Marion LSD-22 towards Korea. During the transfer, the crews serviced the M26s that had been lying in storage for a long time. Arriving in Pusan on 2nd August, they were deployed for a series of actions. They were not employed against T-34s during these.
The unit that took part in the Battle of No Name Ridge was commanded by Lt. Granville Sweet, who had under his command four M26 Pershing tanks at ‘No Name Ridge’, also known as the Obong-Ni ridge. These four tanks were supported by a company of M20 75 mm recoilless guns and some anti-tank teams.
The attack of four T-34-85s was first intercepted by the anti-tank teams on Hill 125, but they did not stop the advance. Their effect was limited to causing the burning of the external 90-liter tanks on the enemy tanks in some cases.
The T-34-85s advanced again until they reached a turn in the road covered by a hill. Sweet’s tanks were behind it. Three of them were lined up side by side so, in case the T-34s destroyed them, they could not pass further, and the fourth tank was behind them.
When they received the order to prepare to repel the Koreans, the tank crews were filling up their tanks. Alarmed, they hastily ended the operation, spilling fuel on the tanks. As soon as they saw the T-34-85s peeking out from behind the hill, M26 number 34, commanded by Sergeant Cecil Fullerton, fired the new Hyper Velocity Armor Piercing (HVAP) M304 ammunition. When the tank opened fire on T-34 Number 322 (2nd Battalion Commander), the spilled fuel on the M26’s engine deck caught fire without damaging the vehicle.
The US soldiers who witnessed the battle were astonished. The M26 Pershings were on fire and so were the T-34-85s and, yet, no vehicles had been knocked out.
After the first round, M26 number 34 fired two other rounds, one into the turret and two into the frontal armored plate, causing the T-34 to start burning.
M26 number 33 of Sergeant Gerald Swinicke opened fire on the second T-34, hitting it the first time with a HVAP round in the turret. The Korean tank did not stop, so tanks number 33 and 34 shot it with four APC (Armor-Piercing Capped) rounds, all piercing the frontal plate.
Surprisingly, the Korean tank was still advancing and opening fire. The two M26s shot it with another HVAP, 2 APC and 4 HE rounds, destroying the T-34-85 by detonating 85 mm rounds in the turret.
The last T-34-85, Number 314, managed to get away but was destroyed by fire from the same Bazookas that had set fire to its external tanks earlier.
On September 5th, the North Korean troops launched an attack on the same road, but with only two T-34-85 supported by two SU-76Ms. This time, the North Korean vehicles had more luck and destroyed two M26 Pershings that were caught unaware and had their turrets turned towards other targets. All four KPA vehicles were later knocked out or destroyed by fire from anti-tank teams.
During the Battle of Kyongju, which took place from August 27th to September 12th, 1950, the 17th Armoured Brigade of the KPA was employed. On the evening of September 3rd to 4th, when the threat of air attack was minimal, 3 T-34-85s succeeded in destroying an artillery battery and put to flight two battalions of the ROK at P’ohang-dong, managing to reoccupy the city during the night.
Later, while advancing towards Kyongju, other T-34-85s of the 17th Armored Brigade managed to hit and damage (apparently by breaking the tracks) three M46 Pattons before being destroyed by US artillery fire.
That same day, an airstrike hit the KPA positions, weakening them and forcing the North Korean forces to give up the attack on the city of Kyongju. However, some infantry attacks forced some ROK units to retreat.
The United Nation forces advanced with the support of some tanks up to the vicinity of P’ohang-dong, meeting a group of 5 SU-76Ms. In the clash that followed, one self-propelled gun was destroyed, while the others were destroyed during an air attack that occurred shortly after.
In the afternoon, other North Korean armored forces blocked the American advance in the city, allowing the KPA troops to evacuate ammunition and other material from the nearby Yonil airport.
In the area east of Yongsan on September 4th, the Marines M26s knocked out T-34s and found a fifth abandoned T-34.
During the night between September 5th and 6th, 1950, the city fell back into the hands of the KPA, which created defensive positions with which to resist the successive attacks of the Americans and the ROKA.
The bad weather conditions of those days did not allow significant use of airstrikes in the area, allowing for several days during which the KPA units were able to repel any attack.
Between September 11th and 12th, thanks to the improvement of the weather conditions, the UN units were able to drive the KPA out of P’ohang-dong, forcing the North Korean soldiers to retreat towards Kyongsang. The KPA lost 13 T-34-85s and 5 SU-76Ms during the battle.
The Incheon Landing
The Incheon Landing (Operation Chromite) consisted of a series of landings by the X Corps, composed of the 1st and 7th Marine Divisions, X Corps, aboard LVT Amtracs. They landed on three beaches. To the West, the 7th Division supported by the 73rd Tank Battalion landed on the Red and Green beaches and would then take possession of the Wolmi-do Peninsula and Blue Beach. This allowed the 1st Division, supported by the 1st Marine Tank Battalion, to take the Incheon Peninsula to cut off any supply to the North Koreans in the peninsula.
At 0633 hrs, the 3rd and 5th Battalion of the Marines landed at Green Beach on Wolmi-do Island. The armored detachment of 1st Marine Tank Battalion, equipped with two M4A3(105) HVSS with dozer blades, six M26 Pershings, a flamethrower tank and an M32A1B3 Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV) from Company A, landed with the third wave on board of Landing Ship Utility (LSU).
During the Incheon Landings, no Korean armored vehicles were sighted, except for a BA-64 reconnaissance light armored car on Wolmi-do island. It was observed when the 1st Marine Tank Battalion had organized the defence on the causeway that connected the island to the Incheon harbor. Obviously, the armored car was rapidly obliterated by M26 Pershing Number 34 of Sergeant Fullerton.
In the Seoul area, on September 16th, 1950, the Korean People’s Army had only the 42nd Mechanized Regiment, a recently formed unit with very inexperienced crews. As soon as news of the landing was received, the High Command of the Korean People’s Army ordered the 43rd Tank Regiment, equipped with only 12 or 15 T-34-85s, to move to the area of operations from Wonsan in the north east, a distance of 180 km. The 105th ‘Seoul’ Armored Division was ordered to withdraw to the north to avoid being trapped by the troops of the X Marine Corps.
On September 16th, 1950, a company of 6 T-34-85s from the 42nd Mechanized Regiment, without knowing about the landing, was advancing on the Incheon-Seoul highway when it was ambushed by the M26 Pershings of the Marines.
The first tank was destroyed by a Bazooka team that also managed to damage the second one, while the M26s promptly finished the work. At the end of the skirmish, the bodies of 200 Koreans lay on the battlefield while, on the US part, only one Marine was wounded.
The same day, an F4U Corsair pilot claimed to have destroyed another six T-34s in a napalm airstrike.
Another 6 T-34-85s were destroyed on the morning of September 17th. The crews were taken by surprise while they were out of their vehicles, probably cooking breakfast. The last T-34s attempted a counter-attack when the US Marines were already advancing towards Seoul, but the anti-tank teams drove them back. Between September 16th and 20th, the KPA lost 24 T-34-85s to the X Marine Corps.
Many of the new 24 T-34-85s of the 42nd Mechanized Regiment were lost in the battles against Company A and Company B, equipped with M4A3(76)W HVSS Shermans of the 73rd Tank Battalion in support of the 7th Marine Division near the city of Suwon, 30 km south of Seoul.
On September 20th, in fact, B Company lost an M4 under North Korean tank fire but destroyed eight T-34s along the western road to Suwon.
Company B also destroyed three more T-34-85s during the battle for control of the city’s airport, losing only four Jeeps crushed by T-34s. Company A destroyed a total of 8 T-34-85s, four in Suwon and four on the road between Suwon and Osan.
On September 22nd, the attack on the South Korean capital began. It was poorly defended by KPA troops, mostly recruits, and T-34-85s of the 43rd Tank Regiment. The battle, which lasted until September 28th, saw the U.S. Marines victorious and cost the KPA an unknown total of casualties and 12 T-34s in the city, 7 of which were destroyed by Marine Corps tanks.
From the breakthrough from the Pusan Perimeter to the Second Battle of Seoul
The 17th Tank Division was involved in skirmishes against the 6th and 1st ROKA Infantry Divisions which launched several attacks after September 15th, 1950.
The 9 surviving T-34-85s of 1st Company of the 1st Battalion were deployed at Kusan-dong (3 tanks), Uihung (2 tanks), and Kunwi (4 tanks), while the 11 surviving tanks of 2nd Company were deployed in well-camouflaged hull-down positions along a defensive perimeter near Uisong.
Of the 2nd Tank Battalion, it is only known that its tanks were used for defensive purposes north of Sinnyong. After 17th September, however, the division was ordered to move as quickly as possible towards Seoul.
A document captured by the UN intelligence reports that, on September 18th, 1950, the 17th Tank Division had at its disposal 26 tanks, 18 trucks, 37 motorcycles, 1 car, 440 rifles, 519 submachine guns, 26 light machine guns, 3 heavy machine guns, 5 Anti-Aircraft machine guns, and 6 mortars.
The 1st Tank Battalion had only 14 T-34-85s capable of moving when it began to retreat. The retreat to Andong was hampered by continuous F-51 airstrikes that destroyed or immobilized 10 tanks.
According to the testimony of a prisoner of the KPA, the 4 surviving T-34s arrived in Andong on 25th September. On 26th September, along the road to P’unggi, another 2 T-34s were destroyed. The last two vehicles were hidden in a tunnel and the surviving tankers met with Major Kang Hui-il, who informed them that they would go to retrieve more tanks. The major left with about 80 men but never returned.
The 2 surviving vehicles plus two more T-34-85s, possibly two 1st Battalion tanks that had been repaired or two surviving T-34s from the 2nd Tank Battalion (which arrived in P’unggi that night along with the division headquarters), continued their retreat to the north. In the meantime, the T-34-85 of U pong-hak, now promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, remained to fight the UN troops and was subsequently killed in action.
The 7th Tank Division, or what remained of it, continued its retreat northward, never reaching Seoul. It had to divert towards the 38th Parallel, arriving there on September 28th and almost immediately taking defensive positions between the villages of Korangp’o-ri and Mojon-ni.
As already mentioned, on September 17th, the 105th ‘Seoul’ Armored Division began its retreat towards Seoul, together with the other KPA forces, including the 16th Armored Brigade that had suffered many losses in the previous days.
During the retreat, all the T-34-85s that had been stranded due to engine or suspension failures and had not been repaired due to lack of spare parts during the advance some months before were buried and camouflaged in strategic positions. They were used as bunkers to slow down the UN advance.
During the first day of the Pusan Perimeter Offensive, which began on September 16th, UN troops captured a total of 19 artillery pieces, 18 anti-tank guns, 9 mortars, and a self-propelled SU-76M gun that was fully operational.
On September 18th, after crossing the Naktong River, ROKA units, supported by some tanks, attacked Hill 268 south of Waegwan, which was defended by the forces of the 3rd Infantry Division of the KPA, together with some T-34-85s of the 105th Armored Division. During the evening, ROKA forces managed to capture the hill after repeated air attacks that dropped napalm and rockets on the North Korean units.
On September 19th, 1950, UN troops entered Waegwan after the North Koreans retreated. They had left on the field 22 45 mm cannons, 10 mortars, an unspecified number of small arms and 28 tanks. Those 28 tanks consisted of 27 T-34-85s destroyed or damaged and an M4A3E8 Sherman previously captured by the North Koreans and used against its former owners.
Between September 20th and 21st, the KPA lost several armored vehicles. Regiments of the North Korean 105th ‘Seoul’ Armored Division managed to cross the Naktong with only 23 T-34-85 and SU-76M tanks. The 107th Armored Regiment had only 14 tanks on the north bank, while the 203rd Armored Regiment had only 9 tanks. These few armored vehicles, along with a few anti-tank guns, covered the retreat of other KPA forces to Kumch’on.
On September 17th-18th, the US 70th Tank Battalion lost 10 tanks, six in minefields, two destroyed by T-34-85s, and two by Soviet-made 76 mm cannons. In one action, US tanks destroyed two out of three KPA hull-down tanks.
The fighting on Hill 351 around Tabu-dong saw another clash of armored vehicles that cost heavy losses for the US forces of the 70th Tank Battalion. On September 20th alone, this unit lost 7 armored vehicles, although North Korean losses are not known.
On September 22nd, the offensive ended with the complete defeat of the KPA units, which began a disorganized retreat towards the north.
The same day, the US Marines arrived near Seoul and began the occupation of the city on September 25th.
Before the war, Seoul was a city of about two million inhabitants, most of whom lived in shacks and huts on the outskirts of the city. The center was very modern, with concrete buildings worthy of the most famous European cities, especially along the Ma Po Boulevard, the main street of Seoul.
The approximately 20,000 Korean People’s Army soldiers of the 78th Independent Infantry Regiment, 70th Infantry Regiment, 42nd Tank Regiment, and the 107th Security Regiment, who were ordered to maintain the city, wasted no time. Before the US landing, they had created dozens, if not hundreds of barricades and anti-tank obstacles in the city’s streets to slow the advance of the UN troops.
Everything was used, bags filled with sand, stones, rubble, and, in some extreme cases, rice. Furniture and other furnishings and vehicle hulks These usually had a height of 2.5 meters and a depth of 1.5 meters. The distance between obstacles was about 200-300 meters.
The barricades were protected by barbed wire, mines and covered by 45 mm M1942 anti-tank guns and heavy machine guns. In some cases, these were M2 Brownings captured from UN troops during the advance.
The Marines arrived on the outskirts of Seoul on September 18th, starting the attack on the town of Yongdungpo west of the capital and Kimpo Airfield to the northwest. Communist resistance in Yongdungpo was heavy and only the airport was captured on 19th September.
On the night of September 19th-20th, the Marines launched a nocturnal amphibious assault from the south coast of the Han River, south of the city. Halfway through, the LVTs were hit by intense fire from the KPA troops barricaded on the fortress at Hill 125. The attack was canceled and the fortress was bombed until dawn.
At 0645 hrs, the 1st Company of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines attacked the hill and conquered it after 3 hours of fighting. UN troops were now less than eight miles from downtown Seoul.
Also on the morning of September 20th, in Yongdungpo, the troops of the 1st Marines, commanded by Colonel Lewis B. Puller, repelled the attack of 5 T-34-85s and the 87th regiment of the 18th KPA Infantry Division, which lost 300 soldiers.
On 21st September, given the very strong resistance of the 87th North Korean Regiment, the Marines fired white phosphorus ammunition and their planes dropped napalm bombs, razing most of the barracks to the ground and testing the North Korean resistance. However, the North Koreans did not relent until the evening, when due to the losses suffered, the scarcity of ammunition, and the low morale of the troops, the commander of the regiment ordered an organized retreat to the north.
Taking the city of Yongdungpo, the 5th Marines was able to start advancing towards Seoul from the west, while the 1st Marines organized the landing on the north coast of the Han River.
The Communist soldiers, far from leaving their positions, had occupied Hill 296. Under the command of Colonel Chan Wil Ki of the 25th Infantry Brigade, they had created a defensive line defended by about 10,000 soldiers and blocked the 5th Marines‘ way.
This was an ideal defensive position. During the Second World War, the Japanese troops stationed in Korea had used the hill and the surrounding terrain for training, so the KPA troops also had the advantage of already prepared positions.
The 5th Marines began the attack on Hill 296 at 7 am on September 22nd, with the 3rd Battalion of the US Marines, the 1st Battalion of the ROKA Marines, and the 1st Battalion of the US Marines. The 2nd Battalion of the US Marines was in reserve.
After a full day of fighting, Company H had reached the crest of Hill 296, but Chan Wil Ki‘s forces continued to hold the line south and east of the hill. The ROK Marines and 1st US Marines Battalion had to advance over open ground. Constant air support of the Chance Vought F4U Corsairs of Marine Aircraft Group 33 continued to lead the way for the Marines throughout the day.
Some pilots, under the command of Major Arnold A. Lund, stationed on the escort carrier Badoeng Strait, flew up to four sorties per day per aircraft.
As night fell, due to the difficulty of releasing napalm on KPA positions without risking hitting the Marines, the planes stopped the bombing. This left room for the 11th Marines artillery that riddled the positions throughout the night, weakening the KPA troops. These surrendered only at the first light of dawn on September 22nd.
Before continuing the advance on Seoul, the hills to the northeast of the city were cleared. The conquest of the hills meant the Marines lost 2 days and almost 200 men. The Koreans lost an unknown number of soldiers. US troops counted 1,500, but this is a partial number.
Most of these men were killed by napalm or US artillery and were from the 25th Infantry Brigade or 78th Independent Infantry Regiment. Their officers and NCOs had participated in World War II or the Chinese Civil War.
On September 25th, a symbolic date marking 3 months since the start of the war, US troops began entering Seoul from the south and west, as the ROK 17th Regiment moved east in an attempt to outflank Kim Il-sung’s barricaded troops in the city.
It took the Marines an average of an hour to clear each barricade, armed with anti-tank guns, anti-tank rifles, and heavy machine guns and protected by barbed wire and mines, as well as a few sporadic T-34s and SU-76Ms.
The Marines were slowed down by continuous shooting from Korean snipers, Molotov cocktails thrown at tanks, PPSh-41 bursts from house roofs and trees. Some sources mention the use of North Korean “suicide squads” which jumped out from the corners of houses against US tanks, but this information is not confirmed. This could have been a one-off or a desperate defense technique that is not mentioned by other sources.
By the evening of September 25th, the Marines had advanced less than 2 km, albeit with the constant support of artillery and close airstrikes that destroyed entire blocks. Despite the little progress, at 1400 hrs, it was said on radios and TVs around the world that Seoul had been liberated.
On September 26th, at around 2000 hrs, the majority of the Korean People’s Army troops started to withdraw from the city. This had by now been 65% destroyed, with thousands of civilian deaths due to dozens of air and artillery attacks.
Not all the troops withdrew, however. Some launched a counterattack against the 5th Marines, 3rd Battalion on the hills to the west and against the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines which was advancing towards the city center from Ma Po Boulevard.
The 25th Infantry Brigade had counterattacked in the city center with the last tanks and self-propelled guns available, managing to stop the Marines from advancing but losing 4 tanks, 2 SPGs, and 250 soldiers.
Before dawn on September 26th, KPA troops also counterattacked positions on Nam-san Hill south of Seoul, occupied by the US 32nd Division. Colonel Beauchamp‘s men remained on the hill and drove the Korean soldiers back with heavy casualties.
Throughout September 26th, there were clashes along the Ma Po Bulevard with the Marines. The Americans, despite continuous launches of napalm and white phosphorus on the positions of the Communists, advanced less than 1,000 meters.
Even though, by the morning of the 27th, the Marines controlled half of the city, the conquest of the heart of the city was still long and exhausting. The main city targets, such as the embassies, the city hall, and the seat of government were falling under the control of the United Nations forces one after another.
The 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, recaptured the French embassy at 11 am on the 27th. That afternoon, the Marines retook the US embassy, and the Seoul train station was also recaptured during the heavy fighting of that day. The 5th Marines took the Government building in the middle of the afternoon.
The clashes lasted until the evening of September 27th. By the next morning, almost all North Korean soldiers had been killed or taken prisoner, even though small pockets of resistance remained in the northeast.
On September 29th, when all was quiet, General MacArthur triumphantly arrived in the city with South Korean President Syngman Rhee, symbolically returning the city to him.
The casualties of the battle between 20th and 30th September 1950 were 1,716 dead and wounded between the US Marines and ROK, for an unknown number of North Koreans. The death toll of the Korean People’s Army between 15th and 30th September was 14,000 dead and 7,000 prisoners.
The loss bulletins did not count civilians killed by napalm, white phosphorus, and artillery fire and the ones executed by ROK Military Police on charges of being communists, without having taken part in the clashes.
In the subsequent counter-offensive of the UN troops, fought between September 23rd and 30th 1950, Task Force Dolvin (an elite unit organized ad hoc for the offensive) alone destroyed or captured 19 armored vehicles, 16 anti-tank guns, 65 tons of ammunition, and captured or killed 1,100 KPA soldiers, losing only 3 tanks to anti-tank mines.
In the same period, Task Force Lynch, created on September 21st, with 7 M4A3E8 Shermans of Company C of the 70th Tank Battalion, captured 4 T-34-85s, 50 US trucks (previously captured by KPA troops), about 20 artillery pieces, and a total of about 500 KPA prisoners, losing only two Shermans hit by a 76 mm gun at Naksong-dong.
During the night of September 26th, the 3rd Tank Platoon of Company C of the 70th Tank Battalion, under the command of Task Force Lynch, met the Marines of X Marines Corps south of Suwon, but lost contact with the other units of Task Force Lynch, which ended up under attack.
The 2nd Tank Platoon was attacked by 10 T-34-85s that had accidentally encountered the US troops. Two M4A3E8 Shermans were quickly knocked out by 2 T-34-85s but were later destroyed by a third M4. The first T-34-85 just happened to end up in the middle of the advancing column of US vehicles. The crew wasted no time and started to crush at least 15 vehicles, including Jeeps and trucks under the 32 tons of the vehicle, but they were stopped by a 105 mm howitzer which hit it at very close range, only 11 meters.
Four more T-34s were destroyed by the fire of anti-tank teams and the last three tanks fled, two of which were destroyed by tanks of the 70th Tank Battalion along the road between the villages of Habung-Ni and Pyeongtaek.
On September 23rd, the American 24th Division attacked towards Taejon-Seoul, but was ambushed by the 105th ‘Seoul’ Armoured Division, which cost the Americans three M46 Pattons. In the afternoon of the same day, the Koreans lost 3 T-34-85 in an air attack.
Between September 23rd and 24th, some North Korean reinforcements arrived from the north to Kumch’on along with some T-34s, and the battle for the control of the city began. Six M46 Pattons were lost during the battle, while the KPA lost 5 T-34s in an air attack and 3 during the clashes between armored vehicles.
In the city of Taejon, the fighting was very violent and US reports of North Korean losses were unclear and exaggerated. The US ground forces reported 13 tanks of the Korean People’s Army destroyed (3 by Bazooka fire) while the USAF reported 20 tanks destroyed.
On September 28th, 10 T-34-85s were encountered in the vicinity of the city of P’yongt’aek. 5 were destroyed by airstrikes and 2 by anti-tank ground fire.
Breakthrough the 38th parallel and Pyongyang conquest
On September 30th, the US and ROKA offensive against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea began with the crossing of the 38th parallel. The North Koreans put up a strenuous resistance by any means, even if the US advance seemed unstoppable.
On October 12th, a group of North Korean tanks attacked the positions of B Company of the 70th Tank Battalion near Songhyon-ni. Lieutenant D. Brewery, the tank commander of an M4A3E8 Sherman, reported that his vehicle fired at a T-34-85 at 50 m without penetrating it, then at 20 m again without penetrating it, then the Korean tank collided with the Sherman. As soon as they recovered from the collision, the driver of the Sherman reversed and moved back a few meters, allowing the gunner to fire a third shot, which surprisingly again did not penetrate the frontal armor of the tank but damaged the gun.
The North Korean crew did not lose heart and, although their vehicle was on fire, they accelerated again and hit the Sherman for a second time, but the fourth shot put it out of action.
On 11th October 1950, after a brief confrontation with the 1st ROKA Infantry Division, the 17th Tank Division was forced to retreat to the north again. The division arrived in Sinanju with stops in Pyongyang and Sukch’on. On October 18th, the unit was reorganized and shipped south to the banks of the Ch’ongch’on River.
After a joint US-Commonwealth attack on October 23rd, 1950, which led to the conquest of Sinanju and a brief firefight against the 27th Commonwealth Brigade, the 17th Division retreated again, crossing the Taeryong River and repositioning itself in Chongju to defend the Pakch’on-Chongju road.
According to documentation captured at the time, the Korean People’s Army17th Tank Division possessed 20 T-34-85s, 12 SU-76Ms and 7 76 mm ZIS-3 guns. 4 T-34s and some SU-76Ms were in a defensive position along the west bank of the Taeryong River, opposite the Pakch’on town.
The 2nd Infantry Battalion, with some SU-76Ms and some 76 mm cannons, defended the north bank of the Taeryong River.
The 3rd Infantry Battalion, with 10 T-34-85s, defended the coast near Chongju from possible amphibious landings. The Logistics Brigade, with the remaining SU-76Ms, defended Chongju and the headquarters. 6 reserve T-34-85s were positioned at a height halfway between the two cities.
The first clash took place on the night between 25th and 26th October, when the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment of the 27th Commonwealth Brigade crossed the Taeryong River, meeting at 0400 hrs with a reconnaissance unit commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Kim In-sik in the Battle of Broken Bridge. Companies A and B of the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) were attacked by North Korean troops supported by two T-34-85s of the 17th Armored Brigade. The North Koreans managed to create havoc among the Australian units that could not counter the tanks because the rocket ignition system of their 2.6-inch Bazookas jammed due to poor maintenance. Despite the lack of bazookas, after several hours of fighting, the North Korean troops withdrew, losing 150 soldiers, of which 100 were killed and 50 taken prisoner.
UN sources report that, just south of Pyongyang, the Australians of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, supported by D Company of the 70th Tank Battalion, encountered two T-34-85s and a SU-76M. One T-34 camouflaged in a haystack was destroyed by Sherman fire, while the other two vehicles were abandoned by their crews after the firefight.
In 5 days of fighting along the 32 km of the defensive line between Chongju in the west and Pakch’on in the east, the 17th Tank Division lost all 23 T-34-85s (some arrived in the following days to support the resistance) and six SU-76Ms. performing an excellent slowdown action of UN troops.
The 3rd RAR War Diary states that North Korean resistance in the region was admirable. The T-34-85 commanders were able to exploit the terrain to their advantage and camouflaged their vehicles so as not to be seen even a few hundred meters away in broad daylight.
The Battle of Chongju, fought between October 29th and 30th, 1950, saw fighting between the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment supported by the US 89th Tank Regiment equipped with M4A3E8 Shermans and the North Korean 17th Tank Brigade. The battle began at 1000 hours on November 29th. Due to the dense bush in which Korean tanks defended themselves, air support was immediately called in. By 1400 hours, F-51s of the No. 77 Squadron RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) reported having destroyed 7 T-34-85s and 2 SU-76Ms, although these claims seem to have been exaggerated. A number of T-34s were destroyed by M4A3E8 Sherman tanks on the ground, one was destroyed by fire when the Australians hit its external fuel tank and three others were destroyed at short range by 3.5 in. Bazooka fire.
In total, that day, 11 T-34-85s and 2 SU-76M were destroyed.
On the evening of October 30th, the 21st Regimental Combat Team of the US 24th Infantry Division advanced west from Chongju. It got to about 2 km west from Kwaksan when it ended up in an ambush that soon turned into a skirmish that lasted all day and led to the destruction of 7 T -34-85s, 1 SU-76M, seven 76 mm guns, about 50 dead and 2 T-34-85 captured on flatcars along a railroad.
The 21st Regimental Combat Team continued the advance towards the coastal road going northwards, arriving at Ch’onggo-dong on 31st October.
On 1st November, the KPA counterattacked with approximately 500 troops and 7 T-34-85s. In the ensuing clash, all seven Korean tanks were destroyed or knocked out by US tanks, and about a fifth of the soldiers were lost to US fire.
The 21st Regimental Combat Team found it difficult to maintain the position and retreated further south, arriving north of the Ch’ongch’on River. The 17th Tank Division had managed to slow down and eventually stop the UN troops by denying them access to Sinuiju. There, the 105th “Seoul” Tank Division was re-equipping and retraining. All this came at the cost of 39 T-34-85s, 7 SU-76Ms, 7 ZIS-3s, and about 1,000 soldiers lost in 7 days.
During the defense of Pyongyang, between October 17th and 19th, only a few T-34-85s were encountered, some in hull-down positions outside the city and a few others inside the capital.
Company A of the 6th Tank Battalion, equipped with M46 Pattons, encountered 8 T-34-85s and a SU-76M on October 22nd, destroying them all in a short firefight and capturing 8 other T-34s abandoned by their crews shortly before.
On October 23rd, at Kunu-ri, the 6th Division of the Republic of Korea Army captured two KPA trains carrying ammunition, food and a total of eight tanks. A little further north, at Huich’on, that same night, the 6th Division captured 20 T-34s abandoned in a depot, almost all of them intact.
The Chinese intervention and the KPA counteroffensive
On the same day on which Pyongyang was conquered, the Chinese People’s Volunteers Army (PVA), commanded by General Peng Dehuai and 270,000 men strong, crossed the border between China and Korea, fording the Yalu River in great secrecy. On October 25th, the PVA clashed for the first time with UN troops, defeating the troops of the 10th Infantry Regiment of the 6th Infantry Division assigned to the ROK II Corps. Later, in the Battles of Unsan and Ch’ongch’on, it managed to defeat U.S. units and other UN forces.
In the Battle of the Ch’ongch’on River, the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army, supported by the 17th Tank Division, defeated several UN units, forcing them to retreat. Some of them included the US 1st Cavalry Division, 24th Infantry Division (including the 21st Regimental Combat Team), 27th Commonwealth Brigade, the Turkish Brigade, and the 6th, 7th and 8th ROKA Infantry Divisions of the South Korean II Corps.
From this date onwards, while the armored forces of the Korean People’s Army took part in subsequent battles, the amount of vehicles used, their actual use, and losses in the field are not known exactly. Many sources report the numbers of tanks destroyed without mentioning whether they were Chinese or Korean.
On October 28th, during the Battle of Chongju, the 3rd RAR destroyed 3 T-34-85s with Bazookas. A fourth one was destroyed by Private John Stafford, who fired his Bren gun at the external tanks of the tank, setting them on fire.
On October 29th, it was reported that an armored regiment of the Korean People’s Army supported the actions of soldiers of the Chinese 124th Infantry Division. During the following days, “two North Korean tanks” (unsure if they were KPA or PVA vehicles) were destroyed by an F4U airstrike near the city of Kilchu that was just recaptured by the Communist troops.
On November 7th, a USAF pilot reported the destruction of 6 tanks, 3 BA-64 armored cars, and 45 unarmored vehicles near Pakchon. According to some sources, these were vehicles of the 105th ‘Seoul’ Armored Division.
