Italy (1942 – 1954)
Reconnaissance Car – ~200 built
The concept behind the AS42 “Sahariana” appeared in the minds of Italian designers in 1942, when the famous British and Commonwealth Long Range Desert Groups (LRDG), with their distinctive heavily-armed and unarmored long-range vehicles, were breaking far behind Axis lines, creating havoc in refilling bases or airfields. At the same time, their large-scale reconnaissance tasks were very valuable to Allied intelligence. The Regio Esercito (Italian Royal Army) tried to emulate these units by using a project that SPA-Viberti had proposed a year before based on the chassis of the AB41 armored car, itself derived from the chassis of the Fiat-SPA TM40 medium artillery tractor.
The AS42 “Sahariana’ was a reconnaissance car, initially unarmed. However, under pressure from the Italian Royal Army’s high command, the vehicles received heavy armament. The SPA-Viberti AS42 was rapidly developed at the beginning of 1942. The prototype was presented to the army on July 9, 1942, passed all tests and was put into production in the SPA-Viberti factory in Turin as early as August 1942.
Design of the AS42
Exterior and Armor
Basically, the chassis of the AB41 was left intact, but the armored hull was completely remodeled, and the vehicle took a car-like shape. The front was tilted and housed a massive spare wheel and pioneer tools. Two spades were attached to the left side of the front hood, and a pickaxe on the left rear side. The mudguards were remodeled and the front ones held the tripods for the machine guns. At the front of the mudguards, two jerry cans were kept on each side for the transport of drinking water, recognizable by the white crosses painted on the side. The mudguards at the back had toolboxes on top and two perforated metal plates used for unditching the vehicle if it got stuck in the sand. On the rear of the right mudguard was the muffler, while on the left mudguard was a plate with a stoplight.
The open central combat compartment was armored on the sides and was 3.2 m long and 1.75 m wide. Armor was 17 mm all around the chassis.
The windshield had three bulletproof glass panels derived from glass made for aeronautical use. These were 12 mm thick, although their steel equivalent was significantly less. The windshield was equipped with rear-view mirrors and could be folded down.
Ground clearance was 0.35 m, with the possibility of fording 0.7 m of water.
The total weight decreased from AB41’s 7.5 tonnes to 4 tonnes in an empty AS42. Fully battle-ready, with the primary armament fixed, full tanks and full ammunition load, the vehicle reached 6.5 tonnes.
The vehicle had 4×4 traction, but only the front wheels were steered (like on the original chassis of the Fiat-SPA TM40) and therefore the rear driving position, characteristic of the AB armored car series, was removed.
The tires used on the AS42 were produced by Pirelli in Milan, as were almost all the tires on Italian vehicles. The AS used the same tires as the AB armored cars series, the Pirelli “Libia” 9.75×24″ and “Libia Rinforzato” tires for use in the sandy soil of North Africa. The “Artiglio” 9×24″ and “Artiglio a Sezione Maggiorata” 11.25×24″ tires designed for use in Italy and Europe were later used in the Russian steppe. In 1942, new tires were studied for the new Camionette, which could also be used on AB series armored cars: Pirelli “Sigillo Verde” tires again for sandy soils and Pirelli “Raiflex” tires for use in Europe. It should be noted that due to the poor logistics of the Royal Italian Army and the almost non-existent logistics of the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (RSI, Eng National Republican Army), AB armored cars and Camionette used any tire available. It is therefore not rare to find AB41 or AB43 armored cars with “Raiflex” tires and AS42 with “Libia” tires.
Range and Engine
By design, a total of 20 fuel jerry cans with a capacity of 20 liters each could be transported in two rows of 5 on each side of the fighting compartment. In total, each AS42 could carry 24 jerry cans, 4 of which were for water. However, due to their use in North Africa, many more jerry cans were transported, crammed in any free space to increase the range of the vehicle and of the crew. The AS42 was equipped with a tarpaulin. It provided cover from the elements from the top and the rear, but not from the sides of the Camionette. There was also a tarpaulin to cover the windshield and two smaller ones for the frontal lights. When not used, all the tarpaulins, including the folding rods that supported them, were rolled up and fastened with straps on the back of the fighting compartment.
The 145 liters fuel tank allowed a range of 535 km, which was increased to a total of 2,000 km with the additional 400 liters transported in jerry cans. The vehicle consumed around a liter of gasoline for every 3.7 km. The armored rear compartment was not modified. The 430 kg heavy engine was the 6-cylinder petrol FIAT-SPA ABM 2 which gave 88 hp, the same as in the AB41. Automotive performance was greatly improved, with a maximum road speed of 84 km/h and up to 50 km/h offroad.
The fuel tank was located above the engine, while the 3 liters oil tank was to the left of the engine. There were two water tanks above the engine compartment and one in the wooden bulkhead between the engine compartment and the combat compartment. The armor on the outside of this compartment was 5 mm. The engine cooling water was contained in a 32-liter tank above the engine in the front.
