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 26,000 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 Flammatüter (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 Korean T-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, 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, 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 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 version, 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
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 the Panzer 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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