By November 17th, it is reported that 7 more T-34s and two SU-76Ms were destroyed thanks to airstrikes and supporting fire from US ships anchored near the east coast of the Korean peninsula.
Not much information is available regarding North Korean use of other T-34-85s prior to the counteroffensive south of the 38th parallel.
Almost all the KPA units, thanks to the intervention of the PVA, could be reorganized. They were recalled to the fields of Sinuiju in the west, Kanggye in the center, and Hoeryong in the east of the DPRK for new training and re-equipment.
Offensive South of the 38th Parallel and Third Battle of Seoul
During the Battle of Ch’ongch’on River, fought between November 25th and December 2nd, 1950, the UN troops suffered a defeat and retreated south of the 38th parallel. Mao Zedong, leader of the People’s Republic of China, then became convinced that he could force the enemy troops to retreat to the coast of the South and ordered Peng Dehuai to cross the 38th parallel in pursuit of the enemy.
Between December 11th and 31st, there was a cease-fire that was interrupted by the Chinese offensive. The ROKA forces stationed on the 38th parallel suffered heavy losses and, by January 1st, 1951, they were all annihilated or forced to retreat.
In the third battle for Seoul, the fighting mostly took place against Chinese PVA troops and it is not clear whether the KPA forces that took part in the battle included armored regiments equipped with T-34-85s. Out of fear that the Chinese and Koreans could outflank the UN troops in the city, the evacuation began as early as January 1st.
The Communist troops managed to knock out or destroy several Cromwell Mk. VII tanks (even managing to capture some of them), and at least one Churchill Mk. VII of the 29th Infantry Brigade.
By January 4th, UN forces had been pushed back to a defensive line 9-12 km south of the Han River and the city of Seoul. The order was to hold out until the troops and ammunition were cleared from Incheon and then the engineers destroyed any remaining structures or equipment, including 6 million liters of fuel, 12 rail cars full of ammunition, and some tanks that could not be evacuated due to lack of space on ships docked in the harbor.
The conquest of Seoul was a great victory for the communist troops of the Korean People’s Army and the People’s Volunteer Army. It gave even more confidence to the Chinese generals, even if the supplies available were no longer enough to support an advance. In fact, at the end of January, the UN troops had stopped the communist advance, and, with Operation Thunderbolt launched on January 25th, they were able to advance again.
Between February 20th and March 6th, during Operation Killer, they were able to return to the banks of the Han River, even if Seoul remained firmly in the hands of the Chinese and the North Koreans.
In mid-November, the 17th Tank Division, which had until now followed the PVA, was recalled to Sinuiju to replace the losses. New recruits were assigned to the division, which was renamed 17th Mechanized Brigade, along with 20 new T-34-85s, 10 BA-64s, and some 82 mm mortars.
After a rest period in mid-January, the new 17th Mechanized Brigade was assigned to the 1st Corps and shipped south via Pyongyang and arrived in Seoul in February. It remained in Seoul until mid-March, acting as a reserve for the 1st Corps and being equipped with new material, becoming the 17th Mechanized Division, with only 20 T-34-85s, 6-12 SU-76Ms, and some 120 mm and 82 mm mortars.
In the furious battles of Operation Thunderbolt, Operation Killer, and the subsequent Operation Ripper between March 7th and April 4th, which led to the recapture of Seoul on March 16th, there are no precise numbers on how many armored vehicles were lost by PVA or KPA troops.
Obviously, the 17th Mechanized Division withdrew along with the rest of the Communist troops north of the Imjin River, being replaced in the first line by the 19th Infantry Division. It was then assigned to the IVth Corps, with anti-landing duties along the west coast of the peninsula. On 6th July 1951, the unit replaced the 19th Infantry Division in the 1st Corps but remained on its positions on the east coast.
The division was now under the command of Major General Chong Ch’ol-u. It maintained its positions, receiving few more materials. By November 1951, according to UN intelligence, it had risen to 6,600 men, but had few tanks and SPGs.
In the subsequent Chinese-Korean offensive between April 22nd and May 20th, 1951, which failed to recapture Seoul, tanks were rarely encountered by UN troops. In the few cases where they were encountered, they were under Chinese insignia and command. A notable exception to this was the Battle of the Injim River, where Centurion Mark III tanks of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars and some M24 Chaffees of the 10th Battalion Combat Team of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea resisted the North Korean and Chinese attack supported by T-34-85s.
To this day, the battle is a source of contention. The UN troops were defeated with 158 casualties and approximately 1,000 prisoners but managed to slow the Chinese and North Korean troops enough to create a defensive line around Seoul.
On May 20th, the UN Counter Offensive began, which lasted until July 1st, 1951, and was the last major offensive of the Korean War before the two-year stalemate. During the Offensive, the 1st and 2nd Corps and the 5th Korean People’s Army Corps took part in the clashes. Within these corps, there were armored regiments equipped with T-34-85s, but due to previous defeats and the difficulty faced by the North Koreans in supplying fresh troops, none of these regiments had a complete staff. It is assumed that some of these units were not really equipped with armored vehicles but kept the name for propaganda purposes.
Period of stalemate
On July 1st, 1951 began the so-called phase of stalemate that lasted for two years, until July 1953. The front lines had arrived approximately where they were at the beginning of the war. In the east of the Korean peninsula, the front lines of the UN forces were north of the 38th parallel, but in the west of the peninsula, the communist troops held firmly a part south of the 38th parallel.
During the stalemate phase, US strategic bombing of the area north of the 38th parallel continued weakening the already exhausted armies of the Korean People’s Army and the People’s Volunteers Army, hitting supplies and any depot or factory that was detected.
In 1951, while waiting for the Soviets to re-equip them, the armored units of the KPA were reorganized. The 105th ‘Seoul’ Armored Division was renamed the 105th ‘Seoul’ Mechanized Division and the 10th Mechanized Division was formed, but it was not yet equipped with tanks.
According to a Soviet report from December 1951, the 17th Mechanized Division was dissolved and its materials transferred to the 105th “Seoul” Tank Division. According to UN intelligence, the unit remained active until February 1952, when its tank battalion was transferred to the 10th Mechanized Division. The rest of the division was then dissolved. It is more plausible that, after the removal of the armored unit, the division became the 17th Infantry Division.
The Soviet reinforcements were not as large as hoped and, in 1951, the KPA had only 77 T-34-85s and 63 SU-76Ms at its disposal. It was therefore decided to dissolve the divisions and create six tank regiments to be included in the ranks of six infantry divisions.
The Chinese could not supply many armored vehicles to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In fact, by May 1950, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had only 300 T-34-85s, 60 IS-2s and 40 ISU-122s.
Most of the armored vehicles sent to the front were destroyed by bombing before they even arrived, so there was little fighting between armored vehicles between July 1951 and July 1953.
The only noteworthy battles in which KPA forces took part, probably supported by T-34-85s (even if western sources do not mention ‘tanks’), were the Battle of Bloody Ridge fought between August and September 1951, the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge between September and October 1951 and the Battle of Pork Chop Hill, one of the last battles fought between April and July 1953.
On 27th July 1953, the day of the end of the Korean War, the units of the armored forces of the Korean People’s Army had increased to 7 armored regiments, the 104th, 105th ‘Seoul’, 106th, 107th, 109th, 206th, and 208th, with a total of 255 T-34-85s and 127 SU-76Ms, and approximately the same personnel numbers as at the beginning of the war.
According to this data, the T-34-85 was, at least in theory, superior to tanks such as the Cromwell Mark VIII and the M24 Chaffee, at about the same level as the M4A3E8 and the Comet and obviously inferior to other UN tanks, like the M26 and Centurion. The Churchill was an exception, because it was inferior to the T-34 in firepower, but its armor made it a tough opponent. In practice, the matters were very different. The tankers of the Korean People’s Army and the Volunteer People’s Army were poorly trained compared to their UN counterparts and this unbalanced every battle in favor of the UN troops.
To give an example, the possibility of hitting a target on the first shot for the KPA troops was 50% within 320 m, 23% within 680 m, 25% within 1,000 m, and nill over 1,000 m. For the Americans, the possibility of hitting a target on the first shot was 84% within 320 m and 16% over 1,000 m.
In some cases, the Chinese and Korean T-34 crews were so poorly trained that, during combat, they fired HE rounds instead of armor-piercing rounds at the enemy thanks they were engaging.
Obviously, there were other vehicles during the Korean War, such as the M4A2E8 Sherman and some 17-pdr. SP Achilles (M10 GMC rearmed with 17-pdr cannon) in service with the Canadian Army and the M36 Jackson in service with the ROKA, but the former had the same characteristics as the M4A3E8 Sherman and the latter did not participate in any major action in the war.
Data on Korean tank losses
After the UN Pusan Perimeter Offensive, in the period from September 26th to October 21st, 1950, seven teams traveled every road that could be traveled by armored vehicles from the Pusan Perimeter to the 38th parallel. This survey was meant to discover the number of armored vehicles lost by the Korean People’s Army between June 25th and October 21st, 1950. It revealed 239 destroyed or abandoned T-34-85s tanks and 74 self-propelled SU-76Ms guns since the war began. The same survey counted 136 U.S. tanks destroyed and unrecovered.
The survey found that airstrikes destroyed 102 T-34-85 tanks (43%). Of these, 60 (25%) were knocked out by napalm bombs. 59 T-34-85s were abandoned (25%) with no visible evidence of damage. 39 T-34-85s were destroyed by UN tanks or artillery (16%) and Bazooka fire destroyed 13 tanks (5%).
Of the remaining 26 (11%) T-34-85s destroyed, 12 (4.6%) were destroyed by cannon fire from US Navy ships, a very small number had been disabled or destroyed by mines, and the remainder were lost “not to military causes”.
By April 1952, another 57 hulls were identified, for a total of 296 T-34-85s known to have been destroyed in South Korea. It should be noted that the Bazooka fire had actually hit many more vehicles and put them out of action but, often, the UN armored forces on the battlefield mistook them for working vehicles, hitting them again, often destroying them completely.
In general, pilots of the United States Air Force (USAF) also often hit North Korean T-34-85s that had already been destroyed by infantry or tanks on the ground, mistaking them for working vehicles because of the speed at which they flew over the ground. This type of error was exacerbated by poor visibility on the ground, which could also cause pilots to mistake trucks or armored cars for tanks.
For these reasons, in 1950 alone, USAF pilots claimed to have destroyed 857 tanks, which became 1,256 destroyed and 1,298 damaged by June 1952. Marine Corps pilots claimed another 123 destructions and, finally, 163 tanks destroyed and 161 damaged were reported by US Navy pilots.
The credited number of UN tanks destroyed between July and September 1950 was 136, of which 95 (70%) were destroyed by Soviet-made North Korean anti-tank mines.
The number of armored vehicles destroyed during the UN Offensive in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is unclear, although some sources state that another 313 tanks were knocked out, destroyed, or captured and then blown up so as not to end up back in Communist hands. At first glance, this may seem like an overestimate or exaggeration, but when one considers that UN troops captured several North Korean depots where many T-34s lay intact and abandoned, this number is plausible.
A US Army report from 1954 states that, in total, there were 119 tank vs. tank actions, of which 104 involved US troops and 15 involved US Marine Corp armored vehicles against KPA and PVA forces during the Korean War. From these encounters, some 97 T-34-85 tanks were reported to have been knocked out and another 18 considered probable against 4 M24 Chaffees, 16 M4A3E8 Shermans, 6 M26 Pershings, and 8 M46 Patton tanks knocked out, of which only 15 were irreparable.
Of those 119 actions, only 24 were fought against more than 3 T-34-85s together. In terms of which UN tanks were most likely to engage in tank vs tank combat, the breakdown in the report was that 59 were fought with M4A3E8 Shermans (50%), 38 with M26 Pershings (32%), 12 with the more modern M46 Pattons (10%) and, finally, 10 with the light M24 Chaffees (8%), which proved too vulnerable.
The M4A3E8 was credited with destroying 41 T-34-85s between August and November 1950.
After the War
While the few ISU-122s received from China after the war were quickly decommissioned from service in the Korean People’s Army due to the few spare parts available and the small number in Korean possession, the T-34-85s, the few T-34-76s, and 12 IS-2s continued to serve in the ranks of Kim Il-Sung’s army.
In the years after the war, the Soviet Union supplied the DPRK with other batches of T-34-85s. It is estimated that, by the end of the 1950s, the Korean People’s Army had about 1,000 T-34-85s in service, remaining the main (and only) tank of the KPA. If this figure is true, it can be assumed that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea received a total of about 1,800-1,900 T-34-85s in the decade between the late 40s and the late 50s.
This high number of vehicles was kept in service at least until the mid-1960s when large numbers of T-54s, T-55s, and Type 59s began arriving in the country. This allowed some T-34s to go into the second line, although a very high number remained in service into the 1970s, joining the more modern T-62s from 1971 and the Chonmas in 1978.
In 1985, there were still about ten armored battalions equipped with T-34-85s in the ranks of the Korean People’s Army, which means that about 400 tanks were still in service. Other sources mention 650 T-34-85s still in service in the mid-1980s.
Some sources claim that, in the years following the war, the Korean People’s Army converted some T-34s into Armored Recovery Vehicles (ARVs) by removing the turret. This theory could be another wrong one, exactly like the one that claims that the KPA owns 100 SU-100. It cannot be demonstrated with photographic evidence.
More modern times
After 1969, the same road wheels produced after the Second World War in the Soviet Union appeared on the T-34-85s, called ‘Starfish’ models, with a larger diameter. Apparently, the North Koreans produce an indigenous version without visible differences from the Chinese one.
In the last years of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, the few T-34-85s still in service were modified by the Korean People’s Army with all-steel tracks produced in Korea, also used on the North Korean copy of Soviet and Chinese Main Battle Tanks, along with new sprocket wheels. The hull and turret received slat-armor mounts to increase the tank’s protection against High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) projectiles and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM), also mounted on the T-54s and T-55s still in service.
The Soviet-era radio system was probably also replaced with a more modern one. A snorkel system that could be mounted on North Korean T-34-85s was also developed. Looking at the ball mount for the machine gun in the hull, it can be seen that the barrel does not look like the usual DT-27, so it can be assumed that the machine gun has been replaced with a more modern model to increase the rate of fire (as some KPA units still use DP-27, infantry version of DT) or that the machine gun has been removed and the barrel is fake.
As far as it is known, the KPA never developed a new range of 85 mm ammunition. It is still using or producing under license the same Soviet 85 mm ammunition that was almost certainly used on the M1981 Shin’heung light amphibious tank and on the tank destroyer variant of the 323 Armored Personnel Carrier.
In 1996, according to some sources, there were still about 250 T-34-85s in reserve. As of 2021, it seems that there are still some used for training, even if the exact number and location remain unknown.
Although in the collective imagination, ‘North Korea’ may seem an almost absurd nation, based on the most extreme nationalism and the cult of personality, its army is not devoid of common sense. It is hard to imagine that even the most indoctrinated of KPA generals do not know that T-34-85s are now more than obsolete for modern warfare and can envisage what would happen if they ever came face to face with an M1A2 Abrams or a K2 Black Panther. This begs the question as to why there are still a number of them in reserve in 2021?
There are many ways in which a T-34-85 can be used in the event of war. Firstly, for training duties, as they are cheap and easy to maintain. In the event that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea declares war on the Republic of Korea, thinking of T-34-85s crossing the Demilitarized Zone on the front lines supported by artillery fire is a bit anachronistic, but, using them to patrol newly conquered territories to keep any rebel groups at bay, escort convoys of supplies, in urban locations, for police duties, patrolling against paratroopers in the area north of the 38th parallel or for hypothetical support of more modern vehicles in some actions would not be so absurd.
Another plausible scenario is a possible defense of the peninsula north of the 38th parallel in case it is invaded. Taking advantage of the terrain of the peninsula, the T-34-85s could be positioned in well-camouflaged hull-down positions and ambush the assailant troops, forcing them to fight for every meter of land, thus leading to a kind of asymmetrical war that is often seen in the Middle East. A very clear idea of how this scenario could be is the Soviet-Afghan War fought between 1979 and 1989, where a well-organized militia managed to resist one of the best armies in the world using to its advantage the terrain and taking advantage of every possibility to inflict the greatest number of losses to the Soviets.
In the early years of the new millennium, North Korean T-34-85s were rarely seen. The last public appearance of an armored unit equipped with these vehicles was in 2009, when it participated in a military parade on Kim Il-sung Street in Pyongyang. In 2012, a T-34-76 was seen during a DPRK documentary during an urban combat exercise.
According to analysts, since 2017, the T-34-85 has been removed from service in the Korean People’s Army, although some examples will likely still be in service with the Worker-Peasant Red Guards (Paramilitary militia for civil defense founded in 1959) or in reserve.
The DPRK is not the only nation to have in service or to have withdrawn from service a few years ago the T-34-85. In fact, at least the following nations still have in service a certain amount: 45 are still used by the People’s Army of Vietnam for training, Guinea still has 30 operational, 10 are used by Guinea-Bissau Army, and Cuba also still has a certain number of them in active service. Other nations, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Namibia have a number of T-34-85s in reserve and finally, in Yemen and Syria, some T-34-85s have also been seen engaged in their ongoing and bloody civil wars.
Although the T-34-85 had a balanced speed/armament/armor ratio, the poorly trained Korean People’s Army did not know how to use it against their enemies during the Korean War, leading to the Western misconception that the vehicles were inferior to their US counterparts.
A key factor that affected North Korean losses was the almost constant threat from the air. Airstrikes by UN pilots proved to be very effective on almost every occasion. Kim Il-Sung’s Army was also forced by the scarce amount of tanks provided by the Soviets and the Chinese to use the T-34-85 in small assaults often composed of less than 3 tanks, canceling the advantages the tank had over some of the UN tanks it would go up against.
8.15 x 3.00 x 2.72 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready
5, driver, machine gunner, commander, gunner and loader
12 cylinders diesel engine V-2, 500 hp with 556 liters
55 km/h on road
85 mm ZIS-S-53 L/54.6 with 60 rounds; 2x 7.62 mm DT machine guns
47 mm hull front, 46 mm sides and rear.
90 mm turret front, 75 mm sides and 52 mm rear.
20 mm roof and floor.
The Autoblindo Monti-FIAT armored car was a vehicle built in Africa Orientale Italiana or AOI (Eng: Italian East Africa). It was constructed by the Officine della Compagnia Monti (Eng: Workshops of the Monti Company) of Gondar in Ethiopia for the troops of the Regio Esercito (Eng: Royal Italian Army).
Its operational use is almost unknown, but its dimensions make it one of the most peculiar vehicles used by the Italians in the East African campaign that took place between June 10th, 1940 and November 27th, 1941.
Italian colonialism of East Africa began in 1890 with the formal creation of Italian Eritrea, which included the Eritrean territories near the sea shores. In the same year, the Protectorate of Somalia was created, which grew in size in 1925, following the agreements that the Kingdom of Italy had signed with the Triple Entente to enter the First World War in 1915.
In December 1934, the Incident of Walwal (in Italian: Ual Ual) occurred, where Italian and Ethiopian troops clashed near the Walwal water wells in Ethiopia. This was the pretext with which, on October 3rd, 1935, the Kingdom of Italy invaded the Ethiopian Empire of Emperor Haile Selassie, born Ras Tafari Maconnen.
The war lasted 7 months, during which the Italians used every means at their disposal, even toxic gases, and were able to conquer the nation, forcing the emperor to flee into exile in London.
After the declaration of war on France and the United Kingdom by Benito Mussolini on June 10th, 1940, the United Kingdom took measures by closing the Suez Canal to Italian merchant ships and warships. This caused the Italian colonies of Italian East Africa, composed of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Italian Somalia, to be totally isolated and surrounded by the British colonies of Sudan, Kenya and British Somalia and the French colony of French Somalia (now Djibouti).
As far as provisions were concerned, the civilians and the military had no problems. The serious shortages concerned armaments and logistics. In fact the Royal Army in the AOI had only 670,000 rifles, 5,300 light machine guns, 3,300 medium or heavy machine guns, 57 45 mm mortars, 70 81 mm mortars and 811 field guns available.
While these numbers may seem adequate, it must be considered that most of the weapons had been produced during World War I, if not earlier. All field artillery had been produced during 1915-1918, with some cannons produced in the 1800s. The medium machine guns were mostly Maschinengewehr Patent Schwarzlose M.07/12 captured from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 and FIAT-Revelli Mod. 1914, both produced during the First World War. The most modern machine guns were Breda 30, universally known for their inefficiency due to the necessary maintenance.
In the colonies of Italian East Africa, in addition to the Royal Army, there were the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (Eng. Voluntary Militia for National Security), a paramilitary corps of the Partito Fascista Italiano or PFI (Eng. Italian Fascist Party), the Corpo dei Carabinieri Reali (Eng. Royal Carabinieri Corps) with police duties at home and in the colonies, the Corpo della Regia Guardia di Finanza (Eng. Corps of the Royal Finance Guard) with duties of economic and financial control, the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (Eng. Italian African Police), with police and security duties in the colonies, and, finally, the Compagnia Autocarrata Tedesca (Eng. German Motorized Company) composed of 144 German volunteers.
The colonial troops were commonly known by the word Àscari, which is the Italianization of the Arabic word ‘ʿaskarī’, meaning Soldier. This corresponded to the rank of simple soldier of the Royal Army. However, the units of the colonial troops were also composed of Zaptiè from Zaptiye ‘Police’ in Turkish, colonial policemen under Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza command and Dubad in Arabic “White Turbans”, a paramilitary fascist militia used in second line duties.
The colonial troops formed 13 Colonial Divisions composed of 29 brigades, 17 Autonomous Colonial Battalions, 8 Colonial Cavalry Squadrons with camels and, finally, 22 poorly armed and trained groups or regular and irregular bands.
According to the report of the commanders of the troops in AOI drawn up at the beginning of the campaign, the ammunition reserves were for “one year of war” for artillery and the ammunition reserves for small arms were only for “six or seven months of war”.
As for the vehicles, whether combat or transport, the situation was not good. The troops had at their disposal only 24 M11/39 medium tanks and 39 light tanks of the L3 series (L3/33 or L3/35), about 30 armored cars, 10 FIAT 611 and about 20 Lancia 1Z and 1ZM dating back to the First World War, 96 armored trucks or trucks with handmade weapons and a total of 5,300 other trucks. To the detriment of the Italian Fascist policy of Autarchy, or rather the self-sufficiency economic system, in the colonies of Italian East Africa, the trucks used were, in addition to nationally produced models, mostly Ford V8, Chevrolet, Bussing, or GMC trucks. These had been purchased in 1935 to participate in the conquest of Ethiopia.
The behavior of Benito Mussolini and the High Command of the Royal Army was very ambiguous. In fact, up until the day before the Kingdom of Italy entered the war, Italian merchant ships could pass through the Suez Canal undisturbed, but there was never an order to send war material or fuel to the colonies of the Italian East Africa.
On June 10th, 1940, for all these military vehicles in the AOI, there was a small reserve of fuel equivalent to only “six or seven months of war”, while the reserve of tires was significantly smaller, “only 2 months of war”. The roads of the colonies were in very bad condition and, for example, in a round trip from Asmara (capital of Eritrea) to Addis Ababa (capital of Ethiopia), 700 km as the crow flies, an average of 10 tires burst per truck.
Prince Amedeo’s request for reinforcements or equipment was rejected by the Royal Army because the merchant ships would have had to circumnavigate Africa, becoming easy targets and costing Italy a great deal of money.
However, the request to receive logistical supplies, such as truck wheels and fuel, from Japan was authorized. Japan agreed by illegally sending merchant ships that would unload the equipment in great secrecy.
Ironically, whoever gave the order to the Japanese from Rome probably got the measurements wrong and the merchant ships unloaded in Italian East Africa hundreds of tires of different sizes from those used by Italian trucks.
Between June 13th and August 19th, 1940, the Regio Esercito, with the limited supplies of ammunition and supplies, despite the order from Rome to maintain their positions, attacked the British troops in Sudan, Kenya, and British Somalia. They defeated the British troops, penetrating several tens of kilometers into the territories of Sudan and Kenya and conquering British Somalia in only 16 days of fighting, between August 3rd and 19th, 1940.
This advance was not a waste of precious resources. In fact, Prince Amedeo of Savoy launched targeted attacks to conquer the major British ports in the region, decreasing the risk of British landings and taking possession of the few resources available in their warehouses.
In November, after a considerable influx of British men and equipment, not only from Great Britain, but also from colonies such as South Africa, India, Australia, and New Zealand, the Commonwealth troops counterattacked but were unable to defeat the Italian troops which, worn out, were forced to fall back nonetheless.
By January 1941, the Italian troops had increased their numbers to approximately 340,000 Italian soldiers and Àscare troops. In fact, due to the isolation, many Italian citizens and natives had lost their jobs and there was nothing left for them to do but enlist. In the same month, the Commonwealth troops could count on 230,000 soldiers.
The second British counterattack of January 1941 was decisive. In Eritrea, in the north, they faced a lot of resistance that slowed down the progress. However, in the south, because of the long front of 600 km, the British easily defeated the Italian troops and indigenous troops, which were poorly armed and worn out by months of isolation.
Mogadishu was conquered by the British on February 25, while in March, they were already in Ethiopia.
On April 17th, 1941, the Viceroy of Ethiopia, Prince Amedeo di Savoia, commander of the Italian forces, barricaded himself together with 7,000 soldiers, 3,000 of whom were Ascaris, on the mountain of Amba Alagi. There, the British troops of General Alan Cunningham, 39,000 strong, besieged them for a month, until May 17th, when the Italian troops surrendered due to lack of ammunition.
The British gave the honor of arms to the Italian troops and to Prince Amedeo. On April 6th, Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, was captured and on May 5th, after 5 years of forced exile, the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie returned to the capital.
Despite the surrender of Prince Amedeo in the Gondar region, 40,000 well-organized Italian and Acehnese soldiers resisted the British assaults that began on May 28th, 1941, and ended on November 27th with the surrender of Italian forces in Italian East Africa.
The FIAT 634N Truck
In 1930, FIAT developed two heavy trucks, the 632N, and the 634N. The letter N stood for ‘Nafta’ or diesel in Italian. These were the first two heavy-duty diesel trucks made in Italy.
The 634N truck was officially presented to the public in April 1931, during the Milan trade fair. The 634N was then the largest truck produced in Italy, with a maximum weight allowed by law of 12.5 tonnes. It was nicknamed ‘Elefante’ (Eng: Elephant) for its robustness, power, and load capacity. Its production, in three versions, ran from 1931 to 1939.
After model number 1614, the wheel rims were replaced with ones with six spokes made of cast steel. After strengthening the rear axle, the chassis, and the leaf springs, the vehicle could carry more weight, from 6,140 kg to 7,640 kg, thus reaching a maximum total weight of 14 tonnes, with an empty weight of 6,360 kg. These modifications gave birth to the FIAT 634N1, which also had the front fenders connected to the bumper. The FIAT 634N1 was produced from 1933 to 1939.
In 1933, the FIAT 634N2 version was born with a modified cab to increase aerodynamics, a drop-shaped radiator grille, angled windscreen, and more rounded shapes. Load capacity and speed remained unchanged compared to the N1 version. The FIAT 634N2 was produced from 1933 to 1939.
This was the first truck in Europe to be equipped with bunks for the crew. The back of the seat could be raised to form two bunks and, on request, there was a modification available to provide a third bunk.
As an example, the second company to provide a berth in the cabin was Renault with its three-axle Renault AFKD with a load capacity of 10 tonnes, which entered service only in 1936. The third was Lancia with the Lancia 3Ro in 1938.
The wooden platform was 4.435 meters long and 2.28 meters wide. The foldable sides were 0.65 meters high, with a maximum load allowed by law of 7.640 kg, while the maximum transportable did not exceed 10 tonnes. The lateral and rear sides were foldable.
In the N1 and N2 versions, it was possible to tow a two-axle trailer for the transport of materials, reaching a maximum weight allowed by law of the truck + trailer of 24 tonnes.
During the war, the FIAT 634N successfully towed tanks of the ‘M’ series and self-propelled vehicles on their chassis in the Rimorchi Unificati Viberti da 15t (Eng. 15 tonnes Viberti Unified Trailer).
Most of the trucks received a cab from FIAT, but Officine Viberti of Turin and Orlandi of Brescia also built bodies for some chassis. The military version was called FIAT 634NM (Nafta, Militare – Diesel, Military), but its characteristics were almost identical to the civilian versions.
During the Second World War, due to the Royal Army’s need for logistic transport vehicles, a total of 45,000 civilian vehicles in Italy were requisitioned, overhauled, repainted, re-plated, and put back into service as military vehicles.
The big difference between the civilian and military versions was the windows; in the military versions, the truck had fixed windows, different headlights and lacked of the triangular placard on the roof of the cab used in the civilian models to indicate the presence of a towing trailer.
Several versions were produced on this truck chassis. There were at least 4 tanker versions for fuel or water produced by Officine Viberti and SIAV, a mobile workshop composed of three different FIAT 634Ns which carried the necessary equipment to set up a fully equipped field workshop, at least two versions for the firefighters, a horse carrier version for the army, a sand truck with tipping platform, a gas version and three different Autocannoni. These were the 102/35 su FIAT 634N, with 7 produced, the 76/30 su FIAT 634N, with 6 produced by the FIAT workshops in Libya during the North Africa Campaign, while in the AOI, some Autocannoni 65/17 su FIAT 634N were produced in an unknown number of units by Officine Monti in Gondar.
The military version could carry up to 7,640 kg of equipment per law, although the maximum transportable came to almost 10 tonnes of ammunition, provisions, or almost 40 fully equipped men.
The cargo bay could comfortably carry an Italian light tank, such as the L3 or L6/40, or the 47/32 L40 self-propelled gun. The Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15t could tow any tank of the ‘M’ series (M13/40, M14/41 or M15/42) and all self-propelled guns on their chassis.
The turrets mounted on the armored cars were those of a Lancia 1Z armored car. This old vehicle was produced from August 1915 until the end of World War I in 137 units.
It was produced in two models. The Lancia 1Z was equipped with two superposed turrets, one armed with two machine guns and the second armed with a single machine gun of the same model.