The large volume in the open central position allowed the mounting of considerably heavy armament. Depending on the weapon, a different pedestal was situated in the middle of this open central position, which, with different attachments points, could mount one of several weapons, including a rapid-fire anti-aircraft/anti-tank Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 gun, an anti-tank/infantry 47/32 Mod. 1935 support gun or a Solothurn S18-1000 20 mm anti-tank rifle, called Carabina “S” by the Italian soldiers.
Secondary armament consisted of Breda 38 or Breda 37 8×59 mm machine guns. Depending on the mission, one to three of these weapons could be mounted on supports positioned to the right of the driver and on the left and right sides of the rear part of the fighting compartment.
On several Camionettas, the secondary armament consisted of captured British Vickers K machine guns. These were famously used on LRDG vehicles throughout the North African campaign.
All the mounts for the main and secondary armament could be rotated 360°.
Ammunition was left inside its boxes scattered in the combat compartment due to a lack of ammunition racks. For this reason, the quantity of ammunition could vary from mission to mission. In addition to the driver’s seat, the crew members that handled the weapons on board were seated on folding seats on either side of the fighting compartment (two on the right and one on the left). In some cases, the crew consisted of five or six members crammed into the little vehicle.
The Sahariana in action
From September to November 1942, the first batch of 140 vehicles was delivered to the Royal Army. This delay was caused by a bombing of the SPA-Viberti factory in Turin during the previous weeks which destroyed several AS-42s.
The “Saharianas” that arrived in North Africa were used for raids in the desert, as originally planned. Its low profile allowed it to hide behind the dunes and wait for the enemy’s arrival without being seen. Its great range allowed it to pursue enemy forces for long periods and to fight LRDG teams effectively. Entering service in December 1942, the AS42 participated in the final stages of the Libyan Campaign and the entire Tunisian campaign. They were mainly assigned to the Auto-Avio-Saharan Battalions (Italian-specific battalions meant for close cooperation between aircraft and land vehicles of the army) and to the 103° Battaglione and Raggruppamento Sahariano. These last ones were divided in five Companies located in different positions. The 1st Company was in Marada, the 2nd in Murzuk, the 3rd in Sebha and in Hon (or Hun), while the 4th and 5th faced the LRDG in the Siwa Oasis and groups of French raiders commanded by Philippe Leclerc stationed in Chad.
They had a claimed kill ratio of 1:5, capturing dozens of British armed or transport vehicles. In 1943, LRDG command issued an order to attack only if there were no high numbers of Camionetta AS42 in the area. This meant the British needed aerial reconnaissance before attacking, which lowered the effectiveness of the LRDG. During the Tunisian Campaign, all the vehicles of the Auto-Avio-Saharan Battalions and 103° Battaglione Sahariano were lost in action along with the majority of the Arditi. The Arditi were an elite unit of the Royal Italian Army entrusted with the AS42. They fought bravely against the Allied troops that had surrounded them.
On April 26, 1942, the 10° Reggimento Arditi (10th Arditi Regiment) was established, divided into three Companies. Its troops were composed of soldiers trained for the special forces of the Royal Italian Army, such as sappers, paratroopers and swimmers. They were moved into this regiment for distinguishing themselves as excellent drivers.
The three Companies were equipped with 24 Camionette AS42 each (for a total of 72 vehicles), each divided into four patrol groups with 2 officers and 18 or more soldiers armed with Carcano Mod. 91 T.S. rifles or MAB 38A submachine guns, Beretta M1934 pistols and a dagger.
After April 1943, all the Companies were active in Sicily for anti-paratrooper patrols. Between July 13th and 14th, the 2nd Company repulsed an attack by British paratroopers. On the night of July 14th, at Primosole, six Camionette fought at the Primosole Bridge over the Simeto River. The Arditi soldiers fired on their adversaries with personal weapons without using the weapons onboard due to poor visibility. Four AS42 were destroyed by mortar shells, but the 32 Arditi survivors fought along with a group of German paratroopers for another eight days. On August 13th, the surviving Camionette and their crews were moved to the Italian peninsula and taken to Santa Severa (their Headquarters) located near Rome to reorganize the Companies, replacing the fallen Arditi and destroyed vehicles.
On 8th September, the day of the armistice, the Companies were not involved in the action, but the various groups chose their fate independently. The 1st Battalion joined the Allies and was renamed as the 9° Reparto d’Assalto. The 2nd Battalion joined the new Salò Republic founded by Benito Mussolini in northern Italy on 23rd September without vehicles, ending in the Division “San Marco”, fighting the rest of the war without vehicles as assault infantry.
After intense fighting against German troops in Rome between 8th and 10th September, the vehicles that were captured by the Italian Fascists and Germans went to equip an entire Company of Arditi that decided to join the Germans. This would be the “Gruppo Italiano Arditi Camionettisti” (Eng. Italian Arditi Camionette Driver Group) that served in the 2. Fallschirmjäger Division “Ramcke”. This unit fought on the Eastern Front from October 1943 until the summer of 1944 against the Red Army. The Camionette, meant for the Saharan desert, ended up fighting in the Russian frozen steppes, where temperatures reached -25° C. Of the other Battalions of the 10th Arditi, not much is known. They probably broke-up and each soldier or small group decided for themselves what they would do. Some joined the partisan resistance, others joined the Republic of Salò, others went to the co-belligerent Italian Army and others fled home to their families.