The other version, produced between 1917 and 1918 in 83 examples, had a single turret armed with two machine guns and a third machine gun of the same model in the hull, at the rear.
The Lancia 1Z was armed with three Vickers-Maxim Mod. 1911 6.5 mm machine guns in the turrets and four Fusil Mitrailleur Modèle 1915 CSRG Chauchat 8 mm caliber guns to be used through the slits positioned around the hull. The Lancia 1ZM was armed with three Saint Etienne Mod. 1907 8 mm machine guns and four Carcano Mod. 1891 6.5 mm caliber guns, as the Chauchats had reliability problems.
In both models, the ammunition reserves were 15,000 machine gun rounds plus 4,800 rounds for the rifles.
The machine guns in the turrets were independent of each other and were placed on articulated mounts. This allowed the vehicle to fire in two directions simultaneously.
The FIAT frame was left intact, but the cargo bay and cabin were removed. An armor with an estimated thickness between 8 and 10 mm was mounted. This was produced not with ballistic steel, but with leaf spring suspensions taken from scrapped trucks. These were disassembled and used for spare parts due to the reduced fuel reserves. These springs were quite elastic (Carbon Steel 5160 or Steel 1050), which allowed greater resistance within 200 meters.
Above the engine compartment, which was equipped with front slits for the radiator, there were slits for the driver and the vehicle commander, as well as two other slits for machine guns.
To the side, there were two slits on each side and, above them, two crew entrances. The turrets and rotation mechanisms were welded to the roof of the armored superstructure, increasing the height of the vehicle by quite a bit.
The Lancia 1Z had a serious problem: the two turrets raised the center of gravity, causing the vehicle to tip over. On the new vehicle, the problem was probably less pronounced. The Lancia 1Z was 1.49 meters wide, while the FIAT 634N was almost one meter wider, at 2.4 meters.
The crew consisted of 15 men, a driver, a commander, 11 gunners, and 3 servants in charge of reloading weapons. Given that 15 people had to operate inside a vehicle of this size, in a narrow space and in the desert, the conditions inside were probably atrocious.
There was also a radio station of an unknown model, 3 days of food for the 15 crewmen, ammunition for 11 machine guns, fuel, and water.
The total height of the vehicle is not certain, but it was around 3.5 meters. In one of the few existing photos of the vehicle, the workers of the Officine Monti of Gondar are in front of the vehicle. They are standing and it can be seen that the armored car is about twice as tall.
In another photo, a FIAT 500A car can be seen next to the Monti-FIAT armored car. The FIAT 500A is about half the height of the hull of the armored car. The FIAT 500A was 1.37 meters high, so the hull of the Monti-FIAT was around 2.6-2.7 meters high. The two turrets were 92 centimeters high, bringing the total height of the armored car to 3.5 meters.
Using the same principle with the FIAT 500A’s length of 3.21 meters, the Monti-FIAT should be about 8.2 meters long, 80 centimeters more than the FIAT 634N.
Engine and suspensions
The FIAT 634N was powered by a FIAT Type 355 diesel engine with six cylinders in line. It had a capacity of 8312 cm³, delivering 75 hp at 1700 rpm, developed independently by the company thanks to the experience gained with marine engines.
From the 1086 model onward, the engine was replaced by the FIAT Tipo 355C with a capacity of 8355 cm³. The power was increased to 80 [email protected] rpm thanks to an increased bore and stroke.
All three truck versions had a total of 170 liters of diesel in two tanks. One reserve tank was located behind the dashboard with gravity feed, while a pump brought the fuel from the main 150-liter tank which housed on the right side of the chassis. These gave a range of about 400 km. In order to start the engine, two electric motors were used on the right side of the vehicle, operated by an external crank.
The clutch was a multi-disc dry clutch connected to a four-speed plus reverse gearbox with a “Libyan” type reduction. It was equipped with four-leaf spring suspension units. The drum brakes were activated by a pedal through three servo pressure brakes.
The mastodonic Monti-FIAT was equipped with 11 loopholes, three in the two turrets, two in the front, two in the rear, and two on each side. All the loopholes were equipped with water-cooled FIAT-Revelli Mod. 1914 machine guns or 6.5 × 52 mm Mannlicher-Carcano rifles fed by strip-fed boxes of 50 or 100 rounds.
The FIAT-Revelli Mod. 1914 was developed between 1910 and 1914 by FIAT and designer Abiel Revelli. It fired the same ammunition as the standard rifle of the Regio Esercito, the Carcano Mod. 1891. It had a rate of fire of about 500 rounds per minute, a muzzle velocity of 800 m/s, and a maximum range of 3,000 meters (practical 700 meters).
47,500 were produced between 1914 and 1920, 10,000 by FIAT of Turin and 37,500 by Società Metallurgica Bresciana (Eng: Brescian Metallurgical Society) of Brescia. The weight of the machine gun was 21.5 kg with 4.5 liters of water in the sleeve.
In Italy, the machine gun had been largely replaced in infantry units by more modern medium machine guns, such as Breda Mod. 1937, FIAT-Revelli Mod. 14/35, and Breda Mod. 1930 light machine gun. In the colonies, where the adversaries were mostly poorly organized troops of indigenous guerrillas, machine guns such as the FIAT-Revelli Mod. 1914 or the Maschinengewehr Patent Schwarzlose M.07 /12, of which tens of thousands were captured during and after the First World War, were more than sufficient.
If necessary, the portholes were used to fire the crew’s personal weapons. Some FIAT machine guns were possibly replaced by Maschinengewehr Patent Schwarzlose M.07/12 8 × 50 mm R Mannlicher. The ammunition quantity carried is unknown, but it can be assumed, since some parts of the vehicle were taken from a Lancia 1Z, that the wooden ammunition racks were also taken from that vehicle.
It is not known if there were other weapons on board, such as rifles for the crew, Breda mod.1930 light machine guns or hand grenades.
Only a single Monti-FIAT was built in late June to early July 1941 in the Monti Company Workshop, at about the same time as two other armored tractors. The vehicles were produced at night because of the frequent British aerial reconnaissance during the day.
Like the two armored tractors called Culqualber and Uolchefit, very little is known about the Monti-FIAT armored car. As soon as it was finished, “OFFICINE MONTI GONDAR” (Eng. Monti Workshops in Gondar) was painted behind the frontal wheel. The two known photos of the vehicle were taken shortly after, one with the team of workers who worked on the project and the owner of the workshop and the other in which they compared the huge armored car with the small FIAT 500A car of the owner of the Workshop.
From then onwards, nothing more is known about the armored car. It was probably used to escort columns of supply trucks that were continuously attacked by Arbegnoch (Eng. Patriots). These were Ethiopian partisans loyal to Emperor Haile Selassie and allied to the British troops, who had been sabotaging the Italians since 1936, weakening them and waiting for the moment to take back their homeland.
The armored car was probably lost due to a lack of fuel or a mechanical failure before the arrival of the British troops in the Gondar region. No British source mentions the Monti-FIAT armored car.
The Monti-FIAT was an armored car of circumstance, not dissimilar to the smaller but famous Lancia 3Ro Blindato used a few years later in Italy for almost identical purposes.
Nothing is known about it apart from some technical data.
It was probably useful as a deterrent against attacks by Ethiopian patriots, as its size and armament would have intimidated even the most organized British troops. Speed, however, would have been an Achilles’ heel, making this vehicle like a turtle, relatively well protected, but slow on the terrible Ethiopian roads.
15, driver, commander, 11 machine gunners and 3 servants
Republic of Chile, (1978-2006)
Medium tank – 119 acquired from Israel
After their valiant successes in two Arab-Israeli wars against more advanced Syrian and Egyptian tanks, the Israeli M-51s ended up in Chile. There, from 1978 to 2006, they finished their service history, sometimes lasting over 60 years.
They did this 13,000 km away from Israel, in a terrain very similar to the dusty Sinai peninsula and the mountainous Golan Heights and in a nation that, like Israel, was politically alone and was surrounded by belligerent nations.
In South America, just like in the Middle East, the M-51s proved to be very reliable and suitable for the needs of the Ejército de Chile (Eng. Chilean Army).
Chile’s Political Situation
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Chile drew near the United States and its economic policy, which led to many wealthy American and Chilean tycoons to invest large sums of money in the development of some industries in Chile.
The poorest social classes of the nation, mostly farmers and workers, to whom the investments brought little else but more exploitation, increased their support of the leftist parties. In 1970, Salvador Guillermo Allende, the candidate for Unidad Popular (Eng: Popular Unity), a coalition between the center-left and left wing parties Partido Radical de Chile (Eng: Radical Party of Chile), Partido Comunista de Chile and Partido Socialista de Chile (Eng: Socialist Party of Chile), was elected as president. Allende implemented major reforms for the country to help the population including increasing literacy rates, decreasing rents and food costs, funding for public health services and the nationalization of some major industries. In addition, the new administration was substantially closer to socialist nations, such as Cuba and the Soviet Union, and moved away from the United States and its economic policy.
The Chilean affluent classes did not see these reforms favorably and with some funding from the CIA they financed dissident members of the Ejército de Chile.
A first attempt to topple Allende took place on June 29, 1973 when the soldiers of the Regimiento Blindado N.º 2 commanded by Lt. Col. Roberto Souper arrived in Santiago de Chile and surrounded the Palacio de la Moneda, the residence of Salvador Allende.
This coup has become known as ‘el Tanquetazo’ (from the Spanish word for tank – tanque) because of the many tanks used. 22 people were killed but Allende was not deposed.
A second coup, commanded by General Augusto José Pinochet, overthrew the Allende government on September 11, 1973.
Between September 1973 and March 1990, the nation was commanded by General Pinochet, who was accused of crimes against humanity, including the murder of thousands and the unlawful imprisonment of houndreds of thousands under his totalitarian regime.
His political conduct accentuated the problems between Chile and Peru and destroyed the bond of peace with Argentina by reigniting border disputes.
The three nations launched a race for the most modern weaponry that the three South American nations could financially afford. Fortunately, this never resulted in a real war, but conflict was barely avoided.
In January 1978, Argentina denounced the decision of an external tribunal composed of 5 judges (chosen by Chile and Argentina) and of the Court of Justice of The Hague regarding the Chilean ownership of the islands of the Beagle Channel. Argentina began to prepare for a military offensive.
Argentina planned to launch the Operación Soberanía (Operation Sovereignty) on December 22, 1978, in two phases. The first phase involved aerial bombardments of Chilean Tierra del Fuego and of Chilean military airports, and the second one was a huge ground attack along the 5,150 km long border with Chile.
At that time, due to the embargo, Chile was in no position to attack the technologically superior Argentinians, and prepared to defend its territory. In fact, the element of surprise was lost because the Chileans constantly monitored the moves of the Argentine fleet and could identify the buildup of Argentinian soldiers along the border.
Fortunately, on December 22, 1978 a storm slowed down the operations of the Argentine fleet, allowing Pope John Paul II to negotiate a peace.
The Argentine operation was aborted 6 hours before the start of the landing of troops in Tierra del Fuego.
Chilean military situation before the M-51
Between 1947 and 1952, thanks to the good relations with the United States, Chile received a total of 48 M4A1E9(75)D Shermans equipped with VVSS suspension with larger tracks to reduce ground pressure. These came along with seven M32B1 Armored Recovery Vehicles, nicknamed ‘Panchotes’ by the crews, and a first batch of 21 M24 Chaffees.
These medium tanks formed the backbone of the Chilean Armored Corps for about 20 years.
The M4A1s were withdrawn from service in the late 1970s, while the M32B1s and some reconditioned M24s were not retired until the early 2000s.
Between 1964 and 1970, Chile also received a total of 60 M41A1 Walker Bulldogs which, together with some M4A1s, were employed during the 1973 coup d’état.
After the coup, two other great developments shook the Chilean military in the first half of the 1970s. The first was the acquisition by Peru of over 375 T-54s and T-55s between 1973 and 1975. The second was the condemnation by the UN and the embargo on military equipment caused by Pinochet’s bloody dictatorial regime.
The Chilean Army could only count on 21 modern tanks, the AMX-30, purchased from France.
In fact, the order had been for 80 vehicles, but due to the embargo, the French did not send the remaining 59 vehicles. The few units received had a very short operational history because there was a shortage of spare parts that did not arrive until the 1990s, when the embargo was finally lifted.
To overcome the lack of adequate armored vehicles needed to face the Argentinian and Peruvian threats, the High Command of the Chilean Army tried to buy additional armored vehicless. They were interested in the Austrian SK-105 Küraissier, British Centurion, Brazilian EE-9 Cascavel and the light French AMX-13-75. However, apart from the EE-9s, of which 83 were bought, the other nations were not interested in selling their vehicles to Chile in order to avoid diplomatic incidents or not undermining military and economic relations with the United States.
Chile turned to Israel, which accepted the request for help by proposing several vehicles to the Chilean Army.
The critical lack of funds and the US military embargo, in addition to the lack of Israeli availability, did not allow the purchase of military vehicles of newer generations, such as Centurions or M60 Pattons. Thus, Chile was forced to fall back on less modern vehicles.
Another great problem of the Chilean Army was that, even in the 1970s, the Cavalry Corps (equipped with light and fast tanks, such as the M24 Chaffee and M3 Stuart) was completely independent from the Armored Corp (equipped with medium tanks, such as the M4A1E9 Sherman and M41A1 Walker Bulldog). With different training schools, with officers and NCOs with different training and with different doctrines of employment, effective cooperation between the two units of the army was difficult. This made joint operations between armored forces and infantry very complex, as it was necessary to coordinate three different forces, Cavalry units, Armored units and Infantry units.
After its creation in 1948, the State of Israel was able to purchase dozens of M4 Medium Tanks of all kinds from various nations. These formed the first heterogeneous Israeli armored fleet, armed with 75 mm, 76 mm and 105 mm guns, all types of engines and suspensions.
The Israeli generals soon realized that the standard M4s armed with the 75 mm gun and the 105 mm support version were not able to effectively fight against the Soviet-made tanks supplied to Egypt and Syria. Thus, they asked France for help.
With French support, between 1954 and 1956, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) developed the M-50, a medium tank based on the M4 hull rearmed with a French CN-75-50 75 mm cannon (the same as on the AMX-13-75) in a modified turret.
The new vehicle was used with excellent results during the Suez Crisis of 1956, but the IDF soon realized that, in order to face future threats, a 75 mm gun would not be enough. In 1960, again with French support, another version of the M4 rearmed with a 105 mm gun, the D.1508 L.51, was developed. This was a shortened version of the 105 mm Modèle F1 L.56 (the same of the AMX-30) that could not fire APFSDS-T ammunition because of the reduced muzzle velocity.
Unlike the M-50, the M-51s were produced on M4 chassis originally armed with 76 mm M1 guns (or their upgraded versions), because the T23 turrets had more internal space to better accommodate the breech of the powerful French gun.
Another big upgrade was the engine. In the 1950s, due to logistical reasons (following the French example), all Israeli M4s were re-powered with the Continental R-975 C4 delivering 420 hp. Also for this reason, most of the M-51s were based on M4A1(76)W Sherman hulls, and in some rare instances on M4A3(76)W hulls with radial Continental engines. It was immediately realized that the radial engines and VVSS (Vertical Volute Spring Suspension) suspension could not cope with the weight increase of the M-51s, which came in at 39 tonnes.
Immediately, HVSS (Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension) was introduced and, as soon as they were available, the new 460 hp VT-8-460 Turbodiesel diesel engines of the Cummins Engine Company were installed, which increased the vehicle’s range and speed.
The M-51s fought alongside the M-50s in the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. They were obviously more than outdated in the latter war, but still able to face enemy armored vehicles, such as the Syrian and Egyptian T-34-85, SU-100 and more modern T-54s and T-55s. In some cases, they even destroyed some T-62s of the Arab armies.
The success in the Arab-Israeli conflicts was not only due to the technical superiority of their armored vehicles (which were fewer and, in the case of the M-50 and M-51, were less modern than most Arab vehicles) but, above all, to the excellent training of their tank crews. These far exceeded the training of the Egyptian and Syrian tank crews in many respects.
In the mid-1970s, Chile and Israel were concluding negotiations for SAM missiles and electronic equipment when Chile requested to also purchase armored vehicles.
The exact number of M-51s that arrived in Chile was 119, but some sources mention 85, 117 or even as many as 150 units.
Following logical reasoning, it is easy to understand that 150 units could not have arrived in Chile. Of the 180 units produced by Israel, some were destroyed in the Sinai or in the Golan Heights in 1967 or 1973, 6 were supplied to Lebanon in 1975 and another 6 ex-Israeli units are exhibited in museums or used as monuments.
The 119 M-51s that arrived in Chile in 1978 were of the fourth series, the last upgrade package of the Israeli M-51s. This variant was also in service in Israeli Army between 1978 and 1990 and had important innovations for urban combat. These included a 60 mm mortar mounted between the commander’s cupola and the loader’s hatch, which was usable only by leaning over one of the two hatches. The Browning M2HB 12.7 mm caliber machine gun was dismounted from the commander’s cupola support and was mounted on a support on the 105 mm gun barrel. A 7.62 mm Browning M1919 caliber machine gun was mounted on a new scissor mount near the commander’s cupola.
A box for the 60 mm mortar ammunition was then mounted to the right side of the turret counterweight.
These modifications were made after the experiences of the Lebanese in the Lebanese Civil War in order to increase firepower. The modifications were very useful in fighting in urban environments, especially with militias fighting with guerrilla strategies.
A great novelty was also the adoption of a rudimentary night vision system. Night vision periscopes were mounted on the driver, commander and loader’s hatches, as well as an Infrared (IR) intensifier on the hull.
The engine deck was also modified. The previous versions had added air intakes and the exhaust system in the lower part, while for the new version, the upper part was modified to increase the air flow and therefore improve the cooling of the engine compartment.
In 1977, Chile and Israel signed a contract that provided for the purchase of tanks, other vehicles of various types and for the dispatch of Israeli technicians and specialists commanded by General David Elazar to train Chilean tankers.
A first batch of 10 M-51s arrived by sea in 1977 and was transported to the Atacama Desert, where the Chileans evaluated them. The other 109 M-51s were shipped in 1978 and arrived in Valparaíso in the same year.
Of the 119 Chilean M-51s, between 6 and 12 were on M4A3(76)W hulls. Unfortunately, precise data is not available.
From there, they were transferred to the Training School in Peldehue, near Santiago de Chile. There, they were modified by the Chileans by removing the 60 mm mortar from the turret, the 12.7 mm caliber Browning M2HB machine gun from the support on the barrel of the cannon and the 7.62 mm caliber Browning M1919 machine gun from the scissor mount on the turret. In a hypothetical conflict in South America, urban clashes would have been very rare and Chile would have been on the defensive. As a result, the urban warfare kit was seen as not necessary.
It is worth mentioning that the removal of the machine guns was not a standardized affair. The 7.62 mm caliber machine guns were refitted almost immediately on the scissor mount near the commander’s cupola. In some cases, a 7.62×51 mm Rheinmetall MG3 was fitted instead of the Browning. On some M-51s, the 12.7 mm caliber machine guns were still mounted until 1990.
One M-51 was totally dismantled to train mechanic teams and to permit local factories to produce spare parts together with the 105 mm ammunition.
Rangefinder lasers were added to the M-51s of the platoon commanders, so that they could direct the fire of the M-51s under their command.
In some cases, the machine guns in the ball mounts in the hull were remounted. The Browning M1919A4 machine gun placed there on the regular M4 Shermans was removed by the Israelis in late ’60s and early ’70s because they did not have enough crewmen to equip all the tanks they owned and in order to free up more space for ammunition. The Israelis brought their Sherman-based crews down to four men, increasing the number of soldiers available for other tanks.
The reinstallation of the machine guns in the hull, as can be seen from some photographs, was done only on a few vehicles for a reason not yet clarified. It is possible they were only reinstalled on Platoon and Company Commander’s vehicles.
On some M-50s, the crews placed a fridge to store drinking water or a rack with extra 60 mm ammunition on the right side of the gearbox, where the machine gunner’s position was previously located. It is very likely that similar changes were made on the M-51s without a hull machine gun.
Sequential numbers were welded in Peldehue onto the frontal plate of the hulls. This allowed the vehicles to be identified in case an explosion or fire erased the serial numbers painted on top of the camouflage.
Proposed Update of 1978
The Israeli companies Nimda Co., Israel Military Industries (IMI) and National Aluminum and Profile Co. (NAPCO) developed an upgrade for the M-50 and M-51, regardless of the model to be sold to Chile, following the example of the Norwegian NM-116.
The project involved taking CN-75-50 guns, reboring the barrel to bring the caliber from 75 to 90 mm and modifying the breech and muzzle brake. On the M-51s, this would have involved replacing the gun mantlet in order to fit the 90 mm cannons. This expedient would have allowed the gun to be brought to the level of the GIAT CN-90-F3 low pressure gun mounted on the AMX-13-90.
The gun would then be mounted on the M-50s and M-51s along with a new engine, the Detroit Diesel SV-71T, mated to a new Allison HT 700 5-speed automatic transmission, new sand filters, cooling system and exhaust system. The Shermans, after the upgrade, would have had the same weight but a top speed of about 46 km/h and a range of about 300 km with the original 606-liter tanks.
The decision to develop this version armed with a 90 mm low-pressure cannon was made because, in 1976, the Chilean Army was interested in the 90 mm cannon. When Israel decided to help them upgrade their M24s in 1979, the Chileans asked to mount a 90 mm cannon on it, as in the Norwegian project. Chile already had the 90 mm low-pressure cannon in use with the Brazilian Engesa EC-90 of the EE-9 Cascavel (which was a copy of the Belgian Mecar 90 mm). Thus, there would be no need to buy new stocks of ammunition, spare parts and so on.
Due to the embargo, however, Chile was not able to receive new 90 mm cannons from the Brazilians or the Israelis. Due to diplomatic problems with France, they could not be provided with French 90 mm cannons. Apparently, Belgium preferred not to sell 90 mm Mecar cannons to avoid souring international relations.
The upgrading project was then abandoned for a few years but was restarted when Peru was interested in purchasing the more modern Soviet T-62 MBTs (never purchased in the end).
When the news came, Israel proposed the cannon developed by IMI and the Italian company OTO-Melara, the 60 mm L.70, for the M-50.
Crew Training and Structure
With the combat tactics and training from experienced IDF instructors, the Chilean crews greatly appreciated their M-51s, which the soldiers nicknamed ‘Burritos’, little donkeys.
In addition to training the Chilean crews in long-range firing and doctrine for the employment of the M-50 and M-51 in the Atacama Desert, the Israelis also created a doctrine for the employment of the Chilean armored forces that, up to December 31, 1981, had been divided into Armored Corps and Cavalry Corps.
As an example, after World War II, the Italian Army also had separated Cavalry and Armored Corps. Only in 1951 were they united into the ‘Armored and Mechanized Corps’, later renamed Armored Corps. Italy was one of the last nations in Europe that had this problem.
Due to the creation of the Armored Cavalry Corps of the Chilean Army, the Israeli instructors and the High Command of the Chilean Army had to help modify all the staff structure.
A new school for the training of officers for armored units or the retraining of cavalry officers and NCOs was formed in Quillota, and the one in Peldehue was converted.
Almost all cavalry regiments were renamed and became armored cavalry regiments.
Apart from these big organizational changes, the training was quite quick and easy. Chile already owned a number of Shermans and already had crews trained to use them, teams of mechanics trained to repair them and some spare parts. This was another reason why Chile decided to buy M-50s and M-51s in 1979 instead of continuing to try to buy more modern vehicles.
Because of the length of Chile, about 4,200 km from North to South, and the obvious logistical problems that derive from it, some regiments kept the five IMI UZI caliber 9 mm Parabellum submachine guns that the Israelis had installed as weapons for close defense, as well as the personal weapons of the crew, usually FAMAE FN-750 pistols. In some other cases, the crews removed the UZIs and installed five Italian Beretta PM12S of the same caliber.
To effectively train its crews, the Chilean Army purchased the Simfire Tank Gunnery Simulator (TGS) from the Swiss company Solartron Analytical.
This realistic crew training system was composed of several subsystems, like a low intensity laser beam projector mounted above the gun barrel connected to the gunner’s trigger. Behind the projector, above the turret, a pyrotechnic launcher was mounted that, when the gunner pulled the trigger, launched a grenade simulating the flash and sound of a gunshot. There were also four detector units that intercept the laser beams coming from the “enemy” projectors. On the roof of the turret, behind the launcher, was mounted a radio transceiver with its own antenna to connect the firing vehicles and the one that was hit.
There was also a red smoke generator connected to the detector units. It was set off when the vehicle was hit by the laser beam of an opposing vehicle to show the tank was destroyed. An amber light also flashed when the vehicle was hit, which was very useful for night operations or in very foggy areas of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.
The number of Simfires purchased is unknown, but they were certainly also used by the Chileans on their M41A1 Walker Bulldogs and probably on the M24 Chaffees rearmed with the 60 HVMS.
This allowed the Chilean crews to train in a more than realistic way. In addition to buying these systems from Switzerland, in 1978, Chile ordered and purchased 4 T-54s and T-55s (arrived in 1979) from Israel to train their crews in an even more realistic way, making them familiar with the opponent vehicles.
The Simfire was used also by British Army to train their crews on the Scorpion light tanks and Centurion and Chieftain Main Battle Tanks.
The M-50s and M-51s had four French-made 80 mm smoke launchers on either side of the turret. These were used extensively during service with the IDF. When the purchase contract with Chile was signed, the ammunition for the smoke launchers was not supplied because Israel had gotten rid of them years earlier.
Asking France for smoke grenades stocks was out of the question due to the embargo and it was no longer possible to remount the 60 mm mortars on the M-51 turrets. The crews were provided with the same smoke grenade mortar that the Chilean infantry used and the smoke grenades were stored in the same box as the Israeli 60 mm mortar ammunition.
Chilean modifications in 1990
In late 1990, Chile began an upgrade program for the M-51s called “Proyecto-T” (Eng: Project-T).
Project T was based on the proposal of the Israeli companies from 1977, with some modifications. The gun modification proposal was not changed, but a new 8V-71T diesel engine giving 350 hp at 2,100 rpm from the Detroit Diesel Company was fitted. The old Cummins engines were no longer able to achieve the same performance as in the past and, moreover, it took too long to ignite as the diesel preheating chambers could not quickly bring the fuel to the combustion temperature, a problem already encountered by the Israelis, but exacerbated by wear due to prolonged use of almost thirty years.
The upgrade involved a modified engine deck. The exhaust system was mounted on the left side with the exhaust pipe facing downwards and covered with a curved perforated grille.
Unlike the 1979 upgrade package, the new Allison Transmission HT 700 gearbox was not fitted. The original Cletrac gearbox was retained.
The gunner’s optics were updated but, due to the limited internal space, the Browning M1919A4 coaxial machine gun was removed.
As for the armament, the D.1508 cannon remained unchanged. However, laser rangefinders were added on many M-51s and the gun mounts were repaired. These, due to the stress of recoil and continuous use, showed signs of aging and degradation, with large cracks.
The first 12 upgraded M-51s were delivered to the Chilean Army units in February 1995 and the last in February 1998.
In 1990, only 100 were upgraded as part of Project T. The other 17 (and the one that fell in the ocean) were used for spare parts, which means that, between 1995 and 1998, the regiments’ M-51 organic strength probably decreased, although the data is not clear.
Service in the Chilean Army
Of the 117 M-51 owned by Chile that were left because of the two lost vehicles, one dismounted and the other fell into the ocean.
The M-51s were delivered to four Armored Cavalry Regiments of the Chilean Army.
One of the regiments that used the M-51 was the Regimiento de Caballería Blindada Nº 9 “Vencedores” (Eng: 9th Armored Cavalry Regiment), at first located in Arica, on the Chile-Peru border. In 1987, it was moved to San Miguel de Azapa, a few kilometers further south.
This regiment employed its M-51s extensively, also receiving at least one M32 ‘Panchotes’ and two M-51s on M4A3(76)W hulls.
The M-51s (the regiment was the only one that also used the M-50) remained in service until 2002, when they were replaced by the Leopard 1V and, in 2007, by the Leopard 2A4.
It is noteworthy that, between 2002 and 2006, Chilean crews trained on both Leopard 1s and the old Shermans.
The regiment had three different accidents with their Shermans. The first occurred in 1988, when a Mercedes-Benz truck carrying an M-50 on a trailer overturned. The second took place in similar circumstances but at an unknown date, when an M-51 with a mine clearing device overturned during transport on a paved road in the desert. In both cases, there were no casualties and the Panchote was used to lift the vehicles.
During maneuvers in the 1980’s, one of the M-51’s of this regiment, for an unclear reason, fell off a cliff in the region of La Portada, near Iquique. The M-51 remained at about 40 m underwater for several weeks, after which it was finally recovered, disassembled and used for spare parts. The fate of the crew is unknown.
The Regimiento de Caballería Blindada Nº 4 “Coraceros” (Eng: 4th Armored Cavalry Regiment) stationed in Osorno, in mid-Chile, also had M-51s. They were used until 2006, when the regiment was disbanded and the barracks was transformed into a Training School. The vehicles probably ended up in storage or were scrapped.
The Regimiento de Caballería Blindada Nº 6 “Dragones” (Eng: 6th Armored Cavalry Regiment), stationed in the Punta Arenas Barracks, in the extreme south of Chile, on the Brunswick Peninsula in Patagonia, also received M-51s. In that region, there were some border disputes with Argentina, which claimed sovereignty over the Picton, Nueva and Lennox islands in the Beagle Channel.
Although the dispute was slowly being resolved thanks to the Papal State, the Chilean government preferred to send troops on the border as a deterrent against possible Argentine attacks.
The M-51s were used in this region until at least 2002, when the vehicles, probably more worn than those used further north because of the difficult terrain in which they had to operate, were put in reserve until 2006.
The Regimiento de Caballería Blindada Nº 8 “Exploradores” (Eng: 8th Armored Cavalry Regiment) stationed in Antofagasta, northeastern Chile, received M-51s later than the other armored cavalry regiments, between 1984 and 1985.
Their employment is not well documented and, unfortunately, there is not much information about the service of the M-51s stationed in Antofagasta. However, on more than one occasion, the crews trained with those of the Regimiento de Caballería Blindada Nº 9 “Vencedores” .
The Regimiento de Caballería Blindada Nº 10 “Liberadores” (Eng: 10th Armored Cavalry Regiment) had received some M-51s after the modifications of 1990. The crews trained with M-51s from the early 1990s until 2000 and received them for a short amount of time but, when the first Leopards purchased began arriving in Chile, the regiment’s crews were redirected to the Leopards, abandoning the M-51s.
Within the regiments, the M-51s equipped a homogeneous company consisting only of M-51 tanks, armored personnel carriers (of various models) and reconnaissance vehicles. It is not clear how the M-51 companies were structured. The book Serie Terrestre No°2 M4 Sherman (the only one which talks about the the structure of the M-51-equipped units in the Ejército de Chile) mentions that, thanks to the Israeli instructors, the Israeli organic structure was maintained, i.e., 3 platoons of 10 tanks that formed a company plus a company commander’s tank for a total of 31 M-51 per regiment. It is unlikely that each regiment received 31 M-51s. The total number of M-51s in the regiments would amount to 124 which would have meant the Chilean Army would not have had any M-51s in reserve or in schools for training. This leads to the supposition that the Israeli unit scheme of 3 platoons of 10 tanks was not maintained.
It is difficult to make assumptions based on the very little data available on this subject and on the poor records of the Chilean Army. Another hypothesis is that there were 20 vehicles plus the tank of the company commander for each regiment. This would mean a total of 84 vehicles plus 35 in reserve and in training schools, a hypothesis much more plausible than 31 tanks per regiment.
M-51 Mine Clearance
For mine-clearing duties, Chile used M-51s equipped with KMT-5M roller mine clearing devices.
The 7.5 tonne heavy mine-clearing system has a very complex history. It was manufactured in East Germany for the Soviet Red Army in the 1960s, and was sold to the Syrians and Egyptians for their T-54s, T-55s and T-62s.
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israelis captured several dozens of these, keeping them in service on their Tirans or selling them to Brazil (which later resold them to Argentina, which mounted them on its Sherman ‘Repotenciados’) and Chile. The Israelis also developed their own improved variant for the Merkava and Magach.
At least eight were received by the Chilean Army in 1983, along with a stock of ammunition and other military equipment.
Since they were not designed for the Sherman hull, the Israelis modified them by adding a mount to fit the Sherman hull, also allowing the system to be lifted off the ground before the vehicle approached the ground to be cleared.
The KMT-5M was used on M-51s based on both M4A1(76)W and the few on M4A3(76)W hulls. It should be pointed out that the mount developed by Israelis for the M-51 was better suited to welded hulls. Therefore, when they could, the Chileans mounted the KMT-5M on M-51s based on M4A3 hulls.
Due to the small number of devices received, only platoon commanders’ M-51s were equipped with this device.
The M-50s did not receive the anti-mine devices because they were considered too important due to their new gun. Furthermore, the 105 mm gun of the M-51s could provide the necessary support in the demining phases.
The M-51s arrived in Chile in the standard IDF ‘Sinai Gray’ camouflage, which the Chileans liked very much for two reasons. Firstly, the Sinai Gray was well suited, as the training of the Chilean crews was held in the Atacama desert. Secondly, the camouflage paint decreased the vehicle’s IR signature.
The Chilean Army, however, had not taken into account that the Atacama Desert is the driest in the world because of the very high salt content. This corroded the Israeli-made paint.
The Chilean Army High Command ordered local commanders to repaint their M-51s, but without giving instructions on which camouflage schemes to apply. Local commanders then purchased paints from civilian vendors and applied camouflage patterns to their M-51s at their own discretion.
Most were repainted in a monochrome sand-colored scheme, lighter or darker, depending on what civilian stores could offer.
In the Punta Arenas area in the extreme south of Chile and in the Training School in Peldehue, the camouflage adopted was very similar to the US MERDC (Mobility Equipment Research and Design Command), with a sand yellow base with dark green stripes and some black lines.
There was also a variant with a white base, dark green lines, sand yellow spots and black outline used in Punta Arenas.
During the 1994-1998 upgrades, many M-51s were painted in MERDC sand yellow, dark green and black outlines, while the remainder retained their sand yellow monochrome camouflage.
The M-51’s Fate
The fate of the Chilean M-51s has been a sad one. Only 7 of these veterans, with more than 60 years of service onboard, have been saved. One has been exhibited since 2008 at the Museo de Tanques del Arma Caballeria Blindada in Iquique. Another one has also been exhibited since 2008 at the Museo de Tanques del Arma Caballeria Blindada in Quillota. Two, one of which is equipped with the KTM-5M anti-mine device, are at the museum of Rinconada de Maipúe. One is the gate guardian of the military base of Antofagasta. One is exhibited in another Chilean museum and the last one is a gate guardian in the headquarters of the Batallon Logístico Divisionario.
All other M-51s were held in reserve until 2006 and decommissioned by 2008. Some were used in the Atacama Desert as targets for Leopard fire, while others were sold as scrap and dismantled.
According to some unconfirmed rumors, there are still between 10 and 15 of them abandoned in some military depot in Chile, ready to be sold to museums or private collectors.
The M-51s arrived in Chile about forty years after their construction and twenty years after the conversion to the M-51 standard. They proved to be worthy combat vehicles for the Chileans. The Chilean crews appreciated their mechanical reliability and their robustness.
Although they were not the most modern vehicles in service in the Ejército de Chile, they were the ones most used between 1980 and 1990.
Many Chilean tank officers still serving on the Leopard 1V and 2A4CHL today learned the tactics and trained on the ‘Burritos’ and were then assigned to more modern vehicles when the M-51s were removed from service.
The Chilean M-51s were not the longest-lived vehicles in the Sherman family to remain in service. The oldest M4s to be removed from service were the M4 Sherman ‘Repotenciado’ the Paraguayans only just removed from service in 2018.
Chilean M-51 specifications
6.15 m x 2.42 m x 2.24 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready
5, driver, machine gunner, commander, gunner and loader
Detroit 8V-71T 350 hp diesel with 606 liters tank
D.1508 with 47 rounds, 1-2 Browning M1919 7.62 mm with 4,750 rounds and a Browning M2HB 12.7 mm with 600 rounds
63 mm frontal hull, 38 mm sides and rear, 19 mm top and bottom.
89 mm mantlet, 73 mm front, sides and rear of the turret
Kingdom of Italy 1943-1945
Heavy Armored Car – 1 prototype built
The AB43 ‘Cannone’ (Eng: Cannon) was a prototype version of the AB armored car series armed with an anti-tank variant of the standard 47 mm support gun of the Italian infantry. It was meant to improve the anti-tank and support features of the ‘AB’ armored car series.
The single prototype was developed and produced by Ansaldo and FIAT for the Regio Esercito (Eng: Italian Royal Army). The AB43 ‘Cannone’ prototype was only able to take part in trials before September 8, 1943, when the Cassibile Armistice was signed, effectively putting Italy out of the war.
In the weeks after the Armistice, German troops captured the prototype. Considered of little use by the Germans, the vehicle was then stored in the Ansaldo factory warehouse.
Why an armored car armed with a 47 mm gun?
At the beginning of World War II, most armored cars were armed only with machine guns, and only in some cases with 20 mm or larger cannons (most notably the Soviet 45 mm equipped heavy armored cars). Their armor ranged from 7 to 15 mm depending on the model and the nations that used them.
During the Spanish Civil War, Italian volunteer soldiers, who fought for General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces, captured several examples of heavy Soviet-made BA-6 armored cars and Republican Blindados B.C., both armed with 45 mm guns. Many were reused by Italian or Nationalist Spanish soldiers, while one was sent to Rome to be studied by Royal Army engineers, together with a BT-5 tank.
During the drafting of the report on the efficiency of the vehicle, the Italian engineers understood that the AB40, the progenitor of the ‘AB’ series, armed with three medium machine guns and protected by 8.5 mm of armor on all sides, was not able to face heavy armored cars of potential enemies. It would be necessary to arm the Italian armored cars with more powerful weapons.
The AB41 was an excellent initial solution. It was armed with a 20 mm cannon developed for an anti-aircraft role, but also efficient against light armored vehicles. It could penetrate 38 mm of armor at 100 m, more than enough to face the British armored cars and also some light tanks of the time.
With the continuation of the war, however, the British developed wheeled vehicles armed with 40 mm guns that could not only perform reconnaissance tasks, but also support the infantry and do limited anti-tank duties.
The Regio Esercito decided to adopt a vehicle with similar characteristics but using the same chassis of the AB40 and AB41 armored cars in order to optimize production times and, above all, save time and money on the preparation of new assembly lines.
History of the project
At that time, FIAT and Ansaldo, which had collaborated on the design of the AB armored cars, were trying to solve the various problems encountered on the AB41. They accepted the new request and started to develop a new vehicle.
As usual, FIAT and its subsidiary SPA (Società Piemontese Automobili) worked on the mechanical and propulsion parts, while Ansaldo engineers worked on the armament and the armor of the vehicle.
The idea was born to arm the AB41 with the same gun as the ‘M’ tanks, the Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935. This weapon could deal effectively with light and reconnaissance vehicles.
History of the prototype
The first attempt by FIAT and Ansaldo
The 20 mm cannon, in addition to not being able to deal with better-armored threats, had explosive ammunition that was not effective against fortifications or machine-gun nests. Therefore, Ansaldo developed, by order of the Ispettorato delle Truppe Motorizzate e Corazzate (Eng. Armored and Motorized Troops Inspectorate), a vehicle on the chassis of the AB42, with the superstructure of the AB41 and with a more powerful armament.
The turret and the roof of the superstructure of the vehicle were removed and the sides of the superstructure were vertical in order to increase the space inside the combat compartment. The front of the vehicle and the frontal driving position were not changed but, behind the driver, a 47 mm 47/32 Mod. 1932 cannon was mounted. It was fitted with a large shield that protected the gun servants from enemy small arms fire from the front.
The ammunition supply consisted of 100 rounds of 47 mm caliber. The vehicle was not equipped with any secondary armament.
Presented in December 1942 and first completed in early 1943, this prototype was never accepted into service due to the poor crew protection, its height and the limited traverse angles of only 30° to each side.
After the failure of this project, in 1943, Ansaldo and FIAT tried to modify a standard AB41, powering it with the engine of the AB42, with a new superstructure with vertical sides and arming it with a larger and wider turret armed with a more powerful 47 mm cannon. This was the ‘AutoBlinda Modello 43 Cannone’ or, more commonly, AB43 ‘Cannone’ or ‘Anticarro’ (Eng: Anti-tank).
The new riveted enneagonal (nine sided) turret of the AB43 ‘Cannone’ was very low and wide enough for two crewmen. The loader sat on the left side and the commander/gunner on the right side.
The access hatch was mounted in the middle, behind the cannon breech. In front of it was a protuberance that allowed the cannon to depress more.
On the right side, there was a periscope for the vehicle commander, which allowed a 360° view of the battlefield.
The armor was the same as on the Mod. 1942 turret, 22 mm on the frontal side and 8.5 mm on the sides and rear. The roof was 6 mm thick.
Externally, the hull was similar to that of the standard AB41. The sides of the superstructure were modified, becoming vertical in order to increase the internal space necessary for the new larger turret. The armor was the same on the previous AB41, with 8.5 mm on all sides of the superstructure and 6 mm on the roof and bottom. This was enough to protect the crew from small arms fire and grenade splinters.
The machine gun in the rear of the superstructure was removed to facilitate crew entry and to increase interior space.
The machine gun was replaced with a slot from which, in case of need, the crew could defend themselves with their personal weapons.
The side doors were similar, made in two parts and with one pistol port for defense. On the sides of the hull were hooked two spare wheels and sapper tools, exactly as on the other armored cars of the ‘AB’ series.
An important note is that Ansaldo developed this version of the AB43 for the North African theater. However, when it was presented to the Italian Army, the African campaign was drawing to a finish. During testing, the vehicle was equipped with ‘Libia’ tires developed by the Milanese company Pirelli for the desert theater.
On the left side, the 3 m radio antenna connected to the RF3M radio system produced by Magneti Marelli was mounted. The radio was mounted on the left side of the superstructure wall. The antenna could be raised by a crank mounted inside the vehicle and could reach 7 m fully extended, with a maximum radio range of 60 km and 25-35 km when only 3 m high.
Engine and suspensions
The engine mounted on the AB43 ‘Anticarro’ was the same as that of the AB42 and AB43, a FIAT-SPA ABM 3 6-cylinder water-cooled petrol engine with a displacement of 4,995 cm³. This developed a maximum power of 108 hp at 2,800 rpm and was an improved version of the previous ABM 1 of the AB40 and ABM 2 of the AB41, with the same capacity of 4,995 cm³.
Performance was not bad. In fact, the 8-tonne AB43 ‘Cannone’ reached a top speed of 81.4 km/h, compared to the 90 km/h of the 6-tonne AB42 and the 88 km/h of the 7.6-tonne AB43.
The suspension for each wheel was independent. The wheels were all driven and all steered, allowing the vehicle to have good off-road performance even on sandy or rough terrain.
Thanks to a complex steering mechanism, the armored cars of the series ‘AB’ could change direction by pulling a lever. They had two drivers, one at the front and one at the rear. This allowed the crew to retreat quickly without having to make complicated maneuvers to change direction.
The engine was paired with a Zenith type 42 TTVP carburetor housed in the back of the engine compartment, the same as on the previous armored cars of the ‘AB’ series, the L6/40 light tank, and the Semovente L40 da 47/32. The muffler was positioned on the rear right sponson.
The fuel was stored in three different tanks, totaling 495 liters, with a range of about 400 km. Five 20 liter jerry cans were carried, two on the front fenders, two on the right side, and one on the left side. These increased the range to 480 km.
The problem of the ‘AB’ series armored cars that was not solved in this model was the absence of a firewall between the engine compartment and the crew compartment.
The main armament of the AB43 ‘Cannone’ was the Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938. This was also mounted on the Italian M15/42 medium tank. It was a significantly more powerful cannon than the 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon used on the Semovente L40 da 47/32 and the M13/40 and M14/41 medium tanks.
The cannon was developed in 1938 and produced only for vehicles. It was made by the Ansaldo-Fossati factory of Genoa. The elevation in the AB43 was +18° and the depression was -9°. The firing rate was about 8-10 rounds per minute due to the reduced space inside the vehicle. Thanks to the semi-automatic breech, the 47/40 cannon could, with trained loaders, fire up to 28 rounds per minute.
The cannon had a maximum range of about 9,000 m, but its effective anti-tank range was only between 1,200 and 1,500 m.
The secondary armament consisted of an 8 mm Breda Mod. 38 machine gun mounted coaxially on the left side of the gun. This machine gun was a vehicle version of the Breda Mod. 37 medium machine gun used by the Italian infantry and had a top curved 24-round magazine.
It was planned for mass production vehicles to mount a support on the turret roof for an anti-aircraft mount for the Breda MG. It is unclear if a second machine gun would have been carried in the vehicle or if the crew would have to disassemble the coaxial machine gun when under air attack.
The 47 mm cannon used the same ammunition as the previous 47 mm L.32 gun. The ammunition types consisted of:
Cartoccio Granata da 47 mod. 35. High Explosive (HE) with percussion fuze mod. 35 or mod. 39.
Proietto Perforante mod. 35. Armor-Piercing – Tracer (AP-T) with percussion fuze mod. 09 and tracer.
Proietto Perforante mod. 39. Armor-Piercing Ballistic Capped – Tracer (APBC-T) with percussion fuze mod. 1909 and tracer.
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto. High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) round with internal fuze mod. 41, distributed after 1942.
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale. High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) with IPEM front fuze, distributed in early 1943.
The advantage was that the new gun had a larger breech that allowed the use of 328 mm long shell casings instead of 227 mm on the previous gun. This meant the muzzle velocity was about 43% higher. For example, the Proietto Perforante mod. 35. fired from the 47/32 Mod. 1935 had a muzzle velocity of 630 m/s, while the same ammunition fired from the 47/40 Mod. 1938 gun had a muzzle velocity of 900 m/s.
That round could penetrate 112 mm at 100 m and 43 mm at 1000 m instead of the 30 mm at 1000 m of the 47/32 Mod. 1935 round.
The 47 mm rounds were carried in two large box racks on the floor of the crew compartment.
It is not clear what material the two racks were made of, but it can be assumed that they were made of wood (like the other racks of the ‘AB’ series armored cars). This did not provide much protection in case of fire or penetration by enemy bullets.
The Breda machine gun had 27 magazines of 24 rounds each, for a total of 648 rounds. The 8×59 mm RB Breda cartridge had two types of bullets. These were standard ammunition and the M.39 AP (Armor Piercing) that weighed 12 grams and, with a muzzle velocity of 780 m/s, could penetrate a 16 mm RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armor) plate at 90° at a distance of 100 m. The standard ammunition with the same muzzle velocity penetrated 11 mm at 100 m.
The Breda magazine racks were mounted on the sides of the superstructure.
The prototype was presented to the High Command of the Royal Army on May 21, 1943, and satisfied the officers involved. 380 vehicles of the AB43 ‘Cannone’ and AB43 armed with 20 mm cannons were ordered.
Unfortunately, the Royal Army did not order the AB43s until August 16, 1943, less than a month before the Armistice of September 8, 1943.
When the Germans occupied the Ansaldo-Fossati factory in Genoa after the Armistice, they captured the prototype and gave it the designation “Panzerspähwagen Fiat/SPA Typ AB43(I) mit 4,7 cm kanone im Drehturm” (Eng: Armored Reconnaissance Car Fiat/SPA Type AB43 Italian with 47 mm cannon in turret).
The German Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (Eng. Inspector General of the Armed Forces) considered the AB43 ‘Anticarro’ not suitable for their purposes because the gun was not of anti-tank quality compared to the guns mounted on similar German vehicles, such as the Sd.Kfz. 234/2 ‘Puma’. They preferred the standard AB43, which were called Beute Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i) (Eng. Captured Armored Reconnaissance Car AB43 203 Italian) in German service. The Cannone prototype was kept for over a year in some factory warehouse to rust.
It is not clear under what circumstances but, in June 1944, the 90. Panzergrenadier-Division was sent to Genoa to reorganize itself after the losses suffered during the defense of Rome. On this occasion, it was assigned 16 AB43s, of which one was the prototype of the AB43 ‘Anticarro’.
Unfortunately, there is no information on the use of the AB43 ‘Cannone’, but the operational history of the 90. Panzergrenadier-Division can be traced.
On October 15, 1944, the division was ordered to move further south to defend the retreat of the German divisions towards Bologna.
In the following weeks and months, the division fought furiously against the Allied divisions that were trying to advance with the final objective of conquering Bologna. During these battles, the battalions of the division suffered very high losses, being reduced to little more than 200 men per battalion.
In March 1945, the division was assigned to the reserve and was able to reorganize itself until the first days of April. In fact, the division participated in the Battle of Bologna, fought between April 9 and 21.
The AB43 ‘Anticarro’ was probably lost in one of the battles fought between January and March 1945, as, on May 28, 1945, when the division surrendered to the Allies, it had no more vehicles available. The use of the AB43 ‘Cannone’ was not reported during the defense of Bologna.
The only version of the AB43 ‘Cannone’ was the AB43, an AB41 chassis with a new Mod. 1942 turret (the same from the AB42) and a new ABM 3 engine which allowed a top speed of 88 km/h, compared to the 80 km/h of the AB41.
102 AB43s armed with a 20 mm cannon were produced and assigned exclusively to German units. Some vehicles were captured by the partisans during the war and some were reused after the war by the police of the Italian Republic until 1954.
The AB43 ‘Anticarro’ was a project developed to face the more armored Allied reconnaissance vehicles, mainly in the vast deserts of North Africa. There, it would have probably been quite effective thanks to the adequate anti-tank gun and with sufficient speed that would have allowed it to engage the enemy and retreat quickly.
5,20 x 1,92 x 2,28 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready
4 (driver, gunner/vehicle commander, loader and rear driver)
FIAT-SPA 6 cyl, 108 hp with 195 liters tank
Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938 with 63 rounds and one 8 mm Breda 38 with 648 rounds
8,5 mm all hull sides, 22 mm turret front and 8,5 mm sides and rear, 6 mm roof and bottom
The Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausführung J, also known as Gerät 550 or Sonderkraftfahrzeug 161/2, was the last variant of the famed Panzer IV. It was produced from January 1944 to the last days of April 1945 in the Nibelungenwerk (Ni-Werk) factory in Sankt Valentin, northern Austria.
This variant was characterized by many modifications made to the previous models in order to speed up production and save on valuable raw materials.
The Panzer IV was the only medium tank to remain in production from before World War II until 1945. Its total production number, more than 8,500 vehicles from variant A to variant J, represents 30% of the tanks produced by Germany.
At the beginning of the war, the Panzer IV was the most powerful vehicle the Wehrmacht could count on, but it was almost immediately realized that the short-barrelled 7.5 cm KwK 37 (KampfwagenKanone 1937) L/24 (1.76 m barrel length) guns were not able to fight against more armored enemy vehicles. However, they were not meant to, as the Panzer IV was designed as a support vehicle for the Panzer III, destroying fortifications and enemy emplacements, not enemy tanks.
The Panzer IV Ausf. F2 was introduced in March 1942, armed with the 7.5 cm KwK 40 L/43 with a 3.22 m long barrel. The new variant proved to be very effective and able to face even the most armored Russian tanks, such as the T-34 and KV-1.
After the production of only 179 units, the Ausf. G entered into service three months later in June 1942, armed with the same cannon but with a maximum frontal armor of 80 mm, with 1,735 being produced until June 1943.
These two long-barreled variants of the Panzer IV were the most powerful tanks of the Wehrmacht until the introduction of the Tiger I in September 1942.
In April 1943, the production of the Ausf. H, armed with the longer 7.5 cm KwK 40 L/48 cannon with a 3.70 m long barrel, began. This variant entered service in July 1943 and 2,322 were produced until July 1944.
The losses suffered by the German armored divisions were considerable by 1942. Fighting against the Red Army, 502 Panzer IVs were lost in 1942 alone. In 1943, 2,352 Panzer IVs were lost.
The main companies producing the Panzer IV were Krupp, Vogtländische Maschinenfabrik, or “VOMAG” in Plauen, and Nibelungenwerk. Nibelungenwerk produced 1,378 Panzer IVs in 1943.
In May 1943, Adolf Hitler ordered the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (Eng: General Inspector of the Armoured Corps) to increase the production of tanks, increase the repair of damaged armored vehicles at the front and in specialized workshops in Germany, and ordered a substantial reduction in the production of “secondary” vehicles, such as the Bergepanzer and Munitionspanzer.
Following Hitler’s directives, in December 1943, Krupp modified its assembly lines to produce the Sturmgeschütz IV. In the spring of 1944, VOMAG converted its assembly lines to produce the Jagdpanzer IV.
Nibelungenwerk remained the only company producing the Panzer IV. There is a disagreement among the secondary literature over the total number of Panzer Ausf. Js produced. According to Peter Chamberlain and Hilary Doyle (Encyclopedia of German WWII Tanks) and Kevin Hjermstad (The Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank, 1939-1945), 1,758 Panzer IV Ausf. J tanks were built. In Panzerkampfwagen IV: The Backbone of the German Armed Forces of World War II, David Doyle speculates that as many as 3,000 tanks with an additional 200 chassis of the Panzer IV Ausf. J were produced.
According to Panzer Tracts 4-3, 179 Ausf. J tanks were produced by VOMAG, from frame number 86,384 to 86,573. Nibelungenwerk produced 3,433 until March 1945, from frame number 89,531 to 90,600, from 91,300 to 93,250 and finally from 110,001 to 110,415, plus another 15 Panzer IV Ausf. J tanks produced in April 1945. To these Panzer IVs are added about 260 chassis for vehicles such as the Sturmpanzer IV and another 28 Panzer IV Ausf. J built immediately after the war under Soviet control.
The Panzer Ausf. J production lasted about 16 months, during which they received some modifications that sped up production and saved raw materials needed for other purposes.
The turret of the Panzer IV Ausf. J was the same as that of the Ausf. H, with a turret ring diameter of 1.60 m. The only substantial modification was the adoption of the Nahverteidigungswaffe grenade launcher (close-in defense weapon) on the right side of the smoke extractor. In vehicles manufactured after May 1944, the Maschinenpistolen Stopfen (gun ports) on the back of the turret and on the side access doors were removed, as were the vision ports. However, this modification was not carried out on all vehicles. Some Ausf. J tanks with the pistol ports came off the assembly lines in 1945 because not all the companies that produced the Panzer IV turrets had removed these details.
In June 1944, three sockets were added on the roof of the turret for the assembly of a 2-tonne winch to lift parts of the vehicle or of other vehicles in the vicinity of a Panzer IV for maintenance and replacement. The commander’s cupola hatch was replaced after October 1944 with a pivoting hatch, very similar to that of the Tiger and Panther.
The cover of the smoke extractor was modified after November 1944 to allow a 360° use of the Nahverteidigungswaffe. The bracket for the Orterkompass 38 type II, a navigation compass mounted, when required, outside the tank, was welded over the smoke extractor. Inside the vehicle, the steel plates did not allow the compass to find the North Magnetic Pole.
The Fliegerbeschussgerät 42 (anti-aircraft machine gun support) mounted on the commander’s cupola was also modified to speed up production and to adapt to the new pivoting hatch.
After January 1945, three Lost-Erkennungstafeln (poison gas detector cards) were fixed, one on the barrel of the cannon and two on the back sides of the turret. These cards measured the pH of the air and notified the crew if poison gas was being used.
The crew, as in the other versions of the Panzer IV, was composed of 5 men. In the hull, these were the driver and machine-gunner/radio operator, on the left and right of the transmission, respectively.
The other three members of the crew were placed in the turret. The gunner was on the right of the breech of the cannon, the loader on the left, while the tank commander was in the middle, behind the breech.
Each of the five crew members had a hatch through which they could enter or exit safely. Communication inside the vehicle was via an intercom system connected to the FuG 2 radio. In general, the crews did not appreciate the Panzer IV Ausf. J, considering it inferior to the Ausf. H because of the numerous measures used to speed up its production, making it less ergonomic for the crew. To give an example, they disliked the lack of an electrical system for the turret rotation or the absence of vision ports in the side doors of the turret.
Hull and Interior
The hull was divided into two parts, the fighting compartment that included the front and middle parts of the vehicle and, separated by a steel firewall, the engine compartment.
The driver had at his disposal a slit with an armored shutter to see the battlefield. To his right, he had the transmission, the gearshift, and above the transmission, the dashboard. In front of him, he had the two driving levers and 3 pedals: clutch, brake, and accelerator, while in front on the left was the steering brake. Behind him, there was an ammunition hold.
The machine gunner/navigator had in front of him a ball mount for an MG34 with a K.F.Z. sight. In front of his legs, there was the other steering brake. On his right, inside some racks, was the FuG 5 radio, while behind it there were transformers and, under his seat, an evacuation hatch.
The armor of the Ausf. J was unchanged compared to the Ausf. H. The hull and superstructure maintained a thickness of 80 mm at the front, 30 mm on the sides, and 20 mm on the engine compartment and rear.
The turret kept a thickness of 50 mm at the front and 30 mm on the sides and rear. The gun mantlet was also 50 mm thick, while the commander’s cupola was 90 mm thick. The armor of the hull roof remained 11 mm while the one of the turret was thickened, from the 16 mm of the Ausf. H to 25 mm of the Ausf. J, while the hull floor remained 10 mm.
Until June 1944, Face Hardened Armor (FHA) steel developed by Krupp in 1893 for naval use and used on all German tanks was also used on the Panzer IV Ausf. J. During that month, an Allied bombardment seriously damaged Panzerfirma Krupp in Essen, the largest producer of FHA steel for the Panzer IV. It was therefore chosen by Waffenprüfämter 6, or WaPrüf 6 (Weapons Testing Authorities), to switch from FHA to Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA), which was less resistant but faster to produce, reducing the raw materials used and time of production.
As on Panzer IV Ausf. H, the first Ausf. Js were equipped with 8 mm thick Schürzen (skirts) mounted on the turret, and 5 mm thick on the sides of the hull.
This spaced armor was introduced in June 1943 to defend German tanks from Soviet PTRS-41 and PTRD-41 14.5×114 mm anti-tank rifles.
Until September 1944, the Panzer IV Ausf. J tanks were supplied with Schürzen II. The armored skirts on the sides of the hull were attached by handles to an iron carrier rail welded to the hull by four support brackets (Aufbau). After September 1944, Drahtgeflechtschürzen (Wire Mesh Skirts) were supplied to save precious steel.
This armor, sometimes called ‘Thoma’ after its developer, the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (Inspector General of the Panzer Troops) Wolfgang Thomale, was fixed by a tubular carrier rail and modified support brackets.
These side skirts were produced with 5 mm thick welded iron wire with a 15 mm distance between the wires. They were 600 kg lighter than the standard Schürzen.
Around December 1944 and January 1945, Drahtgeflechtschürzen panels were applied on the top, between the side skirts and the hull to prevent anti-tank grenades, such as the Soviet RPG-43s or improvised explosive charges, from being thrown and adhering to the fenders or sides of the hull.
A Thoma panel was also attached to the back of the turret, attached to the rear toolbox so that, if anti-tank grenades were thrown, they would bounce and not detonate on the rear sides of the turret.
Due to the desperate conditions of the Wehrmacht in the last months of the war, many Panzer IV Ausf. J remained equipped with the old Schürzen even in 1945 and did not receive these improvements or, as was the case for unluckier, they were never added.
Engine and Suspension
As on the other versions of the Panzer IV, the engine was a Maybach Hochleistung (HL) 120 TRM, V-12 11.9 L gasoline motor that produced 265 hp at 2,600 rpm. The fuel tanks were placed in the double bottom of the crew compartment floor. These held 470 liters for a range of 210 km on roads, with an average consumption of just over 2 liters of fuel per kilometer.
After July 1944, an additional 200-liter tank was mounted in the crew compartment instead of the engine for the automatic turret rotation system, which increased the range to 320 km.
The turret rotation mechanism was equipped with a second reduction gear to allow the crew to manually rotate the turret even on slopes.
The maximum speed of the Panzer IV Ausf. J was 38 km/h. The average speed at which it operated was 25 km/h on the road, while the off-road speed decreased to 15 km/h.
The transmission was the ZF S.S.G.76. It had 6 forward and 1 reverse gears and was the same one used by the latest versions of the Panzer III. Due to the 25 tonne weight of the vehicle, it was always under heavy stress.
The running gear was composed of 8 road wheels per side coupled with leaf spring suspension. The sprocket wheel was at the rear, the idler was at the rear and there were four return rollers. These were cut down to three after December 1944 to increase the production speed.
The tracks were composed of 99 track links and were 40 cm wide. They were of a dual central guide single dry pin type produced completely out of steel.
The new Drahtgeflechtschürzen introduced for this version received modifications to the supports to be further spaced from the hull. This allowed the Ostketten tracks to be mounted. These were 56 cm wide and developed to increase mobility on muddy or snowy terrain of the Eastern Front.
On the back of the hull was mounted the muffler. On the first vehicles produced, it was identical to that of the previous models, while, from August 1944 onward, it was replaced by two Flammentöter (flame suppression) exhaust mufflers.
The easiest method to identify a Panzer IV Ausf. J from a Panzer IV Ausf. H is the absence of the rectangular exhaust muffler of the turret rotation engine mounted on the left side of the back of the hull.
The main armament of the Panzer IV Ausf. J was the 7.5 cm KampfwagenKanone 1940 (7.5 cm KwK 40) L/48 (48 calibres long). The cannon weighed 750 kg. The elevation and depression of the cannon were 20° and -10° respectively. The maximum firing range was 7,700 m. The operational life was between 5,000 and 7,000 rounds and the gun could reach a rate of fire of 10 to 15 rounds per minute with a well-trained loader. It was a rather precise cannon, capable of hitting targets on the first shot even at a 1,000 m distance. The optical sight used was the high quality Turmzielfernrohr 5 f (abbreviated to T.Z.F.5f). It had a magnification of 2.5x, a visibility arc of 25°, and was mounted to the left of the cannon. The gunner could adjust the range by moving an “arrow” in the optics. The reticle was graduated at intervals of 100 m up to 2,500 m for the PzGr.39, 1,500 m for PzGr.40, and 3,300 m for SprGr.34.
The accuracy values in “Training” were obtained in a controlled environment and knowing the distance to the target which was 2 m high and 2.5 m wide. The values for the “Action” section were calculated by doubling the dispersion values. Obviously, this is an approximation. In fact, in combat, multiple errors could be made that could have affected the precision values. Source: “Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf. G, H and J 1942-45”, Hilary Doyle and Tom Jentz.
The secondary armament consisted of two or three 1934 Maschinengewehr (abbreviated to MG34) and a Nahverteidigungswaffe grenade launcher.
A machine gun was coaxial, positioned to the right of the cannon, and shared the same optics. The second one was in the hull in a ball mount. Its depression and elevation angles were -10° and +20°, with 15° of traverse to the right and left. It was fitted with a Kugelzielfernrohr 2 optics (1.8x, 18° angle). A third machine gun could be mounted in the anti-aircraft support on a rail fixed to the commander’s cupola.
When available, the Panzer IV Ausf. J could have a Nahverteidigungswaffe grenade launcher mounted in the turret. It could fire explosive, smoke, or flare ammunition. All of these rounds were fired from a 360 degrees-rotating projector mounted at a fixed 50-degree inclination angle.
The Panzer IV Ausf. J could carry 86 7.5 cm KwK 40 L/48 rounds in total, stowed in 8 different racks. One was placed behind the driver, holding 23 shells. Another one, with 24 rounds, was on the right side, divided into three 8-round sub-racks.
A total of 27 shells were carried in three 9-round racks, two on the left side of the vehicle and one on the right side. In front of the right side ones, there was a lower rack with 2 rounds.
Another 6 round rack was placed above the 23 round-rack behind the driver and, finally, 4 rounds were stored on the floor of the turret basket, under the breech of the cannon.
86 rounds were more than enough by the standards of the time. The problem was that these took a lot of space inside the vehicle. In fact, it should be remembered that the Panzer IV was designed to carry the shorter ammunition of the KwK 37 and not that of the KwK 40. The new cannon rounds had a larger casing and consequently were much more bulky and prone to explode.
In the last vehicles produced, between February and April 1945, the racks were slightly different, carrying only 80 rounds. This was achieved by removing the 2-round rack on the right, decreasing the rack behind the driver from 6 to 4, and the rack in the turret basket from 4 to 2 rounds.
Panzergranate 1939 (PzGr. 39)
Panzergranate 1940 (PzGr. 40)
Sprenggranate 1934 (SprGr. 34)
Hohlladung pattern C grenades. (Gr.38 HL/C)
Penetration (RHA angled 30° from vertical)
106 mm at 100 m; 85 mm at 1000 m
143 mm at 100 m; 97 mm at 1000 m
Out of 86 rounds, it was recommended to the crew by the instructors to carry PzGr. 39 and SprGr. 34 in equal numbers and, when available, some PzGr. 40 for use against heavily armored targets.
3,150 rounds for the MG34s were carried. These were the 7.92 mm Spitzgeschoss mit Kern or S.m.K.(pointed bullet with core) and Spitzgeschoss mit Kern, Leuchtspur or S.m.K.Lspur (pointed bullet with core, tracer) belted in 150 round bags.
Several types of shells for the Nahverteidigungswaffe could be carried:
Schnellnebelkerzen 39 (quick smoke rounds) and Rauchsichtzeichen orange 160 (orange smoke). The first was used for concealment, the second for signaling targets for air or artillery attacks.
Leuchtgeschossen R (Illuminating rounds) which could be used to illuminate the battlefield during night missions or to call for help.
The Sprenggranatpatrone 326 Lp (Explosive grenade) was designed to protect the vehicle from enemy infantry at very close ranges. It was fireable out to a range of up to 10 meters and operated on a one-second delay. The grenade exploded in a zone between 0.5 and 2 meters from the ground with a fragment radius of up to 100 m, lethal to nearby troops.
The Panzer IV Ausf. J entered service with the Wehrmacht in February/March 1944. It was immediately used on the Eastern Front. In June 1944, there should have been 1,502 tanks available but, due to production delays and losses in combat, there were only 605 Panzer IVs of different models on that front.
On April 30, 1944, an Allied bombardment of the gearbox factory in Friedrichshafen slowed down the productivity of many German tank factories, as it slowed down deliveries of essential components. Hitler, therefore, ordered to bring the production priority of the Sturmgeschütz to the same level as that of the Jagdpanzer and to increase the production of fighter planes.
The Minister of Armaments and War Production, Albert Speer, noted that the orders for armored vehicles in 1944 amounted to 40,300, but the actual production numbers at the end of the year were only 27,340 vehicles.
In July 1944, the 1944-45 production plan came into force, which provided for the production of three types of vehicles: Panzer 38(t) hull vehicles, 25-tonne vehicles (Panzer III, Panzer IV and self-propelled guns on their hulls) and the Panther, Tiger I and II.
In October, Speer proposed to Hitler to remove the “25-tonne vehicles” from production in order to focus only on light and heavy vehicles. In addition, he proposed to convert the factories that produced the HL 120 TRM to produce aeronautical engines.
On October 17, 1944, an Allied bombardment hit the Nibelungenwerke in Sankt Valentin, stopping production until November 4.
Due to the desperate conditions in Germany, the number of armored units was reduced on November 1, 1944. Consequently, each Armored Company (Panzerkompanie) had only 17 (2 tanks for the command company and three platoons of 5) or 14 (2 tanks for the command company and three platoons of 4) Panzer IVs, compared to 22 tanks for each Company in 1943. Many Panzer Divisions returned to 2 companies equipped with Panzer IVs, as in 1939. With the war progressing, the losses increased and, on April 1st, 1945, each company was reduced to only 10 tanks (1 tank for the command company and three platoons of 3).
In June 1944, 11 Panzer Divisions were waiting in the north of France in anticipation of the expected Allied landings, with 863 Panzer IVs (out of 965 tanks). Obviously, there were many Panzer IV Ausf. Js that took part in the clashes with the Allies which landed on the French coast. On June 11, 8. Panzerkompanie of the 12th SS Panzer Regiment of the 12th. Panzer Division ‘Hitlerjugend’ counterattacked the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment near Mesnil-Patry, reoccupying the town and putting out of use or destroying 37 Shermans with the loss of only two Panzer IVs, forcing the Canadians to suspend their attack.
Willy Kretzschmar, commander of the 12. Panzerkompanie (equipped with Panzer IVs) of the same division, claimed to have destroyed 15 enemy tanks during the Battle of Normandy in his Ausf. J tank.
During the winter of 1944, some 260 Ausf. J tanks were delivered to the Panzer Divisions stationed on the Western Front. All of these took part in the Ardennes Offensive. The Panzer IV was the most used Wehrmacht vehicle in that operation. During the weeks of the offensive, many Panzer IVs were lost to enemy fire. However, more were lost due to a lack of fuel and spare parts than due to the action of Allied anti-tank weapons or tanks.
During the Battle of the Bulge, the 6. SS-Panzerarmee had at its disposal a total of 73 Panzer IV Ausf. H or J, out of a total of 178 tanks. Although less armored and equipped with a less powerful gun than the Panther and Königstiger (also assigned to the 6. SS-Panzerarmee), they were faster, allowing for rapid deployment on the battlefield. Above all, compared to the other German tanks of the offensive, they consumed less fuel, which was now a precious resource for Nazi Germany.
The offensive began on December 16 with the German attack at dawn, after an artillery strike that lasted over 90 minutes. Because of the ineffective armored support on the first day, the Germans were not able to achieve great success.
On December 17, during the battle for the villages of Krinkelt and Rocherath (also known as the Battle of the Two Villages), there was a clash between M4 Shermans and Panzer IVs (probably Ausf. J). Two Shermans of the 741st Tank Battalion supporting the 23rd Company at a roadblock in the forest were knocked-out, forcing the US troops to retreat towards the two villages.
The next morning, the Germans broke into Krinkelt, where some Panzer IVs and four Jagdpanzer IVs clashed with a number of M4s and M10 Tank Destroyers, suffering some losses due to ambushes with Bazookas in the narrow streets of the town.
According to German records (which are incomplete), by December 18, the 12. SS-Panzer-Division “Hitlerjugend” (part of the 6th Panzer Army) had lost 32 of its 41 Panthers, 12 of its 34 Panzer IVs, and 21 of its 40 tank destroyers, claiming only five 57 mm anti-tank guns, three M4 Shermans, and three M10 Tank Destroyers.
On December 18, the Germans attacked a farm under U.S. control near Krinkelt. In the fight, a Panther and a Jagdpanther were knocked-out by 57 mm anti-tank guns, while eight Panzer IV Ausf. H and J tanks managed to neutralize the anti-tank guns.
During the battle that followed inside the perimeter of the farm, two M4 Shermans were knocked out by the eight Panzer IVs, which suffered the loss of two tanks.
During the morning, two more M4 Sherman were neutralized while an attempt to advance by three of the six Panzer IVs in the farm was repulsed by a single 3 inch GMC M10 Tank Destroyer that destroyed all three. In the afternoon, four M36 Tank Destroyers intervened in the area, forcing the retreat of the three surviving Panzer IVs of which two were destroyed during the retreat.
Further south, on December 18, the 5.SS-Panzerarmee entered the city of Marnach with 12 Panzer IVs (Ausf. H and J) and a Panzergranadier unit equipped with 30 Sd.Kfz. 251 half-tracks. The defending U.S. forces attacked with the few tanks available, destroying four Panzer IVs but losing three M4 Shermans.
Unfortunately, due to the incompleteness of the records, there is not enough data to determine how many Panzer IVs took part in the actions of the following days and how many losses there were.
Between August and December 1944, Hungary, the last standing ally of Germany, received 77 Panzer IV Ausf. J tanks. Of these, 20 were requisitioned by the German Command in Hungary to replace the losses suffered by the Panzer Divisions. With regards to the 57 remaining Panzer IVs, nothing is known about their operational use.
Finland bought 20 Panzer IV Ausf. J tanks in 1944 for 4,500,000 Markkas each. These vehicles were part of the first Ausf. J production series. Another 40 were ordered but were never supplied. These vehicles arrived without German instructors and too late. By the time they arrived, the Moscow Peace Treaty between Finland and the Soviet Union had already been signed.
Finland took possession of 15 Panzer IVs (the fate of the last 5 is not known) and they were then used by the Finnish against their manufacturers until April 27th, 1945, when the so-called Lapland War between the retreating Germans and the Finns ended.
After the war, the Ausf. J survivors were used for training and nicknamed by the crews ‘Ravistin’ (Shaker) because of the vibrations to which the tank was subjected during off-road driving. They were withdrawn from service around 1955.
The Soviet Union captured hundreds of Panthers, StuGs, and other Panzers on the battlefields during the war and stored them in warehouses. After the war, the Soviets finished the production of 28 Ausf hulls. J remaining in the Nibelungenwerk for Bulgaria.
The exact number of Panzer IVs, renamed by the Soviets as the T-4, captured is difficult to determine. 165 were supplied to Czechoslovakia between 1945 and 1946. The other T-4s that were crammed into rusting warehouses were probably dismantled in the 1950s.
Like the Soviet Union, France captured many abandoned Panzer IVs in varying conditions from the retreating Wehrmacht. At least 11 Panzer IV Ausf. G, H and J were used by the Besnier Regiment during the war, although not much is known about their use.
40 Panzer IVs in poor condition, out of a total of about 60, among which were the 11 of the Besnier Regiment, were sold to Syria between 1950 and 1952.
In the post-war period, Bulgaria received 28 Panzer IV Ausf. J tanks from the Soviet Union. This brought the total number of Panzer IVs in service in December 1945 to 102. By 1950, the number had dropped to 69, used mostly as bunkers or strong points in their defensive lines on the borders.
In late 1943, Germany began a program to rearm Romania. The program, called Olivenbaum (Eng: Olive tree), involved the supply of armored vehicles of German origin to Romania to create an armored division and three mechanized divisions.
Between October 1943 and August 1944, Romania received approximately 120 Panzer IVs of various models (called T-4 by the Romanians) and 108 StuG III (called TAs), as well as an unknown number of Sd.Kfz. 222 and AB41 armored cars.
After the coup d’état of August 23rd, 1944, Romania allied with the Soviet Union to fight the Axis forces. To replace the losses suffered by the Romanians in the fighting, the Soviets supplied the Royal Romanian Army with many Panzer IVs captured during the advance, in varying conditions.
The Panzer IVs and StuG IIIs were used after the war together with other materials that the Soviets supplied during and immediately after the war. On November 15th, 1947, the Romanian Army still possessed 13 Sd.Kfz.222 armored cars, 7 light tanks of various types, 54 T-4 tanks of various models, 13 Panthers, and 31 TAs assault guns.
After the Second World War, Czechoslovakia had to reequip its army. The desired help from the Allies did not arrive and not even Stalin could help. The Soviet Union supplied Czechoslovakia with 165 Panzer IVs of various versions and under various operating conditions between 1945 and 1946. A Czechoslovakian commission of technicians visited all the warehouses, German workshops, and battlefields in the country and managed to find another 102 Panzer IVs in various operating conditions and many spare parts.
Přelouč and ČKD reconditioned the vehicles and managed to bring a total of 82 Panzer IVs to operational conditions in 1949. These were 21 Ausf. G, 43 Ausf. H and 18 Ausf. J. The others, found to be irreparably damaged or with other problems, were dismantled and used for spare parts or at fixed locations.
It is interesting to note that the repairs led to the modification of not only Panzer G, H, and J, but also other versions that were rebuilt with the longer barreled 7.5 cm guns. This is the case of the hull of an Ausf. J (renamed by many sources “Frankenstein”) that was re-equipped with the turret of an Ausf. D rearmed with the 7.5 cm KwK 40 L/48 cannon.
The Czechoslovak Army renamed them Střední Tank T-40/75″ (medium tank T-40/75) regardless of the version. Some of these Panzer IVs received support brackets for a Soviet-made DShK anti-aircraft machine gun.
80 Panzer IVs went to form the 1st Tank Regiment in Strašice, while the last two remained at a tanker school for training. ČKD proposed a replacement of the steering system, which was considered a defect by the Czechoslovakian Army. However, the entry into service of the T-34/85 made the project redundant.
The gradual decrease in the availability of spare parts caused them to be withdrawn from service in 1955-1956. They remained in reserve until 1959 when they were used for various purposes. 55 were sold to Syria and some were used in movies (and one was destroyed during shooting). Another one was tested as a bunker, but tests showed it was too vulnerable. Another turret was tested on a gunboat while two others ended up in an armored train.
The remaining Panzer IVs became artillery targets and only one was kept as a monument in the Lešany Armor Museum.
Syria received 40 Panzer IVs from France between 1950 and 1952, 55 Panzer IVs from Czechoslovakia in 1956, and, finally, 17 Panzer IV Ausf. H tanks from Spain in 1965. We cannot extract the exact number of Ausf. Js received by the Syrians because of the lack of details in the Syrian sources.
The Czechoslovakian Panzers cost the equivalent of 4,500 British pounds each. They arrived in Syria in November 1955, already overhauled with ammunition but few spare parts.
In 1958, another 15 Panzer IVs were purchased from the Czechoslovak. These were not operational and were used for spare parts. 16 Maybach HL120 TRM engines were also bought due to the serious mechanical problems of the tanks supplied by the French.
The only Syrian modification was the replacement of the MG34 with 7.62 mm DT machine guns, and in some cases, the coaxial machine gun was replaced with the 12.7 mm Berezin UB machine gun. In an anti-aircraft mount, a DShK or a Breda-SAFAT 12.7 mm machine gun of Italian origin was mounted.
The Panzer IVs were used together with other German production vehicles, T-34/85s and a few SU-100s against the Israelis in the Six-Day War. At the beginning of the hostilities, there were 25 operational and 10 partially operational Panzer IVs. 12 were destroyed by the Israelis and another 4 were captured. They were taken to Israel to be evaluated and then put on display.
After the war, a careful analysis led the Syrians to remove all Panzer IVs and German-made vehicles from service for two reasons. The first was that, of the German tanks used against the Israelis, not one hit an Israeli vehicle. Secondly, the Soviet Union offered to rearm the Syrians with more modern vehicles, such as T-34-85s and T-54/55s.
In February 1943, 60 vehicles were produced. These were built by Bismarckhütte, which produced the superstructures, and Nibelungenwerke, which produced the hulls. These were based on the chassis of 52 Panzer IV Ausf. G and eight modified Ausf. E and F tanks.
Another 80 Sturmpanzer IVs came out in May 1944 based on the Ausf. H hull. The last 166 examples of ‘Brummbär’ were produced by Deutsche Eisenwerke in Duisburg in two lots of 24 and 142 vehicles. These were based on the Ausf. J hull.
The Schmalturm was hexagonal in shape and had heavier armor than the regular Panther turret. The front plate had a thickness of 120 mm while the gun mantlet had a maximum thickness of 150 mm. The sides and back of the turret were 60 mm thick. The turret mounted the 7.5 cm KwK 42 L/70 of the Panther, renamed KwK 44/1. It had a shorter recoil system to better fit the turret, allowing the cannon to maintain a +20°/-8° degrees of elevation/depression.
After March 1944, the command variant of the Panzer IV Ausf. J was produced. There were two variants, the Sd.Kfz. 267, which was modified by removing 15 75 mm rounds and installing an additional radio system including cables, transformers, and junction boxes. In addition, a GG400 auxiliary electric generator was also added.
The new radio sets were the Fu 8 (medium wave receiver) and Fu 5 (ultra short wave receiver). A Sternantenne D (Star aerial) for the Fu 8 was mounted on the rear of the hull, while the classic 2-meter antenna for the Fu 5 was mounted in place of the Nahverteidigungswaffe on the roof of the turret. A T.S.R.1 observation periscope and an SF14Z periscope scissor were also mounted.
The SF14Z could only be mounted inside the cupola so the commander could see the battlefield from inside the vehicle with the hatch open. The T.S.R.1 was a long stick periscope mounted on the roof of the turret, near the commander’s cupola, and could be extended by a pivoting support.
The Sd.Kfz. 268 variant differed from the 267 by mounting a Fu 7 transmitter/receiver for aerial communications instead of the Fu 8 radio set.
Only 17 Panzerbefehlswagen IV were produced from scratch, while 88 others were converted from already built Panzer IV Ausf. J tanks.
Other vehicles based on the Panzer IV hull received modifications to speed up production similar to those on the Panzer IV Ausf. J, such as the Sturmgeschütz IV and the FlaKpanzer IV ‘Wirbelwind‘, ‘Ostwind‘ and ‘Kugelblitz’. The Panzer IV/70(A) tank destroyers also received similar modifications such as the adoption, in the last vehicles coming out of the factories, of the Drahtgeflechtschürzen.
The Panzer IV Ausf. J was a variant of the Panzer IV that cannot be declared a straight-out improvement. Its ease of production was much improved, with almost 3,500 being produced in 16 months at the time when the German industry was being destroyed by bombing, with fewer and fewer specialized workers available and with an acute shortage of raw materials.
On the battlefields, it was still dangerous for opposing vehicles, even if it was vulnerable to the T-34-85 and M4 Shermans armed with 76 mm cannons. However, the loss of the automatic turret rotation mechanism had led to a significant reduction in capabilities.
5.92 m x 2.83 m x 2.68 m
Total weight, battle-ready
5 Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator/hull machine gunner, and driver
Maybach HL 120 TRM V-12, water-cooled gasoline 320 HP at 3000 rpm
Max.38 km/h, on-road 25 km/h, cross country 15 km/h
Chile (1983 – 2006)
Light Tank Destroyer – 21 upgraded
The M24 with 60 HVMS was an upgrade developed by Israel and Chile to transform the aging fleet of Chilean M24 Chaffees into light tank destroyers and extend their operational life as a stopgap solution before a modern vehicle could be obtained. At a time of political isolation and international condemnation, alongside a poor financial situation, the M24 HVMS were forced to remain in service until the very early 2000s, with the last ones being retired from service only in 2006, 62 years after the first M24 Chaffee entered service.
Context – Isolation: Chile’s political situation in the 1970s
In 1970, Unidad Popular (Eng: Popular Unity), a popular front electoral alliance of the major left and center-left parties, including the Partido Comunista de Chile (Eng: Communist Party of Chile) and the Partido Socialista de Chile (Eng: Socialist Party of Chile), led by Salvador Allende, won the presidential election by the slightest of margins.
In the three years that he governed Chile, Allende began a policy of nationalization without compensation of the industries and a program of the expropriation of agricultural land, while also building new schools, new hospitals and reducing rents.
Under Allende, Chile distanced itself from its former economic and military partner, the United States, whilst forging relationships with communist or socialist nations, including Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Allende’s reforms antagonized large elements of Chilean society, including powerful landlords and industrialists, and the armed forces. The USA was also not keen on Allende and had gone to great lengths to stop him from becoming president. Whilst they had been successful in the 1964 presidential election, they did not have the same success in 1970.
Allende’s opposition did not take time to take action. On June 29, 1973, the Regimiento Blindado N.º 2 [Eng. Armored Regiment No. 2], under the command of Lt. Col. Roberto Souper, took to the streets of Santiago to try and depose Allende. The coup, which has since been known as the ‘tanquetazo’ due to the large number of tanks used (one of the words in Spanish for tank is ‘tanque’), failed, but the situation was, nevertheless, still one of crisis. To calm the situation and reaffirm his position, Allende had the intention of calling for a plebiscite on his position as President of the Republic.
However, this was not to be. From August, a newly planned coup was in the works, which, unlike the tanquetazo, could count on all the branches of the armed forces. On September 7, 1973, Augusto Pinochet, the new Commander in Chief of the Army, had been convinced to join the coup by Vice Admiral José Toribo Merino and General Gustavo Leigh. Pinochet had previously been considered a loyal and apolitical officer. In the early morning of September 11, 1973, the Chilean fleet took Valparaíso. By 10 o’clock in the morning, tanks were yet again on the streets of Santiago and, just before noon, Hawker Hunters of the Chilean Air Force bombed the Palacio de la Moneda. Allende committed suicide and, by the end of the day, a military junta had taken control of the country. Whilst the exact role of the USA and Nixon administration in the September coup is unclear, what is clear is the CIA’s covert spending in Chile, US$8 million in the three years between 1970 and September 1973, with over US$3 million in 1972 alone.
Within a year and a half, Pinochet centralized all power around his figure and unleashed massive repression against those who had supported Allende. In all, conservative estimates state that during his regime, 3,000 people were murdered, alongside at least 35,000 people tortured, and 300,000 people detained.
Pinochet introduced neoliberal economic policies influenced by Milton Friedman and carried out by the Chicago Boys. In the early years of Pinochet’s rule over Chile, there were good relations with other military despots in the continent, especially with the Brazilian military junta.
Earlier, in 1975, tensions with Peru over granting Bolivia a stretch of land which would give them access to the sea almost led to a full-blown war. Peru sent its T-54s and T-55s of the 18.ª División Blindada (Eng. 18th Armored Division) to its border with Chile. A coup in Peru averted the war, but relations between the two countries would not improve.
In May 1977, the UK arbitrated a long-standing border dispute between Argentina and Chile and gave Chile sovereignty over the Picton, Nueva, and Lennox islands in the Beagle Channel. Less than a year later, in January 1978, Argentina rejected the arbitration and claimed sovereignty over the islands. The year 1978 was a tense year and both countries undertook a military build-up with the potential to boil over into war between the two nations. In December 1978, Argentina was ready to launch Operación Soberanía, which would capture the Picton, Nueva, and Lennox islands alongside a number of other islands it claimed and mount two attacks on Chile. However, an eleventh-hour Papal mediation ended the conflict just as Argentinian troops were ready to go into action.
Following a number of diplomatic embarrassments and the election of Jimmy Carter in the 1978 US Presidential Election, Chile became increasingly isolated.
Chile’s Military Situation in the 1970s
For the period between the Second World War and Allende’s presidency, the USA had been the main armor provider for Chile. The earliest vehicles to arrive were a batch of M3 and M3A1 Stuarts between 1943 and 1945. These were followed by M8 Greyhounds and M3 half-tracks. With the end of WWII, Chile received a total of 48 M4A1E9(75)D Shermans equipped with VVSS suspension with larger tracks to reduce ground pressure. They also received seven M32B1 Armored Recovery Vehicles, nicknamed ‘Panchotes’ by the crews, and Chaffee light tanks. These modern light and medium tanks formed the backbone of the new Chilean Armored Corps for about 20 years.
Between 1964 and 1970, Chile also received as many as 60 M41A1 Walker Bulldogs, alongside 3 M578 ARVs, and 60 M113A1 APCs from the USA as military aid. The Walker Bulldogs would go on to play a role in the tanquetazo coup attempt of June 29, 1973, firing upon the Palacio de la Moneda.
After the coup, two events shook Chile and its military in the first half of the 1970s. The first was the acquisition of over 375 T-54s and T-55s by Peru between 1973 and 1975. The second was the UN’s condemnation of Pinochet’s dictatorial regime and the subsequent embargo on military equipment.
In 1976, the assassination of former Chilean politician and Allende minister Orlando Letelier in Washington D.C. led to a diplomatic fallout between Chile and the USA, its closest ally. The consequences of this, alongside the election of Jimmy Carter and the subsequent realignment of US policy towards Latin America, pushed Chile to increased political isolation, economic stagnation, and without an international military provider.
Towards the end of the 1970s, at the height of tensions with Argentina, another important development shocked the Chilean regime. With French support, Argentina modified 120 of its approximately 200 Sherman ‘Fireflies’ into Sherman ‘Repotenciados’ (1978). During the same period, with assistance from the German firm Thyssen-Henschel, Argentina began the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) project, though the first of these would not enter frontline service until 1980.
To face the new threats posed by its neighbors, Chile searched the market for a new tank, considering the British Centurion, the French AMX-13, and the Austrian SK-105. However, these were refused and Austria even went on to sell the proposed Chilean batch to Argentina and Bolivia. In 1980, an agreement was reached to buy 50 AMX-30s from France, with 20, plus a recovery vehicle on the same chassis, arriving the following year. Due to political pressure, France canceled the delivery of the remaining 30. The AMX-30s had a short operational life because of a shortage of spare parts that did not arrive until the 1990s, once the embargo was lifted.
Thus, Chile turned to Israel, which accepted the request for help by proposing several vehicles to the Chilean Army. The critical lack of funds and U.S. military embargo, in addition to the lack of Israeli availability, did not allow the purchase of military vehicles of the latest generation, such as the Centurion Mark V and the M60 Patton. Chile was forced to fall back on less modern vehicles that had given great proof of their value in the hands of experienced crews in previous years, the M-50 and M-51 Shermans.
The US M24 Chaffee
The program that would lead to the M24 Chaffee was born in the United States in early 1943. It was meant to replace the M3 and M5 Stuart with a faster and more maneuverable vehicle for reconnaissance operations and better armed to support the infantry.
The development took a long time because the first product, the M7, was rejected.
The Ordnance Committee then requested a vehicle armed with a 75 mm cannon, like that of the M4 Medium tank, that was suitable for both infantry support and anti-tank fighting.
In April 1943, work began on the vehicle, initially named Light Tank T24, with a crew of five. The driver and machine-gunner were in the hull, seated left and right of the gearbox, while the rest of the crew were placed in the turret. The gunner was seated on the left, in front of the commander, while the loader was on the left side with his personal hatch.
The tank was equipped with torsion bar suspension, a 75 mm M6 gun with 48 rounds, two 7.62 mm Browning M1919A4 machine guns, one coaxial and one in a ball mount, with a total of 3,750 rounds carried, and a 12.7 mm Browning M2HB on an anti-aircraft mount with 440 rounds.
To keep the weight of the vehicle within 20 tons, the armor was kept very thin, a maximum of 25 mm inclined at 60° on the front of the hull and 38 mm only on the gun mantlet.
The vehicle was powered by two 8-cylinder Series 44T24 Cadillac engines dispensing 220 hp at 3,400 rpm. This gave the tank a maximum speed of 56 km/h and a range of 160 km, thanks to its 420-liter tanks.
In October 1943, the prototype was tested and accepted in service as the M24 ‘Chaffee’, in honor of US General Adna R. Chaffee, who was one of the main proponents of the use of mechanized forces during the interwar years
Production began in May 1944 and the first 34 vehicles arrived in the European theater in November 1944.
The production of the vehicle ended in August 1945, after having produced 4,731 M24 Chaffees. The U.S. Army was not particularly impressed with it. It was obviously a great step forward compared to the M5 Stuart, but the very thin armor proved too vulnerable against German weapons. The gun was ineffective against German vehicles, the gyro stabilizer mounted on the gun was also ineffective and, finally, the two coupled engines proved very complex to maintain.
The vehicle remained in service after the war, especially in the US divisions deployed in West Germany. The others were used with poor results in the Korean War in 1950 against the North KoreanT-34/85s or provided to allied nations. The most notable were France, which received 1,200 M24s that were used in the Indochina War and in Algeria, 500 that went to Italy, which was the third nation by number of M24s in service, 130 to Pakistan, which still used them in 1971 against India, and Norway, which received 120 in the 1950s.
The M24 Chaffee in the Ejército de Chile
Chile received its 21 M24 Chaffees in 1952, arriving in Antofagasta, a port city located in North-Central Chile. The vehicles had probably been decommissioned from a training school in the United States, as the Chaffees were retired in 1953 with the arrival of the more modern M41 Walker Bulldogs.
Some of them were slightly modified by welding an anti-aircraft mount in front of the commander’s cupola for a 12.7 mm Browning M2HB and installing a 7.62 mm Browning M1919 machine gun, operable by the loader, on the already present support, bringing the total number of machine guns to four.
The M24s were then assigned to the Destacamento Blindado N° 2 (Eng: 2nd Armored Detachment) of Antofagasta, where they served for 17 years, until 1969. Then, the barracks where they were stationed became the Escuela de Blindados (Eng. Armored School) until 1975.
During this period in which they served as training vehicles, the mechanical parts of the vehicles were worn out due to the dozens of training courses for new crews. In addition to suffering from mechanical problems due to low maintenance, the vehicle’s problems began to be noticed, namely its gyro-stabilizer and coupled engines.
There were so many problems that five vehicles, the hardest to repair, were abandoned in storage to rust and a sixth, in a similar condition, was placed as a gate guardian in front of the barrack entrance.
In 1975, the Armored School was moved to the Santa Rosa Barracks in Santiago de Chile. With the removal from service of the M3 and M3A1 Stuarts, vehicles were swapped from some regiments. All M24s were taken, including those abandoned in storage and the gate guardian, and transported by train to Santiago de Chile.
After an intensive overhaul by army technicians, the problems with the engines, the gyrostabilizer, and the worn-out guns were resolved and, unexpectedly, all 21 M24 Chaffees were restored to a condition where they could still operate as training tanks.
They were stationed both in the Santa Rosa barracks in Santiago de Chile and in the Escuela Militar in Peldehue, where a number of vehicles were sent after overhaul to participate in the Alféreces Blindados training courses.
However, it was immediately clear that the overhauls would keep the vehicles operational for a short period of time, especially considering their use as training tanks, i.e., subject to greater wear and tear due to student errors.
Thus, Chile began to look at other nations’ projects to buy some upgrade packages or, at least, to copy them.
In the early 1970s, Chile was interested in upgrading their M24 Chaffees because they were obsolete against almost any other vehicle they would face. In 1975, the Kongelige Norske Hæren (Eng: Norwegian Army) put in service its upgraded M24 Chaffee (Stridsvogn M24) renamed NM-116 Panserjager, rearmed with a French 90 mm D/925 low-pressure gun, Detroit Diesel engine, laser rangefinder, night vision, and smoke launchers.
The Chilean Army was very impressed by this upgrade and was interested in producing its own variant. However, due to the military embargo, the Norway-Chile joint project could not develop. The Army, not being able to upgrade the armament of its Chaffees, decided to at least upgrade the propulsion system.
First Chilean upgrade
When the fear of a Peruvian invasion increased, Chile launched a tender that did not violate the U.S. embargo to replace the engines of the Chaffees. The German company Mercedes-Benz, the American Cummins Engine Company, and a joint project of the companies Detroit Diesel and MACO Pvt. Ltd responded to the tender.
The three projects were tested by modifying three different M24 Chaffees of the Escuela Militar. These underwent many tests to evaluate the mechanical reliability of the engines and the range of the tanks.
At the end of 1978, the joint MACO-Detroit Diesel project was chosen as the winner and the 21 M24 Chaffees were re-engined with the Detroit Diesel 6V53T, a 6-cylinder turbo-diesel delivering 275 hp at 2,800 rpm and weighing 770 kg. The same engine was used on the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier and the Canadian LAV-25 Light Reconnaissance Vehicle.
It can be assumed that the Chilean Army preferred the Detroit engine because it was already in use in the Chilean ranks with the M113.
The engine compartment was not modified because the 5000 cm³ engine could fit without any problem, allowing the original 420-liter tanks to be kept unmodified. The only modified part was the engine deck, which received more air grilles to facilitate air circulation. This was a very useful expedient, as these M24s were used in a desert environment. A new radio station of an unknown model with a new antenna on a support on the right side of the turret was also added.
The automatic hydramatic transmission with 8 forward and 4 reverse gears was probably replaced with an Allison HT 700 5-speed (5 forward and 1 reverse) automatic transmission, later proposed for upgrades on other Chilean vehicles. The top speed increased slightly to about 60 km/h, while the weight increased from 18.4 to 19 tons. The new engine had a cold ignition system that pre-heated the diesel fuel, allowing the new M24s to operate at temperatures of -30°C, a necessary expedient if the Chilean Army intended to operate the M24s in the Patagonian territory. The vehicles then received a new overhaul that brought them from a mediocre mechanical level to a more than acceptable one.
Obviously, it was clear that the upgrade would not cover all the problems of the M24 Chaffee. The 75 mm M6 guns were too worn out, decreasing their accuracy and effectiveness. The Chilean Army needed something more powerful, but because of the military embargo, it could not buy the new vehicles that it desperately needed and was forced to deploy very old and worn-out tanks on the borders with Peru and Argentina.
The need for more powerful armament was resolved when, in 1979, Israel was contacted and had no problem in violating the US embargo to help the Ejército de Chile.
Chile tried to buy some vehicles from Israel, such as the M60 Patton and Centurion, but, due to the poor Chilean finances and the Israeli impossibility to supply such modern vehicles, as the IDF needed them, the idea was abandoned.
Israel proposed the purchase of its M-50s and M-51s that, although outdated when facing modern threats, such as the T-62 or T-72, were more than suitable for fighting the Peruvian T-54 and T-55 and the Argentinean Sherman ‘Repotenciado’.
The Chileans showed interest in the purchase but they also requested to upgrade their M24s like the Norwegian NM-116s.
Due to the impossibility of purchasing 90 mm low-pressure cannons from France, Belgium, and Brazil, the companies NIMDA, Israeli Military Industry (IMI), and NAPCO found another solution. Because the M-50s also needed their guns replaced, due to the wear and tear of their 75 mm CN-75-50 cannons, an upgrade was developed that could also be applied to the M-51 (if the D.1508 105 mm cannon was replaced with the CN-75-50). The barrel of the gun would have been rebored, bringing the caliber from 75 mm to 90 mm. This expedient measure would have allowed the gun to be brought to the level of the GIAT CN-90-F3 low-pressure gun mounted on the AMX-13-90.
It was also decided to modify the M24s with the same guns to increase the anti-tank performance of the light tanks.
Second Chilean upgrade
In 1980, the first M-51s arrived in Valparaiso. The first batch of 60 mm cannons for the M24 Chaffees of the Chilean Army had to wait until 1983 when they arrived along with 65 M-50s, as well as other materials of various types.
The vehicles and the guns arrived in Iquique where the Chaffees were modified, adding the 60 mm HVMS to the M-50s and M24 Chaffees. The new gun was also tried on a MOWAG Piranha.
The Chileans, following Israeli directives, replaced the M6 cannons with the new 60 HVMS, with new firing systems and obviously a new gyro-stabilizer.
There is no certain data but it can be supposed that the M24 HVMS received, like the M-50 HVMS, a Fire Control System (FCS) developed by the Israeli companies Elbit and EL-OP which guaranteed a very high precision even at long range and a moderate precision even on the move.
In addition, a travel lock on the transmission cover plate was added for the new longer barrel gun.
The vehicle increased in weight, reaching more than 20 tons (some sources mention 22 tons) battle-ready. This led to a decrease in top speed, which returned to 56 km/h, the maximum speed of the standard M24 Chaffee.
This version of the M24 is often called the “M24 Super Chaffee”, following the example of the updated Israeli Shermans being called M-50 or M-51 ‘Super Sherman’. In fact, neither the Israeli nor the Chilean Army ever called the 60 mm rearmed M24 Chaffee or the M-50 and M-51 ‘Super’. The nickname ‘Super’ comes from the Israelis, who gave it to their M4 Shermans armed with 76 mm cannons, which they called M-1 ‘Super’. The nickname has probably been misreported. Even if respected authors such as Tom Gannon call it ‘Super’, this nickname was probably created by model companies or uninformed journalists.
From the sources available, it seems that all 21 M24s were rearmed.
Unfortunately, the exact quantity of ammunition carried by the vehicles is unknown. Given the reduced space onboard, these would not have been more than fifty rounds, as in the original M24 Chaffee.
Before receiving the upgrade, the M24s underwent a new check-up, eliminating the mechanical problems of these vehicles, which had now had 36 years of service.
It can be supposed that Israel supplied Chile with some spare parts for the M24s, as Israel was on good terms with Italy, which had decommissioned the last M24 Chaffees in the early 1970s. This is only a supposition with no factual backing. What is certain is that the 21 Chilean M24 Chaffees remained in service for over 60 years in total, an enormous amount of time for vehicles that were used extensively for training (therefore worn out faster) and in desert environments that tend to wear out mechanical parts of armored vehicles. In addition, it should be noted that Italy, like Israel, ignored the U.S. embargo, and sold infantry weapons, such as the Beretta PM12 submachine guns, and 60 mm ammunition to Chile.
It was also planned to modify the M41A1s with a 60 mm gun and a more powerful engine, but the project was canceled after the production of a prototype due to the high upgrade costs.
The 60 HVMS gun
The 60 mm Hyper Velocity Medium Support L.70 gun was developed in 1977 by the Israeli Military Industry and the Italian company OTO-Melara to provide the infantry with a towed or Infantry Fighting Vehicle-mounted gun that could provide excellent anti-tank fire and adequate anti-infantry support. It was tested by Israel on a modified M113 with a turret and by the Italians on the VBM Freccia prototype and on a modified VCC-80 Dardo, but was not accepted in service.
In fact, the 60 HVMS IMI-OTO (known in Italy as the HVMS 60/70 OTO-Melara) had excellent anti-tank performance and was able to penetrate, with its M300 APDSFS-T (Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot – Tracer), 120 mm of Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA) angled at 60° at a 2000 m range. This was the equivalent of the frontal armor of a Soviet T-62.
In one test, it allegedly managed to penetrate the side armor of two T-62s from side to side at 2000 m. As an example, a 105 mm APDSFS-T projectile from the Royal Ordnance L7 penetrated the same armor at the same distance. However, the 60 mm gun weighed 700 kg with a total projectile weight of only 6 kg and a length of 62 cm, while the Royal Ordnance L7 weighed 1,200 kg with projectiles weighing around 18 kg and a length of about 95 cm.
The tungsten penetrator of the APDSFS-T projectile weighed 0.87 kg with a diameter of 17 mm and a total length of 292 mm. It had a muzzle velocity of 1,620 m/s thanks to the high-pressure barrel, giving it very good accuracy up to a 2,500 m range.
The HE-T (High-Explosive – Tracer) projectile weighed 7.2 kg.
The ammunition purchased from Chile was produced by MECAR in Saneffe, Belgium. It was then transported to Italy, from where it was then transported by ship to Chile. It is not clear to what extent Belgium was aware of the destination of the ammunition. A few years earlier, it had refused to sell the 90 mm MECAR to Chile to avoid diplomatic incidents with the United States.
Unfortunately, there is very little information about the operational use of the M24s armed with the HVMS gun. It is known that, during tests, the new vehicles performed better than the M-50 with 60 HVMS, beating them in speed and maneuverability, even if they were more vulnerable to anti-tank mines or to fire from weapons such as 20 mm cannons.
Because of the poor armor, Chile devised a doctrine of employment much more akin to that of a tank destroyer than a light tank. The tactic was to use them in hard to access territories, preparing ambushes for the enemy in the few points where armored vehicles could pass or to employ them in a hull-down overwatch position and engage the enemy at long range, thanks to the high precision of the cannon and the good accuracy at long range, and then retreat to other positions before the adversaries have a chance to engage.
They were sent to Punta Arenas on the Brunswick Peninsula in Patagonia, South of Chile, to the Regimiento de Caballería Blindada Nº 5 “Liberadores” (Eng: 5th Armored Cavalry Regiment). The Regiment used them together with 20 M41A1 and A3 Walker Bulldogs, an unknown number of M113A1 Armored Personnel Carriers and MOWAG Piranha 6×6 (called Piraña by the Chileans).
When they were used during training with the M-51s and AMX-30B1s of the Regimiento de Caballería Blindada Nº 6 “Dragones” (Eng: 6th Armored Cavalry Regiment), also located in Punta Arenas, they proved to be more effective than the M-51 and more maneuverable than the AMX-30. They were also much more accurate at long range, having a greater possibility of hitting the target with the first shot than the 105 mm ammunition (produced by MECAR) of the D.1508 L.51 and CN-105-F1 L.56 guns at a range of 2500 m.
They remained in active service until 2002 when, together with the M-50s and M-51s, they were removed from active service, although they were still used for training activities at least until 2005.
With the arrival of the first Leopard 1V to the Regimiento de Caballería Blindada Nº 6 “Dragones”, the AMX-30B1s of the regiment were transferred to the “Liberadores”, which could retire the worn-out M24 Chaffees 61 years after their production and after 53 years in the Chilean Army.
The M24 Chaffee 60 HVMS was the last upgrade of the M24 Chaffee. By the 1980s, the chassis was too old to be upgraded. However, due to the impossibility of procuring new material, Chile was forced to equip itself with what it had, just like Israel did thirty years before.
The result was satisfactory. The new design did not upgrade the armor, which remained vulnerable to fire from autocannons, but provided the vehicle with an armament capable of dealing on equal terms with an MBT and have a greater chance of hitting it at 2000 m.
Chile could only afford to have a 40-year-old vehicle and spend little to upgrade it so that it could face much more modern and much more expensive vehicles and have a chance of succeeding.
7.06 m x 3 m x 3.77 m
Total weight, battle ready:
5 (Commander, gunner, loader, driver, bow-gunner)
Detroit 53T6V 275 hp diesel with 420 liters tank
Top Road Speed
~ 56 km
60 HVMS IMI/OTO, 3x Browning M1919 7.62 mm with 3,750 rounds and a Browning M2HB 12.7 mm with 440 rounds.
25 mm frontal and sides hull and 19 mm rear. 38 mm mantlet, 25 mm front, sides and rear of the turret.
The M-51 was a medium tank developed on the M4 Sherman chassis for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to support the M-50s with a more powerful gun.
It was used in the Arab-Israeli conflicts of the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and later in the Lebanese Civil War between 1975 and 2000. It was also used by Chile, which used it until 2006, making the M-50 and M-51 the second longest-lived Sherman-hulled vehicles in the world.
History of the Project
Although the new 75 mm gun-armed M-50s and other IDF Shermans enjoyed success during the Suez Crisis in 1956, there was a need for more modern (and better armed) combat vehicles. Although no Egyptian IS-3Ms or Centurions had been encountered by IDF forces, the threat of such vehicles, as well as the sale of modern armored vehicles to surrounding countries, including Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, meant that Israel needed a counter to these threats should another war break out.
To this end, initial attempts were made to secure more modern tanks, albeit with limited success. A request for M47s from the United States was rejected by the US for fear of upsetting the military balance of power in the Middle East. The British, after having rejected numerous requests for the Centurion dating all the way back to 1953, finally relented in selling Centurions to Israel in 1959. Although only armed with the still respectable 20 pdr. cannon, they were at least a step in the right direction given that the most modern vehicle then in IDF service was the AMX-13-75 light tank.
However, the IDF recognized that these Centurions would not be acquired in sufficient numbers for some time, and the lack of a more powerful 105 mm armament was still a concern. Thus, in 1959, a more expedient solution was desired to help bolster the IDF’s anti-tank capabilities in the short term. Given their past collaboration with Israel on the M-50, Bourges Arsenal in France was asked to help design the new vehicle based on Israeli requirements. Their past experience meant that the Sherman was once again chosen as the basis for this new vehicle. After a relatively short development, the M-51 would enter IDF service in 1962.
History of the Prototypes
There are two known prototypes of the M-51 project. Both of these known prototypes used standard 76 mm-armed M4A1 Shermans as a basis, featuring the same Continental R-975 C4 petrol engine that the IDF would standardize on for its initial M-51s. While the M-51s in Israeli service were all equipped with the Horizontal Volute Suspension System (HVSS) and wider tracks as standard, the prototypes still used the older Vertical Volute Suspension System (VVSS) units and narrower tracks. The French refer to these modified Shermans as ‘Revalorisé’, meaning improved or upgraded, although it is unknown if this was a proper name, or merely used by the French to differentiate them from unmodified Shermans.
Where these two prototypes differed from each other was in the armament. What is believed to be the first prototype featured a cannon that remained relatively unchanged from that of the AMX 30‘s 105 mm, albeit featuring a ‘T’-shaped muzzle brake. This proved to be a failure, and it can be inferred based on the changes made to the final version of the cannon that the older Sherman could not handle the stresses of firing such a modern armament. The second known prototype used the eventual version of the cannon, the D.1508. Featuring a shorter L/51 length barrel and a more efficient muzzle brake, this prototype would prove successful at meeting Israel’s needs, and would be standardized in IDF service as M-51.
Given the goal of the project was to get a powerful and modern 105 mm cannon into service as quickly as possible, more restrictions were put into place than on the M-50 project. It was decided to standardize on a single hull type, that of the M4A1, as this offered a larger internal volume for ammunition stowage compared to other Sherman models. Likewise, the turret chosen was the 76 mm armed ‘T23′ turret, as this provided the best chance of success for the new cannon to work.
The outdated Continental R-975 radial engine was kept, despite already being replaced in the M-50s. The reasoning was simple however, Israel needed this new vehicle in service as soon as possible, and there were already problems getting enough M-50s converted over to the Cummins VT8-460 diesel engine that Israel could not afford any delays. To make up for this shortcoming, the wider HVSS was chosen for production vehicles, thus mitigating some of the weight gain without an unacceptable loss in mobility.
When talking about M4(76)Ws, the number ’76’ means the gun caliber, 76 mm while the ‘W’ stands for ‘Wet’ meaning that the ammunition were stowed in racks with water decreasing fire risks.
Between 1961 and 1965, a total of about 180 of those M4 Sherman variants were converted in different Israeli workshops over to M-51 standard. These would take part in the 1967 Six Day War (5th June – 10th June) and the 1973 Yom Kippur War (6th October – 25th October), with surviving vehicles either sold to Chile, converted to non-combat roles, or relegated to training and reserve units.
While initial plans called for more vehicles to be converted, by the mid 1960s, vehicles such as the M48 and Centurion were entering more widespread IDF service. In addition, the acquisition of the 105 mm L7 cannon for use on the Centurions and M48s meant that the M-51 was already obsolete. This, combined with deteriorating relations between Israel and France, meant that conversions stopped in 1965.
During their operational life, the M-51s were constantly upgraded with a succession of small changes. In total, four different versions can be discerned. The first one was in service from 1962 to 1970, the second one from 1970 to 1975, the third one from 1975 to about 1981, and the fourth from 1981 to 1990, when the M-51 was finally withdrawn from the IDF reserve.
The turret was modified (already heavily modified in the ‘Revalorisé’ model) by adding a cast iron counterweight on the back to balance the weight of the new cannon. The mantlet was modified to accommodate the larger 105 mm cannon in the turret.
All these modifications made the standard Sherman ‘T23’ turret, meant to be armed with the 76 mm cannon, almost unrecognizable.
Like on the earlier M-50, other changes to the turret of the M-51 included the addition of four French production smoke launchers (already mounted in the second Revalorisé prototype turret), a large lamp mounted in the mantlet for night operations, the US SCR-538 production radio flanked by another French production radio inside the counterweight, the installation of another antenna on the roof, a ventilator positioned on the counterweight, and the fixing of an M79 support for Browning M2HB .5” calibre heavy machine gun on vehicles without this support.
The turrets were then mounted on the chassis of M4A1 Shermans, although in rare cases M4A3 Shermans were used. These same tanks had originally been received from France throughout the late 1940s through to the mid 1950s.
The HVSS, with its 21 inch (53.3 cm) wide tracks, was mounted on all vehicles, while additional equipment was fixed to the sides of the hulls in two main configurations. The first one was the same used on the M-50, with six jerry can racks, two spare road wheels on the left, one spade on the right, and one big box and three track links for each side. The second configuration is different from the M-50, featuring six track links on the turret sides in front of the smoke launchers, and the installation of another smaller box on each side.
In addition, on the engine deck were mounted the travel locks that were of two types: one made from tubular steel, the other of welded bars. On the rear plate were mounted another jerry can support and a telephone connected to the crew’s intercom system to keep communicated with the infantry cooperating with the vehicle.
The hull armor of the M-51 was left unchanged. The thickness of the front plate was 63 mm and the slope was 47° to accommodate bigger hatches.
The turret, with a frontal armor thickness of 76 mm, and the gun mantlet with 89 mm of thickness were left unchanged. On the back of the turret, the addition of a heavy cast iron counterweight significantly increased the thickness, although this was probably not made of ballistic steel.
Engine and Suspension
Before 1959, the Israeli Army had decided to re-engine all its Shermans with the Continental radial engine. The first M-51s, produced from 1961 to early 1962, were (as on the M-50 model, called the Mk.1 version) powered by the 420 hp Continental R-975 C4 American engine. In 1959, the IDF tested a new engine produced by the Cummins Engine Company on an M4A3. It was accepted and the first engine batch arrived in Israel in 1960.
The second version, the Mk. 2, was produced up to 1965, powered by the new 460 hp Cummins VT-8-460 Turbodiesel engine. It is not clear when the firsts vehicles were re-engined but, by 1965, all the M-51s were powered by the Cummins engine.
The new 40-tonne M-51 had a maximum speed of 40 km/h and a range of about 400 km thanks to the new suspension and the new diesel engine.
Beginning sometime in the 1950s, France began development of a new, more powerful 105 mm cannon. This cannon, D.1507, and all subsequent derivatives, were L/56 in length (56 times the caliber of 105 mm) and featured muzzle brakes. The final evolution of this cannon would be the D.1512, more commonly known as the 105 mm Modèle F1, which was standardized as the main armament of the AMX-30 main battle tank. The hydraulic aiming system was the SAMM CH 23-1, very similar to the AMX-13 ones.
During the testing and evaluation of this cannon, a prototype version was fitted to the T23 turret of a 76 mm M1-armed Sherman, resulting in what is believed to be the first M-51 prototype. Featuring a T-shaped muzzle brake reminiscent of the AMX 13’s 75 mm CN-75-50, this did not prove successful. In order to achieve a smaller, albeit still acceptable muzzle velocity and reduce recoil impulse the cannon was shortened to L/51 in length, bringing the muzzle velocity down to just over 900 m/s. A new, more efficient muzzle brake was also fitted, this time resembling that of the 90 mm DEFA D921 from the Panhard AML-90. This new cannon was designated D.1508, and would be trialed in a second prototype that did prove successful.
Manufactured in France and then shipped to Israel for mounting, many of these cannons would have their breeches marked CN_105.L_51_IS, followed by a serial number, and, lastly, the arsenal and year of manufacture. So, in the following example, CN_105.L_51_IS No 125 ABS 1964, is the cannon number 125 and was made at the Bourges Arsenal in 1964.
One of the benefits of this cannon sharing an evolutionary path with that of the AMX-30’s 105 mm was the ability to use the same ammunition. Predominantly firing High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and High Explosive (HE) ammunition, these cannons would be withdrawn from Israeli service before modern Armor Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) projectiles were developed for the AMX-30, and it is unlikely the tank would be able to handle such projectiles given the modifications originally needed for the cannon to work in the first place.
The secondary armament consisted of two 7.62 mm Browning M1919 machine guns, one coaxial and the other in the hull, plus a 12.7 mm Browning M2HB in an anti-aircraft position on the turret roof.
In the second version, between the Six Days War and the Yom Kippur War, the machine gun in the hull was removed and sometimes mounted in an anti-aircraft mount and used by the loader.
In the third version of the M-51 modified in 1975, the 12.7 mm machine gun was mounted above the cannon, on the same support where the searchlight was previously fixed, while the 7.62 mm Browning was mounted in an anti-aircraft mount near the commander’s cupola. This was sometimes flanked by another Browning M1919 used by the loader, for a total of 4 machine guns transported, considerably increasing the firepower of the tanks. With the fourth version, a 60 mm mortar was fixed on the turret roof like on the Sho’t and Magach tank, in the space between the commander’s cupola and the loader’s hatch.
The mortar was mounted after the experiences in the Yom Kippur War when in the Sinai Desert Israeli vehicles were often isolated from the infantry becoming an easy target for enemy anti-tank teams.
The mortar allowed crews to hit these teams even if they were hiding behind a sand dune or other obstacle, as well as providing support fire for the infantry operating with the vehicle by firing smoke, fragmentation, and illuminating ammunition.
For the main armament, there were 47 rounds (some sources claim 55). Forty were in two armored racks in the hull and the other seven were positioned in the turret basket.
During the first years, the ammunition was produced in France and only subsequently entered license production in Israel.
The secondary armament’s ammunition was composed of 4,750 rounds for the 7.62 mm machine guns and 600 rounds for the 12.7 mm gun. This ammunition was placed in the hull and in the turret basket.
In addition to the personal weapons of the crews, the M-51s were modified to carry five IMI UZI with 900 9 mm Parabellum rounds for close-quarters defense. Three were in the turret and the remaining two were positioned above the transmission instead of the US-made M3 ‘Grease Gun’ used previously by IDF tank crew for example, on the first M-50s. Twelve hand grenades of various models were also carried. Two incendiary and four smoke grenades were usually transported in a box on the left wall of the turret, while the other six fragmentation grenades were transported in another box under the gunner’s seat.
After removing the machine gun in the hull and its machine gunner in the second version, the 7.62 mm ammunition stowage was left unchanged, but an IMI UZI was removed. For the fourth version, on the right side of the turret was mounted a small box for the 60 mm mortar grenades.
The crew of the M-51 consisted of 5 men, as in a standard M4 Sherman. These were the driver and machine gunner in the hull, to the left and right of the transmission respectively, the gunner on the right of the turret, in front of the tank commander, and the loader operated on the left side.
Many photos show M-50 and M-51s without the 7.62 mm machine gun in the hull. As mentioned, from the second version onward, after the Six Day War, the IDF decided to remove this position in order to better allocate the limited numbers of soldiers at its disposal. The machine gunners removed from the M-50 and M-51 were reassigned to other tanks to increase the number of crews available to the IDF. As already mentioned, in some cases, the Browning M1919 machine gun was mounted on the turret and used by the tank commander or the loader.
It should be noted that IDF’s MRE (Meal Ready-to-Eat) rations (Manot Krav or ‘Battle Food’) were developed for tank crews and therefore divided into groups of 5 individual rations. Only after the Yom Kippur War were they reduced to 4 individual rations because, apart from the vehicles on Sherman hulls, all the other Israeli tanks had 4 men crew.
There were four different versions of the M-51, but this upgrade did not concern only the armament, but also the engine exhaust system and vision system.
The first version known as M-51 Degem Aleph (Eng: M-51 Model A), the standard one, was in service from 1962 to 1970. It had a new engine deck, with the upper part having protection for the air filters and the lower one with a normal armor plate and used only one M4A3-style exhaust pipe.
The second version, the M-51 Degem Bet (Eng: M-51 Model B), from 1970 to 1975, modified the cooling system on the engine deck with two air intakes on the normal armored plate. The exhaust system was left unchanged.
The third version, M-51 Degem Gimel (Eng: M-51 Model C) was developed after the Yom Kippur War, modified in 1975 and in service until 1978-1981. Again, it concerned the exhaust system that was moved to the lower engine deck roof while the M4A3-style exhaust pipe was removed.
On the fourth and last version, M-51 Degem Daleth (Eng: M-51 Model D) the upper part of the engine deck was modified for better cooling, while the exhaust system remained unchanged on the lower engine deck.
The turret was then modified, adding a 60 mm mortar and an external box for its rounds. A large box was added to store more equipment, placed on the rear plate, between the left jerry can rack and the infantry telephone. A Browning M2HB was mounted on a support on the cannon barrel and a Browning M1919 on a support near the commander’s cupola. The small spot lamp of US production was moved from the front to the left of the loader’s hatch. Infrared periscopes for the commander and the driver and an IR intensifier were added on the left hull front, near the head lamp.
Another noteworthy modification is the one that appeared on an unspecified number of M-51s of the first version, produced between 1961 and 1965. Due to the immediate need of the IDF for a powerful cannon, these entered service in 1962 still equipped with the unmodified M4A1 Sherman engine deck and Continental R-975 C4 Radial engine.
It is not known how many of these early versions were produced, nor for how long they remained in service with the IDF in this configuration before being upgraded to use the Cummins VT-8-460 and thus having their engine decks modified accordingly.
Another unknown is if the exhaust system remained the one from the M4A1 or if it was replaced by the M4A3-style single exhaust pipe on the left side.
In the summer of 1964, 90 M-51s were converted. During the Six Days War, in 1967, the IDF had 177 M-51s in service out of a total of 515 vehicles on a Sherman hull.
The M-51 was presented for the first time in 1962 during a parade in Tel Aviv. Thanks to its cannon, it was considered very effective when fighting against tanks such as the T-34-85, T-54 or T-55. However, in the following years, the British 105 mm L.52 Royal Ordnance L7 guns became available, with which the M48 Patton, the renowned Magach (Eng. battering-ram) and the Centurion, renamed Sho’t (Eng. whip), were armed. The M-51s, together with the M-50s, were then used in the Armored Brigades to support the actions of the more modern tanks or for infantry support.
The Six Day War 1967
The largest use of the M-51 was in the Six-Days War fought between 5th and 10th June 1967. The Six Day War was a conflict between Israel and its neighbors, the United Arab Republic (the short-lived political confederation of Egypt and Syria), Jordan, and Iraq. In the months prior to June 1967, tensions between Israel and Egypt became dangerously heightened. Israel reiterated its post-1956 Suez Crisis position that the closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping would be a casus belli. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced in May that the Straits would be closed to Israeli vessels, and then mobilized Egyptian forces along the border with Israel, ejecting the United Nations Emergency Force. On 5 June, Israel launched a series of airstrikes against Egyptian airfields destroying the majority of the Egyptian air force, initially claiming that it had been attacked by Egypt, but later stating that the airstrikes were preemptive.
The Israeli armored forces relied on a few Megach and Sho’t tanks and large units of M48A2C2, M48A3 Patton, and Centurion Mk 5. The brigades armed with Shermans had mostly support or reserve duties, although there was no lack of operations carried out by units equipped with upgraded Shermans.
About a hundred M-51s were deployed in the war, half in the Sinai Desert offensive against the Egyptians and the other half in the Golan Heights offensive against the Jordanians, while the rest remained in reserve.
During the Sinai offensive, launched at 0800 hours on June 5th, 1967, the M-50s and M-51s played a marginal role in the first but crucial actions against Egyptian tanks in northern Sinai. Israeli Pattons and Centurions advanced hundreds of kilometers into the Sinai Desert, disorganizing Egyptian troops and creating major logistical problems for the Israeli Army.
One of the most important actions was carried out by more than 60 Shermans of the 14th Armored Brigade which, together with about 60 other Mk. 5 Centurions of the 63rd Armored Battalion and the Mechanised Reconnaissance Division Battalion that had an unknown but limited number of AMX-13s. These 150 tanks attacked the Abu-Ageila Stronghold which controlled the road to Ismailia.
The Egyptian defenses consisted of three lines of trenches 5 km long and almost one km apart. They were defended by 8,000 soldiers and many ‘hull down’ tank positions that were not used. Soviet 130 mm cannons providing support for the fortification were stationed at Um Katef, a nearby hill, and the Egyptian reserves at the rear, which were ready for action, including an armored regiment of 66 T-34-85s and a battalion with 22 SD-100s or SU-100Ms. These were two versions of the SU-100 Soviet destroyer tank. The first was produced under license in Czechoslovakia after World War II, and the second was a version modified by the Egyptians to more efficiently adapt the SD-100 and SU-100 to desert operations.
The Israeli attack, planned long before because the defenses in the region were well known to the Israeli General Staff, was launched on the night between the 5th and 6th June in order to use the cover of darkness. The No. 124 Paratrooper Squadron was taken to the vicinity of Um Katef Hill by helicopters and attacked and destroyed the 130 mm cannons. The Shermans of the 14th Armored Brigade advanced hidden and covered by artillery barrage fire and darkness they struck the Egyptian trenches.
Throughout the night, the infantry, supported by M3 half-tracks, cleared the trenches while the Shermans, after breaking through the trenches, supported the Centurions which had circumvented the Egyptian positions by intercepting the reserves advancing for a counterattack.
During the battle between the tanks, fought between 4000 and 7000 hours, the Egyptians lost more than 60 tanks, while the Israelis lost only 19 tanks (8 during the battle, while the other 11 Centurions were damaged in the minefields), resulting in the deaths of 7 tank crewmen and 42 soldiers during the attack. The Egyptians had a claimed total of 2,000 losses.
When the Egyptian Army High Command learned of the defeat of Abu Ageila, Egyptian Field Marshal Mohamed Amer ordered his soldiers to retreat to Gidi and Mitla, two strongholds just 30 km from the Suez Canal.
The Egyptian units that received the order withdrew in a disorganized manner to Suez, often abandoning weapons, artillery or tanks in their defensive positions. On the afternoon of 6th June, Algeria sent military aid to Egypt, including MIG fighters and tanks, so the general retreat order was canceled. This created even more confusion among the troops which, except in rare cases, were demoralized and continued their withdrawal to Suez.
Sensing the situation, the Israeli High Command ordered its units to block enemy access to the Suez Canal by trapping most of the Egyptian Army with its equipment in the Sinai. This strategy would allow the capture of hundreds of tanks, artillery pieces, and thousands of weapons, which would economically burden the Egyptian Army.
Due to the rapid advancement of the first three days, many Israeli tanks were left with little fuel and ammunition, which is why most Israeli armored units were forced to wait for supplies as they could not move immediately to the canal.
To give an idea of the problem of the lack of fuel, the IDF of Sinai had a total of 700 tanks. However, the road to Ismailia was blocked by only 12 Centurions of the 31st Armoured Division. The unit had at least another 35 Centurions with empty fuel tanks. Of these twelve tanks, some ran out of fuel during the march and the other crews were forced to tow them to the predetermined place to block the road.
Another example is Lieutenant Colonel Zeev Eitan, commander of the 19th Light Tank Battalion, equipped with AMX-13-75 light tanks. Since his vehicles were the only ones in the area with full tanks and ammunition supply, he was given the task of stopping an enemy attack with his light reconnaissance tanks. Eitan left with 15 AMX-13s and positioned himself on the dunes near Bir Girgafa, waiting for the enemy.
The Egyptians counterattacked with 50 or 60 T-54 and T-55 tanks, forcing the AMX-13s to retreat after suffering many losses (mainly because of the explosion of an M3 half-track carrying ammunition and fuel for the AMX-13 Battalion) without destroying a single Egyptian tank.
The 19th Light Tank Battalion, however, slowed down the Egyptians long enough to allow some M-50s and M-51s of the 14th Armoured Brigade to refuel and intervene in the area. These, by hitting the Egyptian tanks on their sides, managed to destroy many of them, forcing the others to retreat to Ismailia. The Egyptian counterattack then ran into the 12 Centurions of the 31st Armored Division, which totally destroyed them.
On the late afternoon of June 6th, the Israeli 200th Armored Brigade attacked the Egyptian positions in the center of the Sinai Peninsula. Their task was to conquer the Jebel Libni airbase, previously rendered unusable by Israeli Air Force (IAF) bombardments. This base was defended by the Egyptian 141st Armored Brigade and the elite ‘Palace Guards’ of the Egyptian Army, the latter armed with modern T-55s. The Egyptians began firing as soon as they sighted the Israeli tanks, but their crews were not trained in long-range shooting and so the result was only to alarm the Israeli crews. These, being better trained, opened fire and started hitting the Egyptian tanks.
However, the distance at which the two forces faced each other was large and the Israeli shells bounced off the well-inclined armor of the T-55s, forcing the Israelis to get closer to be able to penetrate the armor.
The 200th Armored Brigade, supported by the 7th Armored Brigade and having the advantage of darkness, began the approach and the circumvention of the Egyptian stronghold. During the night the battle continued furiously. In the end, 30 Egyptian tanks remained on fire in their positions while the survivors fled west.
In Sinai, before the war, the Egyptian Army had about 950 tanks of various models ranging from the modern T-55 to the obsolete T-34. During the fighting, they lost over 700 tanks, 100 of which were captured intact by the Israelis, as well as an unknown number that were repaired and put into service in the IDF in the following months as Tirans.
The Israelis lost 122 tanks, about a third of which were recovered and repaired after the war.
The Jordan Offensive
The 10th Harel Mechanized Brigade, led by Colonel Uri Ben Ari, attacked the hills north of Jerusalem on the afternoon of June 5th, 1967. Composed of five tank companies (instead of the three standard ones), the 10th Brigade had 80 tanks, of which 48 Shermans (most M-50s), 16 Panhard AMLs, and 16 Centurions Mk. 5s armed with the old 20 pdr cannons.
The narrow mountain roads and mines scattered everywhere slowed down the advance of the motorized brigade. The sappers and tanks of the unit were not equipped with mine detectors because they were all supplied to the units fighting in the Sinai. To detect the mines, the Israeli soldiers had to probe the ground for hours with bayonets and individual weapons.
In a few hours, the Commander’s M3 half-track and 7 Shermans were disabled by mines. None of the vehicles were fully lost because, after the offensive, they were recovered and repaired.
Another huge obstacle was advancing in the dark. During the night, all 16 Centurions got stuck in the rocks or damaged their tracks by hitting the rocks of the mountain roads and could not be repaired or helped because of the Jordanian artillery fire.
The first noteworthy action that night was an assault by Israeli mechanized infantry, that destroyed the Jordanian artillery, allowing repairs to begin in daylight the following morning.
Only six Shermans (sources mention the tanks as ‘Shermans’ only, it is not clear whether M-51s participated as well), some M3 half-tracks and some Panhard AML armored vehicles arrived at their destination the following morning, but were immediately greeted by Jordanian fire. Two Jordanian armored companies had arrived during the night, equipped with M48A1 Pattons. A Sherman was immediately knocked out by 90 mm cannon fire.
The remaining Shermans circumvented the Jordanian Pattons by hitting them in the outer fuel tanks or flanks, knocking out six in minutes. The Jordanian tanks that survived the battle retreated to Jericho, abandoning eleven more M48s along the way due to mechanical failure.
Further north, in the border town of Janin, the Jordanians had prepared a defense with 44 M47 Patton tanks and, further inland, was the 40th Armored Brigade placed in reserve, with M47 and M48 Patton tanks.
The Ugda Brigade, equipped with 48 M-50 and M-51s, was given the primary task of destroying the Jordanian artillery in the sector, which was hitting a nearby military airport from which air raids against Jordan had been carried out and destroyed forces in the town of Janin.
The Israeli unit advanced rapidly during the day, putting the crews of the Jordanian 155 mm howitzer Long Tom guns on the run. The first problems were encountered in the evening. Most of the vehicles ended up on narrow mountain roads and were forced to wait for the light of day to continue the advance.
Six or seven M-50 and M-51s climbed Burquim Hill. On the night of June 5th and 6th, while advancing among the olive groves, the platoon commander, Lieutenant Motke saw something move ahead in the darkness of the night. Turning on the spot lamp mounted above his Sherman’s cannon, his platoon were amazed to find themselves face-to-face with an entire Jordanian armored company armed with M47 Pattons, less than 50 meters away. The Israeli tanks opened fire on the Jordanian forces, which were also stunned, destroying more than a dozen tanks to the loss of just one M-50 and no Israeli tank crew losses.
The fighting in the area was very furious for the rest of the campaign. The Jordanians stubbornly resisted the Israeli advance by launching several ill-organized counterattacks which were all repulsed by the IDF tanks. Although the 90 mm cannons of the M47 and M48 Patton were very effective against the armor of the Shermans at any distance, their crews were not well trained, especially in long-distance shooting.
The Israelis, in addition to superior training, could count on almost unlimited air support, which proved to be very effective at both day and night.
Between 9th and 10th June, the commander of the 40th Jordanian Armored Brigade, Rakan Anad, staged a counterattack with the aim of targeting Israeli refueling vehicles that carried fuel and ammunition to the tanks on the front lines.
Initially, the attack launched in two directions in order to confuse the Israelis. This was quite successful, succeeding in destroying some M3 half-tracks and trucks that were going to the front line to supply the Israeli tanks.
The Israelis, however, managed to intercept and stop Anad’s counterattack, starting a clash between the Israeli Shermans and Jordanian Pattons that lasted several hours.
A small force, made up of AMX-13s, twelve Centurion Mk. 5s, and some M-51s of the 37th Israeli Armored Brigade went up a very narrow road (considered unusable by the Jordanians) and attacked the rear of the enemy by surprise. In addition to some Pattons, this force also hit several vehicles that brought supplies to the Jordanian tanks. Commander Anad, along with his forces, was forced to retire due to the lack of ammunition and fuel without being able to attempt further attacks, abandoning another 35 M48 Pattons and an unknown number of M47 Pattons on the battlefield.
The Golan Heights Offensive
Due to political problems, ground attacks against Syria were not immediately authorized by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. However, the 8th Armored Brigade commanded by General Albert Mendler and included 33 Shermans, which should have been deployed in Sinai, was sent to the border ready for battle.
In the following days, a company of Shermans (total 16 tanks) of the 37th Armored Brigade and another of the 45th Armored Brigade arrived in the area. Other Shermans were split into the 1st Golani Infantry Brigade, 2nd Infantry Brigade and the 3rd Infantry Brigade, ready for battle.
After pressure from the villagers who lived in the area, tired of the periodic Syrian bombing, after a whole night of reflections, at 6000s hour on Friday, June 9th, 1967, the commander of the Israeli forces at the border with Syria, Brigadier General David ‘Dado’ Elazar, received a telephone call from Dayan authorizing the attack on the Golan Heights.
From 6000 to 1100 hours, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) continually bombed Syrian positions as army sappers cleared the streets. Their operations were facilitated because, in the weeks before, heavy rains had dug up the Syrian mines.
The advance of Israeli armored vehicles, mainly M-50s, M-51s, and M3 half-tracks, began at 1130 hours. Hundreds of armored vehicles made their way behind a civilian bulldozer, under the incessant fire of the automatic weapons of the Syrian infantry.
Strangely, the artillery, which had periodically struck Israeli villages near the border for years, did not fire a single shot to hinder the Israeli advance, preferring to continue bombing the Kibbutzim (Hebrew settlements).
At the top of the road, at a crossroads, the forces of Colonel Arye Biro, commander of the column, split. Divided into two columns, they attacked the stronghold of Qala’, a hill with 360° defenses with bunker and anti-tank guns of Second World War Soviet origin.
Six kilometers north, Za’oura stronghold, another defensive hill, supported Qala’ with its artillery fire, blocking Israeli vehicles and not allowing Biro’s officers to see the battlefield. The situation confused several officers who, without clear information and unfamiliar with the terrain, advanced towards Za’oura convinced they were attacking Qala’.
The battle lasted over 3 hours and the information available is very confusing, as many Israeli officers died or were injured during the battle and were evacuated by medical personnel.
Lieutenant Horowitz, the officer who commanded the assault on Qala’, continued to command while injured and with his M-50’s radio system destroyed by a Syrian shell.
During the approach, he lost most of the Shermans under his command. Only about twenty of them remained effective when he arrived at the base of the hill.
The ascent to the top was hindered by ‘dragon’s teeth’ (concrete anti-tank obstacles) and heavy anti-tank artillery fire which, at that distance, was very precise.
Of the approximately twenty Shermans, most were hit by anti-tank guns and knocked out, although most were recovered and repaired after the war.
At 4000 hours, Za’oura stronghold was occupied, while Qala’ was occupied only at 6000 hours, when it began to get dark. Only three Shermans and a few M3 half-tracks arrived at the top of the hill, including that of Horowitz. These easily overcame the barbed wire and the trenches, forcing Syrian soldiers to flee after throwing hand grenades from the turrets of their tanks into the trenches.
An hour after Arye Biro’s attack, the 1st Israeli Golani Infantry Brigade climbed the same road and attacked the Tel Azzaziat and Tel Fakhr emplacements that had hitherto hit the Israeli villages.
Tel Azzaziat was an isolated mound 140 m above the border. There, four Syrian Panzerkampfwagen IV tanks in a fixed position delivered an ongoing fusillade into the Israeli plain below.
The Tank Company of the 8th Armored Brigade, equipped with M-50s and M-51s, and the Mechanized Infantry Company of the 51st Battalion, equipped with M3 half-tracks, attacked this position. They quickly managed to silence the cannons of the Syrian Panzers. In doing so, and 22 years after the end of the Second World War, Shermans and Panzer IVs were fighting each other once again, albeit in a very different context.
The conquest of Tel Fakhr was far harder. Five kilometers from the border, two companies attacked it with 9 M-50s and 19 M3 half-tracks. Due to the intense artillery barrage being endured, they made a mistake on the road and instead of circumventing it, they ended up with all the vehicles in the center of the fortifications, under heavy anti-tank fire. In the middle of the minefields and under fire, all of their vehicles were soon destroyed, forcing the Israelis to attack the fortification with infantry alone.
During the night, Israeli reinforcements arrived, consisting of the rest of the 37th Armored Brigade and the 45th Armored Brigade armed with Sherman tanks and a few Centurion Mk. 5s.
The following morning, the 3rd Infantry Brigade and the 37th Armored Brigade met with the 55th Paratrooper Brigades near the town of Butmiya, over 100 km from the Israeli border.
At the end of the battle for the Golan Heights, the Israelis occupied all their objectives but lost a total of 160 tanks and 127 soldiers. Although many of the tanks were recovered after the war and repaired, returning to service a few months later, these losses are much higher than the 122 tanks lost in the Sinai Offensive and 112 lost in the Jordan Offensive.
On the Golan Heights, the M-51s, with their powerful 105 mm cannons, had no difficulty handling the Syrian T-34-85s and the last Panzer IVs. In the short-medium range battles, they managed to keep up with the more modern Jordanian M47s and M48 Pattons of US production and the Syrian and Egyptian T-54 and T-55.
By June 10th, Israel had completed its final offensive in the Golan Heights, and a ceasefire was signed the day after. Israel had seized the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank of the Jordan River (including East Jerusalem), and the Golan Heights, adding strategic depth and protection from its adversaries.
The Yom Kippur War (1973)
On October 6th, 1973, at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, the Israelis were caught unprepared from the Syrian and Egyptian attack. They deployed all the reserves available to them, including about 341 M-50 Mk. 2 and M-51 tanks.
The war began when the Arab coalition of Egypt and Syria launched a joint surprise attack on Israeli positions, on Yom Kippur, a widely observed day of rest, fasting, and prayer in Judaism. Egyptian and Syrian forces crossed ceasefire lines to enter the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights, respectively. Egypt’s initial war objective was to use its military to seize a foothold on the east bank of the Suez Canal and use this to negotiate the return of the rest of Sinai, lost during the previous Six Day War. Both the United States and the Soviet Union initiated massive resupply efforts to their respective allies during the war, and these efforts led to a near-confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers.
During the first hours of the war, the Syrians had occupied a part of the Golan Heights. Therefore, the Israeli high command had to mobilize all the reserves and, in just 15 hours, all the vehicles and men available were sent to the front in a desperate race against time to stop the invaders.
Many crews were assigned to armored vehicles on which they had not been trained. Some M-51 crews had to mount the secondary armament during the march or refuel at civilian fuel pumps, as they did not receive enough fuel supply in the military bases. Other Shermans went into battle without having aligned their cannon optics.
The Sinai Sector
In the Sinai Desert, the Egyptians, after disembarking on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal, attacked the Israeli Bar-Lev Defensive Line. About 500 or 1,000 meters behind the defensive line were the positions of the Israeli tanks, which, due to the situation, numbered only about 290 along the whole front, of which only a few dozen were M-50s and M-51s.
The Israeli tanks made a valuable contribution to the first hours of the war, but the Egyptians consolidated their positions and deployed 9M14 Malyutka missiles, known under the NATO name of AT-3 Sagger, which caused heavy Israeli tank losses.
Information about the use of the Shermans in the Sinai Campaign is scarce. About 220 M-50s and M-51s were employed in the battles against the Egyptians, with unsatisfactory results. The M-51s had a marginal role. Its front armor was too light and, in the early days of battle, it became too easy a target for the Egyptian anti-tank missiles.
An Israeli tank position behind the Bar-Lev Line, the most northerly in the Sinai peninsula, called ‘Budapest’, held up for the duration of the Egyptian assault. On the afternoon of October 6th, an Egyptian unit consisting of 16 tanks, some Jeeps armed with recoilless rifles and 16 APCs attacked ‘Budapest’ (which, according to sources, also had some M-51s). The Israelis opened long-range fire, putting eight APCs and seven tanks out of action. After being surrounded by the Egyptian Commandos for four days, the Israelis continued to fight until, short of ammunition, on October 10th, an Israeli supply column commanded by General Magen managed to reach it.
The Israeli Shermans then took part in the great Israeli counter-offensive that began on October 14th, 1973, shooting at long range against the Egyptian anti-tank missile positions. Here, the Shermans managed to provide support for the more powerful Sho’t and Magach tanks that were able to attack the Egyptian Armored Brigades, succeeding in destroying or knocking out 250 tanks in just one day for only 12 Israeli tank losses.
In the Yom Kippur War, Israel was again victorious, but their initial losses in the Sinai demonstrated that the outstanding victory in the Six Day War had created a sense of overconfident security. In the end, the effectiveness of the Israeli counterattack turned the tables in the war, putting Damascus and Cairo in danger. After the war, now fearing Egypt’s military, Israel sought a peaceful resolution of the conflict with its neighbors, paving the way to the historic Camp David Accords of 1978.
The Golan Heights Sector
At the outbreak of the war, the Israelis could count on two Armored Brigades with a total of 177 S’hot Kal tanks with 105 mm L7 cannons in front of the Golan Heights. These faced off against three Syrian armored divisions with a total of over 900 Soviet production tanks, mostly T-54s and T-55s, with a few old T-34-85s, SU-100s, and an unknown but limited number of modern T-62s.
On October 6th, a few hours after the start of the war, the 71st Battalion, made up of students and instructors from the IDF Armored School, a force of about 20 tanks, including some M-50s and M-51s, was sent to the front line.
On October 7th, the Syrians attacked the positions held by the 77th OZ and the 71st Battalion, trying to circumvent Israeli defenses. After several hours of battle, in the afternoon, the Syrians were forced to desist from their intentions, withdrawing and leaving over 20 destroyed tanks on the battlefield.
Around 2200 hours, the Syrian 7th Infantry Division and the 3rd Armored Division, which had night vision equipment, and a part of the 81st Armored Brigade, equipped with the few powerful and modern T-62s armed with 115 mm smoothbore cannons, attacked again.
The Israelis, deploying a total of 40 tanks in fortified ‘hull down’ positions without night vision devices, were able to withstand a wave consisting of 500 Syrian Army tanks. During the second attack, at 4000 hours, the Syrian commander, General Omar Abrash, was killed when his T-62 tank from where he commanded his troops was hit by an Israeli shell.
The loss of the general slowed the offensive in that sector, which only resumed on October 9th. Syrian tanks attacked the now exhausted Israeli soldiers of the 71st and 77th Battalions of the 7th Armored Brigade. After several hours of fighting, the Israeli commander, Ben Gal, was left with only 7 tanks that had managed to shoot hundreds of rounds.
Lieutenant Colonel Yossi Ben Hannan, who was in Greece at the outbreak of the war, arrived in Israel and rushed back to the Golan Heights where, in a workshop in the rear of the battlefield, he found 13 tanks that had been damaged during the fighting in the previous days (including at least a couple of Shermans). He quickly assembled as many crews as he could (volunteers, often injured, and even some soldiers who ran away from hospitals to fight), took command of this hastily improvised vehicle company, and moved to the front line to support the 7th Armored Brigade.
When they reached the 7 surviving tanks, they counterattacked, hitting the left flank of the Syrian Army, destroying another 30 Syrian tanks.
The Syrian commander, believing that the 20 tanks of Ben Hannan were the first tanks of the Israeli reserve, gave the order to withdraw from the battlefield.
After 50 hours of battle and almost 80 hours without sleep, the survivors of the 71st and 77th Battalions, which claimed to have destroyed 260 tanks and around 500 other vehicles, finally managed to rest. The real Israeli reserves were already on their way to the front and it did not take them long to get there.
During the night between 6th and 7th October, many Israeli tanks arrived on the Heights. They were mostly without orders due to the death of many officers. They began to fight according to the initiatives taken by the tank commanders.
The last actions of the Shermans were to take shots from short and medium distances against the Syrian armored vehicles that attempted a last desperate counterattack.
After the war, the surviving M-51s were gradually removed from service and put in reserve. Most were sold to Chile. A scant handful were sent to Lebanon to support the Christian militias. A small number were modified or used for testing while the rest remained in the IDF reserve until the early 1990s when they were completely withdrawn from service and scrapped.
In 1979, Chile, which was in good relations with Israel, bought 118 second-hand M-51s to improve its Armored Corps.
Arriving by ship a year later, these were all of the fourth version, armed with the Browning M2HB 12.7 mm over the main gun, Browning M1919 for the commander, and the 60 mm mortars. The Chileans called them the M-51 ‘Burritos’ – ‘little donkeys’ in Spanish They removed the machine guns and the mortars. The Brownings over the cannon barrel were re-installed in the classic anti-aircraft position on the M79 mount near the commander’s cupola.
Another modification was the installation, in the free space previously occupied by the hull machine gunner, of a fridge for the drinking water for the crew. The Chilean M-51s were intended to be used in the Atacama, the driest place on Earth.
Between late 1994 and February 1998, 100 Chilean M-51s were upgraded, installing a new transmission, the new Detroit 8V-71T Turbodiesel 360 hp engine, and an improved exhaust system mounted on the left engine deck side. The suspension and optical systems were refurbished, removing the old US-built optics.
The first 12 units were ready in February 1995 and are recognizable by the absence of the coaxial machine guns.
These vehicles were considered by the Chilean Army to be inferior to the M-50s armed with the 60 mm cannon. In fact, the 105 mm cannons of the M-51 had anti-tank characteristics inferior to the modern hyper-velocity 60 mm cannon. The Chilean M-51s were therefore relegated to the second line duties or as infantry support vehicles, with their more powerful high explosive rounds, as well as for clearing minefields using KTM-5 anti-mine devices captured by Israel during the Yom Kippur War and later sold to Chile.
All of the M-51s were taken out of service until 2006, being replaced by hundreds of second-hand Leopard 1V tanks. Some were preserved as monuments on various bases or in museums, but most of the surviving vehicles were relegated to target ranges in the Atacama Desert.
Other users of the M-51
On April 13th, 1975, a civil war broke out in Lebanon because of internal problems between Muslim Lebanese and Christian Lebanese. In the conflict that lasted 15 years, the Christian militias were supported by Israel and the Muslim militias were supported by Syria.
Israel supported the Christian militias to avoid the Islamisation of the country, which had been ruled by Christians until then, while Syria wanted to bring Lebanon under its military and cultural influence.
In support of the Lebanese Christians, Israel supplied 75 M-50 tanks and an unspecified number of 100 mm armed Tirans, M3 half-tracks and M113 APCs.
The militia that benefited most from these supplies was the South Lebanese Army (SLA), which received a total of 35 M-50 tanks that, in some cases, were repainted in different blue shades.
In 2000, nearly ten years after the end of the civil war, the SLA disbanded, and the surviving M-50s were returned to Israel to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.
In 2017, in the second edition of the book ‘Israeli Sherman’, the author, Tom Gannon, reported an interesting discovery. One of the two M-51s exposed in the Armored Corps Memorial Museum at Latrun had, in some places, such as the inside of the telephone box and canvas mantlet covers, been painted in a light shade of blue, similar to that used by SLA. By author Tom Gannon’s estimation based on his own knowledge, at least 6 M-51s were sent to Lebanon during the civil war years in the 1970s and, in 2000, four of them were returned to Israel with the dissolution of the South Lebanese Army. The IDF then repainted them in the usual Israel camo and put them in depots, with at least one of these ending up in the Latrun Museum. Information on these SLA M-51s is almost non-existent and remained something of a secret until 2017.
An intelligence document from the Ejército de Tierra (Eng. Spanish Army), dating from November 1982, examines the modifications and modernization of existing armored vehicles then being proposed for the foreign market and export sales. Among the numerous proposals detailed in the document, including for more modern vehicles such as the M48 Patton, M60, and Leopard 1, an interesting proposal by the Israeli NIMDA company is mentioned. The Israeli company, a subsidiary of the Israeli Military Industry (IMI), was planning to upgrade the M-50 and probably also the M-51 with the installation of a new 360 hp Detroit Diesel V8 Model 71T engine connected to a transmission system with mechanical clutch or to an Allison TC-570 torque converter with modified gearbox. After the conversion, the tank would have a top speed of 40 km/h and a range of 320 km with the standard two 303 litre tanks left. The new powerpack also included dust filters and an improved cooling system that could be housed in the existing engine compartment without any structural modifications.
In addition, the company also proposed to upgrade the armament, replacing the D.1508 L.51 cannons with CN-75-50 75 mm cannons, rebored from 75 mm to 90 mm caliber. This new gun would likely have similar anti-tank performance and characteristics to the French-made CN-90-F3 90 mm L.53 cannon, the same mounted on the AMX-13-90. With a potential muzzle velocity of around 900 m/s, it would likely have fired existing French 90 mm ammunition already in Israeli use, such as the rounds for the GIAT D.921 cannon of the Panhard AML armored car, i.e. 90 mm HE and HEAT-SF ammunition that could penetrate about 300 mm of armor.
This project was most likely proposed to Chile in 1983, but they opted to mount the IMI 60 mm Hyper-Velocity Medium Support 60 (HVMS 60) cannon which was more effective in anti-tank combat on the M-50 and not to modify the M-51 because the 90 mm HE rounds were less effective in the infantry support roles than the 105 mm D.1508 HE rounds.
Camouflage and markings
In the early 1950s, the IDF tested the ‘Sinai Gray’ on some M-3 Shermans, which was accepted into service shortly before the crisis in Suez, in the early 1960s. All the M-51s were painted in the new Sinai Gray which, however, as can be seen in many color photos of the time, had many shades.
Armored Brigades stationed in the south, on the border with Egypt, had a yellowish shade of Sinai Gray for use in Sinai, while vehicles used on the Golan Heights and on the borders with Jordan, Syria and Lebanon had a darker or brownish color. Obviously, over the years, these vehicles with different shades mixed with the various Israeli armored units or were repainted with another shade.
The markings painted on M-51s were introduced by the IDF in the 1960s and, although they may seem randomly painted, they identified the vehicle within its unit.
On some vehicles, a symbol identifying the armored brigade to which the tank belonged was painted.
The white stripes on the cannon barrel identify which battalion the tank belongs to. If the tank belonged to the 1st Battalion, it only had one stripe on the barrel, if it was the 2nd Battalion, it had two stripes, and so on.
The company the tank belonged to was determined by a white Chevron, a white ‘V’-shaped symbol painted on the sides of the vehicle, sometimes with a black outline. If the M-51 belonged to the 1st Company, the Chevron was pointing downwards. If the tank belonged to the 2nd Company, the ‘V’ was pointing forward. If the Chevron was pointed upwards, the vehicle belonged to the 3rd Company, and, if it pointed backwards, it belonged to the 4th Company.
The company identification markings had different sizes according to the space a tank had on its sides. The M48 Patton had these symbols painted on the turret and were quite big, while the Centurion had them painted on the side skirts. The Shermans had little space on the sides, and therefore, the company identification markings were painted on the side boxes, or in some cases, on the sides of the gun mantlet.
The platoon identification markings were written on the turrets and were divided in two: an arabic number, from 1 to 4 (in most cases) and one of the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet: א (Aleph), ב (Bet), ג (Gimel) and ד (Dalet). The Arabian number indicates the platoon to which a tank belongs to and the letter, the tank number inside each platoon. Tank number 1 of the 1st Platoon would have painted on the turret the symbol ‘1א’, tank number 2 of 3rd Platoon would have painted on the turret the symbol ‘3ב’, and so on.
The platoon’s command tank only has the arabic number without the letter. Gimel (ג) with no number is the Company Commander and Dalet (ד) is his second in command.
Gimel with 10 (10ג) was the Battalion Commander and ‘11ג’ was the second in command, while ‘20ג’ was the Brigade Commander and ‘21ג’ was his second in command.
In pictures of the M-50s, these symbols are not always visible, as pictures taken during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 show many M-51s that had already been withdrawn from operational service, repainted and kept in reserve.
On some photos taken before the standardization of this system of markings, three white arrows can be seen on the sides of the vehicles in service in the Sinai, the markings of Israeli Southern Command. Others also had a number painted on the front that identified the weight of the vehicle. This was done to indicate if the tank was able to cross certain bridges or for transportation on trailers. The number was painted in white inside a blue circle surrounded by another red ring.
Crews sometimes painted the brigade insignia on the front and rear fenders, sometimes also indicating the battalion number.
In some cases, not very often, the battalion insignia was painted on the right rear fender and the brigade insignia was moved to the right end of the fender.
As mentioned, some M-51s were delivered to the South Lebanon Army, which repainted them in blue. It is likely that like the M-50s painted in blue by the Lebanese, the M-51s also received the symbol of SLA, a hand holding a sword from which came out cedar branches (symbol of Lebanon) in a blue circle painted on the frontal glacis.
The 85 M-51s Chile received arrived in Sinai Gray camouflage. The Ejército de Chile (Eng. Chilean Army) greatly appreciated the camouflage, because in the Atacama Desert, where Chilean crews were training, it was very useful, and also because of the low-infrared signature. After a short time, however, they decided to switch to other paints because the dust and salt (the Atacama Desert is the driest on earth because of the very high salt content) were affecting the Israeli paint. Not a single camouflage scheme was decided for the entire army, but it was the local commanders who chose the scheme and bought the paints. Many of the camouflage schemes remain a mystery, but there is information about those used by the Grupo Blindado No. 9 ‘Vencedores’ of the Brigada Accorazada No. 1 ‘Coraceros’ used in northern Chile. This unit painted its M-51s and some of its M-50s in a light sand yellow color and others in gray. In the end, in 1991, all the Shermans of the Brigada Acorazada were repainted in light sand yellow.
The Regimiento de Caballería Blindada No. 10 ‘Libertadores’ of the Regimiento de Infantería No. 22 ‘Lautaro’ had some M-51s with two-tone camouflage, sand yellow and dark green, and others in light sand yellow.
Grupo Blindado No. 6 ‘Dragones’ of the Brigada Acorazada No. 4 ‘Chorrillos’ had a more elaborate camouflage, painting its M-51s in 1982 with a camouflage pattern similar to the US MERDEC (Mobility Equipment Research & Design Command) camouflage in light sand yellow, dark green with black lines. It is not clear if all the Shermans of the ‘Dragones’ were painted like this but, in 1983, some of the tanks of the ‘Chorrillos’ were painted in a camouflage scheme with sand yellow, dark green and white with black lines.
Grupo Blindado No. 8 ‘Exploradores’ of the Brigada Acorazada Nº 3 ‘La Concepción’ repainted its tanks in light sand yellow. The only M-51s that remained in Sinai Gray (at least until 1984) were those destined for the Escuela de Blindados (Eng. tank training school) of Peldehue.
Myths to dispel about the M-51
The ‘Sherman’ nickname given by the Second World War crews to their Medium Tank M4s, which has since entered the common language of video games, films or military enthusiasts was never used, officially, by the IDF. The IDF always called their M4 Medium Tanks after the name of its main guns, ‘M-3’ for all the Shermans armed with a 75 mm M3 cannon, ‘M-4’ for all the Shermans armed with a 105 mm M4 howitzer, and so on.
For the M-51 however, a new system of naming major Israeli modifications was introduced that superseded the earlier Sherman naming convention. Since even the M-50 was still named after its armament (and indeed, the first M-50s were entirely French vehicles), the M-51 was named as such to denote it being the next major variant in Israeli service after the M-50. This system would appear again several decades later, following the introduction of the Magach 7, the first major Israeli upgrade/rebuild of foreign-supplied Magach 6 (M60) tanks.
The nickname ‘Super’ was actually only used for Sherman versions armed with 76 mm cannons which remained in service until 1968-69, in honour of being the only version at the time capable of facing the T-34-85. It was the only one to receive this nickname from the IDF.
The other nickname, ‘iSherman’ or ‘ISherman’ (aka Israeli Sherman) was never used by the Israeli Army to indicate any vehicle on the Sherman chassis and is a wrong term used by the media, video games, and model kit manufacturers.
Chilean vehicles armed with the 60 mm cannon were never called, either by the Chilean Army or by the Israeli Army, ‘M-60 Sherman’. They were known in the two armies only as ‘M-50 with HVMS 60’. The same happened with the Chilean M-51. They were never called by the Chilean Army ‘M-51 Super Sherman‘.
The M-51 was born as a vehicle of necessity for the Israeli Army, which needed to take already obsolete Shermans armed with 76 mm guns and up-gun them with powerful French cannons to create a new and capable tank as quickly as possible.
While excellent against existing threats at the time it was created, by the early 1970s, advances in battlefield technology, including the prolific use of man portable anti-tank missiles, meant the M-51’s days in Israeli service were numbered.
Despite no longer being effective in Israel, the M-51 did find a new, albeit brief, lease of life in Chile, where it was given a new engine and used much as it was in Israeli two decades before; to help keep Chile safe until more modern vehicles could be acquired. To this end, it proved to be invaluable, and demonstrated not only the versatility and adaptability of the Sherman chassis, but also of Israeli (and French) ingenuity at keeping a completely outdated vehicle relevant and viable for decades after its original service.
6.15 m x 2.42 m x 2.24 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready
5, driver, machine gunner, commander, gunner and loader
Cummins VT-8-460 460 hp diesel with 606 liter fuel tank
D.1508 with 47 rounds, 2 Browning M1919 7.62 mm with 4,750 rounds and a Browning M2HB 12.7 mm with 600 rounds
63 mm frontal hull, 38 mm sides and rear, 19 mm top and bottom.
89 mm mantlet, 73 mm front, sides and rear of the turret
Germany (1943 – 1945)
Medium Tank – over 100 operated
During the Second World War, the Germans operated great numbers of enemy combat vehicles that they had managed to capture. These were mostly French and Russian tanks. These were usually pressed into service in their original role or modified for other roles. For example, many were converted as ammunition transport vehicles or as self-propelled anti-tank guns. From their former ally Italy, the Germans also managed to capture a relatively huge stockpile of various war materials. This also included a number of tank designs, including the M15/42 medium tank. While this tank was already obsolete before its introduction, the German nevertheless put them to use against the Yugoslav Partisans. There, they would be used up to the war’s end.
Due to the increasing obsolescence of the M13 Series (including the M14/41) and the slow development of the heavy tank program, the Italians were forced to introduce the M15/42 medium tank as a stopgap solution. The M15/42 was mostly based on the M14/41 tank, but with a number of improvements. Most noticeable was the introduction of a new 190 hp FIAT-SPA 15TB (‘B’ stands for Benzina – Petrol) engine and a new transmission. With the installation of the new engine, the tank hull was lengthened by some 15 cm compared to the M.13 Series tanks. The standard 8 mm Breda anti-aircraft machine gun was removed and the access hatch was repositioned to the right side. A new 4.7 cm main gun with a longer barrel was installed, producing a more effective anti-tank gun, albeit still inadequate by that point in the war. The armor protection on the tank was also slightly increased, but this too was still inadequate to keep up with newer and better Allied tanks. The Royal Army placed an order for some 280 M15/42s in October 1942. However, due to attempts to produce more Semovente self-propelled vehicles, this production order was never fully achieved. While some of them were issued to Italian troops, their operational service life with them was limited.
The M15/42 had introduced some improvements, but it was generally outdated by the time it was put into service. Nevertheless, it would remain in service up to the end of the war, mostly with its new German owners, although some would also serve with Italian Fascist troops of the Italian Social Republic (RSI – Republicca Sociale Italiana).
In German service, the M15/42 was known as the Beutepanzer M15 738(i) or Pz.Kpfw. M15/42 738(i). For the sake of simplicity, this article will use the original M15/42 designation.
In German hands
In September 1943, due to the Allied invasion and internal pressure, Italy sought to negotiate peace with the Western Allied powers. The Germans were expecting this and sought to occupy as much of Italy as possible. With the occupation of most of Italy, the Germans came into possession of a number of armored vehicles, but also arms and weapon production facilities, with many vehicles that were awaiting assembly, from their former Ally.
The Germans managed to acquire, either by capturing or producing, over 100 M15/42 tanks. The Italian equipment, including tanks, was mainly used to replace the older French captured vehicles which were operated in the Balkans fighting the Partisan forces there. Note that the number of M15/42 tanks is difficult to pinpoint precisely, as sources have different numbers. The units that used them in Yugoslavia also had other M-series tanks in their inventory, which may sometimes lead to confusion. Another quite common issue with determining the precise type of tanks was the poor knowledge of the Partisans in identifying the enemy armor. Being that the Italian M-series tanks were quite similar to each other, distinguishing them was not always an easy task.
One of the first units to be equipped with the M15/42 tanks was Panzer Abteilung 202. This particular unit was formed in early 1941, mostly equipped with French captured tanks. In September 1941, it was relocated to the Balkans to fight the Partisans there. By early 1944, it was reinforced with Italian armored vehicles in order to replenish the older and worn-out French tanks. Elements of Panzer Abteilung 202 were used to defend the vital Belgrade-Zagreb railway line during mid-1944.
On September 10th, 1944, this unit was transported to Belgrade. Some elements of Panzer Abteilung 202 were dispatched to the city of Valjevo, which was surrounded by the Partisans. They, together with other support units, managed to free the surrounded Germans. Two M15/42 tanks were damaged in the process, but recovered. Due to significant Partisan pressure, the Germans retreated to the north. On September 20th, some 15 tanks engaged with the Partisans near Šabac and Obrenovac, west of Belgrade. During the following skirmishes, one tank was destroyed and a second was damaged but later recovered by the Germans. The Germans managed to repel the Partisan attempts to liberate Šabac, as these were ill-prepared to engage tanks. Nevertheless, the Germans eventually abandoned Šabac in late October, moving with a group of 15 to 20 tanks north, toward Srem.
Other elements from Panzer Abteilung 202 were also engaged with Partisans forces in the area of Srem (north of Belgrade). At the start of October, at least three tanks of Panzer Abteilung 202 were attempting to repel the Partisans around Grabovci. The Partisans, using an anti-tank rifle, managed to destroy one of the three tanks. Two more tanks were lost in a Partisan ambush on October 11th.
Despite its obsolescence, the M15/42 could be used with some success against the Partisans, which often lacked proper anti-tank weapons. The situation for the Germans, who were holding the Yugoslavian capital Belgrade and eastern parts of the country, became desperate once the Soviet forces advanced to help the Partisans. During the Battle for Belgrade, which lasted from October 12th to 20th, 1944, Panzer Abteilung 202’s M15/42 tanks performed poorly against the Soviet T-34s (both 76 and 85 mm armed versions) and other armored vehicles. The M15/42’s armor was also noted to be unable to stop any Soviet anti-tank fire, including the anti-tank rifles. Many were lost during this battle, either destroyed in action or simply left behind. There was an accident when a Soviet T-34 rammed an M15/42 and completely turned it on its side.
From late October 1944 onwards, Panzer Abteilung 202 would be involved in the German defensive on the so called Syrmian Front in the northern part of Yugoslavia. By the end of 1944, Panzer Abteilung 202 had some 30 M15/42 tanks, of which only 18 were fully operational. Due to attrition, the number of available tanks was further diminished to 13 operational and 12 in repair. The effectiveness of these vehicles was greatly reduced due to heavy wear down and the increasing presence of Partisan anti-tank guns of various calibers. The lack of fuel and spare parts often meant that the M15/42s were of limited use and only on short distances. At the end of the war, what was left of the equipment of Panzer Abteilung 202, which was attempting to evacuate from Yugoslavia, was captured by the Partisans in Slovenia.
Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was another unit stationed in Yugoslavia from 1941 on. It was heavily involved in fighting the Partisan forces there. At the beginning of March 1944, Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was in the process of reorganization and the older French tanks were slowly being replaced with Italian built vehicles. During this time, the first M15/42 tanks began to arrive. By April 1944, there were some 42 Italian built M15/42 tanks in use by this unit. An additional M15/42 tanks built by the Germans would be allocated to Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12. During the summer of 1944, Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was moved to Serbia to reinforce the desperate attempts to keep the transit roads to Greece open. These roads and rails were vital for the evacuation of German forces stationed in Greece. Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 would not be used as a single unit, but instead would be divided into smaller groups and allocated to various German units stationed in Serbia at that time.
At the start of July 1944, the number of M15/42 tanks in this unit was increased to 59 vehicles, but only a third were fully operational. In October and November 1944, the unit saw extensive action against the Partisans, losing many vehicles in the process. For example, during the German defence of Niš, elements of Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 were present. The Germans were eventually forced to retreat, losing a number of tanks in the process, including at least one M15/42 which was captured by the Partisans. Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 had some 33 M15/42 tanks reported in October, which were reduced to 15 vehicles by the end of the following month. Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 would remain in Yugoslavia up to the start of 1945, when it was recalled to Germany. What was left of their equipment was given to Panzer Abteilung 202.
The M15/42 tanks employed by the Germans in Yugoslavia were plagued by a lack of spare parts, ammunition, and fuel. Many tanks were not used in combat, as they needed constant maintenance and repairs, and, too often, they would be simply cannibalized for spare parts. The vehicles used in Yugoslavia often received a large storage box placed behind the turret. In addition, spare track links would often be placed around the vehicle to act as limited extra protection.
SS Panzer Abteilung 105, which was part of V-SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgskorps, also operated the M15/42 tank in small numbers. It was involved in fighting Bosnian Partisans during 1944. In May 1944, it participated in the German Operation Rösselsprung (Eng. Knight’s Move), an attempt to liquidate the Partisan leaders, including Josip Broz Tito, at Drvar. To help achieve this, smaller parts of Panzer Abteilung 202 were also present. There is a possibility that some M15/42 tanks were used during this operation. At the end of 1944, when the unit was recalled to Germany, it had 5 M15/42 tanks in its inventory. While the unit fought the Soviets in the defence of Franfrukt, it is unknown if, by this time, it still possessed any M15/42 tanks.
The 12. verstärkte Polizei-Panzer-Kompanie, which was meant to be moved to Yugoslavia, had 14 tanks. At the end of 1944, it had some 8 M15/42 tanks, with only one operational. This police unit would be repositioned to Hungary from early 1945 onwards. It would be lost, with its equipment, during the siege of Budapest, fighting against the Soviets.
M15/42 with a Panzer 38(t) turret
The M15/42 was also used as a field modification by replacing its original turret with one taken from a Panzer 38(t). This vehicle is quite a mystery regarding who made it and why. What is known is that it was built during 1944 or in early 1945. On one of few existing photographs of it, during what appears to be some kind of parade, it has the marking of the German puppet state of Croatia (large capital U, which was used for Ustaše Croatian units). The problem is that the Croat forces, while infrequently supplied by the Germans and Italians (and even Hungarians) with armored vehicles, never operated any M-series or Panzer 38(t) tanks. The Croatian Army possessed some limited industry, as they managed to locally build a small number of armored trucks. The relatively easy task of placing a new turret on a damaged M15/42 could be achieved. Another issue with this theory is the fact that the vehicle would be captured by the Yugoslav Partisans at the end of the war on a train together with other German-operated armored vehicles. There is a chance that the Germans may have supplied the Croats with these vehicles, but this seems unlikely. The Germans barely had spare parts and ammunition for the M15/42 for themselves, let alone sharing these with the Croats.
More likely, the creators of this modification were the Germans. Firstly, they used both M15/42 and Panzer 38(t) tanks. The M15/42 was used in its original configuration. The Panzer 38(t) tank, on the other hand, was mainly attached to armored trains by the Germans and rarely used outside of that. Two units that may have built this vehicle were either Panzer Abteilung 202 or Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12. While, due to lack of information, it is almost impossible to determine the creator, it is likely that it was made or at least operated by Panzer Abteilung 202. The reason for this is that the captured train transporting these vehicles also transported a number of vehicles belonging to this unit. Of course, this by itself is not a direct proof of it, as a number of other vehicles not belonging to the Panzer Abteilung 202 area were present on this train.
Yugoslav Partisan service
The Yugoslav Communist resistance movement managed to capture a number of M15/42 tanks. Some of these were probably used in combat, while smaller numbers were even used as training vehicles. The M15/42s were also used in military victory parades, like the one held in Kragujevac in May 1945. Following the end of the war, the M15/42s, together with other captured vehicles, were employed by the new Yugoslavian People’s Army. Their use would be quite limited due to the general lack of spare parts and ammunition. Nearly all would be scrapped a few years later, with one vehicle being preserved at the Belgrade Military Museum.
By the time the M15/42 was developed and put into production, it was already an obsolete design. It had poor armor protection and insufficient firepower as a medium tank by late-war standards. For fighting the Partisans, which lacked tanks or even anti-tank guns, this was a good opportunity to use an otherwise useless vehicle and free up more important vehicles. The Germans were in desperate need to find a tank that was available in some numbers that could be used to replace the older and generally worn out French equipment. Unfortunately for them, the M15/42’s overall performance was poor, as the majority were mostly stored awaiting repairs. In addition, once the Soviet Army reached Yugoslavia, they had little chance against more modern armor. But, despite these drawbacks, the M15/42 was certainly a welcome addition for the desperate Germans, who, by this time, did not have the luxury of being too picky. Given the fact that nothing else was available, the M15/42 saw use until the end of the war.
Kingdom Of Italy (1943)
Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun – 1 or 2 built prototypes
During the Second World War, the Regio Esercito (Italian Royal Army) lacked an anti-aircraft vehicle that could protect its armored formations from enemy air attack. Sometime in 1942-43, the Italian Royal Army began development of an anti-aircraft vehicle based on the new M15/42 tank chassis. As its development began too late, only one or two prototypes would be built. Sadly, due to insufficient sources being available, very little is known about this vehicle.
During the fighting in North Africa, the Italian ground armored forces were often subject to Allied fighter and fighter-bomber attacks. The Italian Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) lacked modern fighter designs and was thus unable to provide sufficient aerial protection. One solution was to mount anti-aircraft guns on a mobile chassis. There were some attempts to mount 20 mm anti-aircraft guns on available trucks. These proved to be insufficient due to many factors like poor mobility, weak firepower, and no armor protection for the men or vehicle.
Due to the ineffectiveness of these truck-based vehicles, the Royal Army moved on to the idea of using a tank chassis for this role. With only limited time and resources, it was decided against developing a brand new chassis and to instead use the available tank production capacities. As the M15/42 was entering production during 1942, it was decided to use it for this modification. During early 1943, one prototype was completed and presented to the Royal Army. The only visible change in contrast to the original M15/42 was the introduction of a new polygonal turret equipped with four 20 mm Scotti cannons. According to D.Nešić, (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija), this vehicle was built using the command version of the M15/42, which lacked the hull machine guns and had an extra radio set.
Due to the increasing obsolescence of the M13 Series (including the M14/41) and the slow development of the heavy tank program, the Italians were forced to introduce the M15/42 medium tank as a stopgap solution. The M15/42 was mostly based on the M14/41 tank, but with a number of improvements. Most noticeable was the introduction of a new 190 hp FIAT-SPA 15TB (‘B’ stands for Benzina – Petrol) engine and a new transmission. With the installation of the new engine, the tank hull was lengthened compared to the M.13 Series tanks by some 15 cm. The standard 8 mm Breda anti-aircraft machine gun was removed and the access hatch door was repositioned to the right side. The removal of the anti-aircraft machine gun on the turret may appear odd given Allied air superiority of the time and the threat it posed, but a single 8 mm Breda machine gun was almost completely ineffective in the anti-aircraft role and was seen as a waste of resources and weight. Most noticeable for the M15/42 was the installation of a new 4.7 cm main gun with a longer barrel, producing a more effective anti-tank gun, albeit still inadequate by this point in the war. The armor protection on the tank was also slightly increased, but this too was still inadequate to keep up with newer and better Allied tanks.
The Royal Army placed an order for some 280 M15/42s in October 1942. However, due to attempts to produce more Semovente self-propelled vehicles, the order for 280 was reduced to 220 tanks. These were built by June 1943 and an additional 28 tanks would be built under German command after the September Armistice was signed with the Allies. The M15/42 had introduced some improvements, but these tanks were generally outdated by the time they were put into service. Nevertheless, they would remain in service up to the end of the war, mostly with their new Germans owners (known as PzKpfw M15/42 738(i)), although some would also serve with Italian Fascist troops of the Italian Social Republic (RSI – Republicca Sociale Italiana).
Just like the earlier M13 Series tanks, a command tank variant (carro centro radio/ radio tank) of the M15/42 was developed. On these vehicles, the turret was removed and some were rearmed with 13 mm heavy machine guns instead of the two 8 mm machine guns and extra radio equipment was added. By the time of the September Armistice, some 45 M15/42 CC vehicles were built. An additional 40 vehicles were built after September 1943 under German control. There were also a few different Semoventi vehicles based on the M15/42 built.
Various sources give many different names for this vehicle, including: Semovente (self-propelled) M15/42 Antiaereo (anti-aircraft), Carro Armato Medio Antiaereo (anti-aircraft medium tank), M15/42 Antiaereo or Contraereo (M15/42 anti-aircraft), M15/42 “Quadruplo” (M15/42 Quad), Semovente Antiaereo M42 (self-propelled anti-aircraft gun M42), Semovente da 20/70 quadruplo, among others.
In Italian service
Not much is known of this vehicle’s development history. What is known is that the first prototype was completed sometime in early 1943. It was presented to the Italian Army at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (Study Center of Motorization). If the Army showed any interest in it is unfortunately not known. In March 1943, the prototype was stationed in Cecchignola (Rome) and given to the VIII Reggimento Autieri (8th Driver Regiment), possibly to be used for evaluation.
Some sources (mostly on the internet) suggest that this vehicle was shipped to Tunisia for field combat tests and that it would remain there until the Axis surrender in May 1943. This seems highly unlikely, mainly due to the lack of evidence and photographs of it in the theater. If it was captured, its unusual construction would have certainly sparked some interest among the Allies and they would have certainly taken photographs or mentioned it in their documents. The more realistic fate of the M15 anti-aircraft vehicle (or vehicles) was that, after the Italian capitulation in September 1943, it was seized by the German forces.
Being an obscure vehicle and rarely mentioned in sources in more detail, the precise technical characteristics are hard to come by. What is known with certainty is that it was based on a slightly modified M15/42 tank or the command version of the same vehicle. Most parts of the tank, including the suspension and hull, were unchanged. The only visible change to the hull was the removal of the two machine guns which were replaced with an armored cover. If the armor thickness was changed there is no information about it, but it seems likely that it remained the same in order to save development time.
The most obvious change was the introduction of a new turret equipped with four 2 cm Scotti cannons. The new turret had a polygonal shape and was made using a frame on which (unusual for the Italians) armor plates were welded.
For the main weapon, four Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/70 autocannons (generally known as Scotti, after their designer, Alfredo Scotti) were chosen. This type of gun was intended to be cheaper and easier to build compared to the Breda Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 modello 35. But, despite its simplicity, a higher rate of fire, and being lighter, its performance was not much better than its counterpart. In all, some 300 were built either as static emplacements or with a twin-wheel carriage. The Germans also managed to capture a number of these guns, where they were known as 2-cm Scotti(i). The Scotti had a 250 rpm rate of fire with a maximum range of 2,100-3,500 m (depending on the source). It had a barrel length of 1,540 mm and the muzzle velocity was 830 m/s. Elevation was -10° to +85°, with a rotation of 360°.
The Scotti anti-aircraft guns that survived the war would be used by the new Italian Army for some years on. These would mostly be used to equip navy ships. An unknown number of quadruple-gun systems would also be built after the war, with some even supplied to Israel in the late forties.
Prior to their installation into the new turret, the four Scotti cannons had to be modified and a specially designed mount had to be developed. The most obvious change to the cannons was the feed mechanism. This type of cannon had two feed options, by a clip or by drum magazine. Both of these were unusable due to the cramped space of the turret, and for this reason, a new type of fed system had to be adopted. The manufacturer of this cannon, Isotta Fraschini, developed a new ammunition supply system that consisted of a metal belt feed with disintegrating mesh which allegedly also increased the rate of fire up to 600 rpm per gun. The elevation of the new turret installation was -5° to + 90° with a full traverse of 360°. How the main armament was mounted inside the turret is, due to a lack of information, unknown. The armor thickness is also unknown, but would most likely have been very light, in order to provide protection at least from small-caliber weapons while keeping weight down.
Interestingly, in some photographs, the front part of the new turret is lacking armor plating. The reason why is not known. It could potentially be that it was not yet completed or due to some problems with the main weapon mount that required more working space.
According to the few sources available, the crew consisted of three crew members. While they are not listed, an educated guess can be made. At least one crew member had to be the driver. The second crew member would be the commander who was probably also the gunner and his position would likely be behind the main gun installation. The last crew member was probably a radio operator (if a radio was ever to be used on this vehicle) or a loader.
The mobility of the M15/42 Antiaereo was probably similar to that of the original tank configuration. The new turret and weapons would have probably been similar to the weight of the previous turret and gun, giving a total weight in the vicinity of 15.5 tonnes. The speed and the operational range were probably also similar. Some of the dimensions, such as the length of 5.06 m and width of 2.28 m, were almost assuredly the same but the vehicle may have been somewhat higher than 2.4 m.
How many were built
The precise number of built vehicles is unfortunately not known. What is known with certainty is that at least one prototype was built and tested. According to the few available photos, there is a possibility that at least one more vehicle was built. This vehicle has German markings, camouflage paint, and lacks the frontal turret armor. Of course, there is the possibility that this was simply the first vehicle just slightly modified by the Germans. Author D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija) quotes that a few were built but does not mention how many precisely.
In German hands
The Germans managed to capture the M15/42 Antiaereo prototype during their occupation of Rome. Interestingly, in one photo, this vehicle is lacking some front turret armor plates, despite having pictures of it with them. This may be additional proof that at least another vehicle was built beside the one prototype.
What the Germans did with it is not completely clear. According to a few sources, it appears that the prototype was transported back to Germany for evaluation. It also allegedly saw service against the Soviet Forces in 1945 in the Teupitz area (Germany). At that time, it was supposedly attached to the 5th SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgskorps (Mountain Armored Corps).
The Germans did use large quantities of Italian captured weapons and thus had available spare parts and ammunition, making it plausible that this information has some merit. By 1945, the Germans were trying desperately to stop the Soviet offensive, and in their desperation they used any available weapons that they had on hand, perhaps including the M15/42 Antiaereo prototype. Of course, on the other hand, due to insufficient sources, the information about its use by the Germans could easily be incorrect or even fake.
After seizing a number of Italian production factories, the Germans produced small numbers of some Italian equipment, mostly self-propelled Semovente vehicles. Why the Germans did not bother producing more Antiaereo, even as they were themselves in great need of such a vehicle, is unknown.
It is relatively common to find claims that, after the M15/42 Antiaereo, was seized by the Germans, it influenced their development of anti-aircraft tanks like the Flakpanzer IV (2cm Flak 38 Vierling) ‘Wirbelwind’. Does this assumption have any merit? First, it must be taken into account the fact that this vehicle was completed in the first months of 1943 and captured by the Germans later that year, after the Italian capitulation. This meant that it would have been shipped out to Germany after September 1943.
The issue is that the German had already begun (in early 1943) to develop their own anti-aircraft tank based on the Panzer IV. This vehicle had a completely different design, simply installing the 2 cm Flakvierling anti-aircraft system on a Panzer IV chassis, protected by large metal plates that could be folded down during combat situations. As the 2 cm caliber was deemed weak by the Germans, it would be later replaced with the 3.7 cm gun and put into production as Flakpanzer IV (3.7cm Flak 43) “Möbelwagen”. Also, even earlier in the war, the Germans had tested the anti-aircraft tank concept on thePanzer I and later Panzer 38(t)chassis.
The Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo was certainly an interesting vehicle that was developed for the Italian army. It also represents a modern concept of an anti-aircraft vehicle based on the tank chassis. The installation of its main weapon in a fully enclosed turret had important benefits, as it would provide sufficient protection for the crew. In practice, this was not easy to achieve and often came at the cost of reduced visibility, and not many anti-aircraft vehicles were built during the war that used an enclosed turret.
N.Pignato (1978) Le armi della fanteria italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale, RIVALBA,
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