The company that fought with the “Ramcke” Division then retreated to Romania and finally to Germany in the spring of 1944. In June 1944, the Arditi were sent to Normandy to fight the Allies that had just disembarked. There, a group was captured by the Americans during the battle and the surrender of Brest, while other Arditi with their surviving AS42 fought in Belgium and Holland. They faced British soldiers in Arnhem during Operation Market Garden. After all these events, in the autumn of 1944, the survivors returned with their last AS42s to Italy and fought for the Salò Republic in the Republican National Army (Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano – ENR).
The Italian Police in Africa (Polizia dell’Africa Italiana – PAI), an Italian police corp used for the security of the Italian colonies, received some AS42 that were used for patrolling and security tasks in the Italian cities in 1943, after the loss of all the Italian colonies. After the fall of the Royal Italian Army, the PAI was equipped with 15 AS42 of different versions coming from the Battaglione D’assalto Motorizzato of the Royal Italian Army. The PAI was then tasked with public safety duties. On 23 March 1943, some of these AS42 trucks, with elements of the “Barbarigo” Battalion of the XªFlottilla MAS, were involved in patrols after the partisan attack on Via Rasella in the center of Rome. On June 4, 1944, during the defense of Rome, one of the PAI’s Camionette, armed with Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935, accidentally came across an M4 Sherman on the Via Nazionale and was hit by a 75 mm shell that pierced the front on the Camionetta, destroying the front and the spare wheel of this vehicle.
After the Allied capture of the Italian capital, the PAI handed over all its equipment to the State Police. Among the vehicles surrendered were 12 Camionette of the Metropolitana and Sahariana versions (with “Artiglio” and “Libia” tires).
Another Italian corps that used the AS42 was the Battaglione “Barbarigo” of the Xª Flottiglia MAS, which had about twenty AS42 “Metropolitane” and AS43 taken directly from the factories. They were used in the Nettuno area against the American and Canadian forces which tried to break through the Italian lines, inflicting heavy losses.
A pair of AS42 type “Metropolitane” were built in Turin factories starting on April 25 1945 in order to defend the factories and their assembly lines from German sabotage. These Camionette can be distinguished from the others by some steel plates on the sides and on the back of the fighting compartment, about one meter in height, behind which the partisans used their weapons while being protected from enemy fire. One of these vehicles participated in the partisan parade on May 6 1945 along with another “Metropolitana” without any of these changes that was used as a command vehicle and then disarmed.
Seven AS42s that survived the war, were used by Italian Police departments and repainted in amaranth red (Italian post-war police color). They were employed, after several modifications, including the removal of the anti-tank guns, the pioneer tools and jerry cans, by different departments of the Italian State Police in Udine and Bologna until 1954. Some were put into service in the XI Reparto Mobile (Moving Department) in Emilia Romagna until 1954. These cars were supported by: AB41, AB43 and Lancia Lince armored cars. An unknown number of AS42s were produced for the police after the war and were delivered in January 1946.
All the Camionette used in the North African campaign were painted in the traditional sand yellow or Saharan khaki colors. Those produced for use in the European theater and those of the PAI were painted with reddish-brown and dark green spots on the Saharan khaki. Those of the “Ramcke” division had the continental camouflage but, in winter and in Russia, these Camionette were covered with white lime applied with brushes to cover the continental camouflage. Later, in the summer, this was scraped away to return them to the original three-tone colors.
Variant – The Fiat SPA AS42 “Metropolitana”
A second model, called ‘Sahariana II’ or ‘Tipo II’, more commonly, ‘Metropolitana’, entered service in Italy in 1943. It differed from the first model by the absence of the two upper rows of petrol tanks, replaced by two large boxes that held ammunition. With the remaining 14 jerry cans (4 for water and 10 for fuel), the maximum range went down to about 1,300 km. These jerry cans were almost never carried because such long ranges were not needed on the continent and the danger posed by transporting so much fuel during urban fighting.
The two perforated plates for unditching the vehicle were also removed, as they were now useless. However, the four pins that fixed them in place were retained. Two large boxes for tools were added on the upper part of the two rear mudguards. Furthermore, this version was equipped with new 11.5×24″ Pirelli “Artiglio”, “Sigillo Verde” and “Raiflex” type tires adapted to the continental terrain and temperate climate. The “Metropolitane” version seems to have not been armed with Solothurn S18/1000 anti-tank rifles. These Camionette were only armed with the 47 mm anti-tank guns and Breda 20 mm rapid-fire cannons.
The AS42 ‘Sahariana’ was designed for the transport of men and material during desert incursions. Its low profile allowed it to hide behind the dunes and ambush the enemy and its great range allowed units to chase the opposing troops for long distances. Unfortunately, it was introduced into service in the African Campaign too late and in too small numbers. It was a successful vehicle and saw significant use in both the Sahariana and Metropolitana versions. It fought in Africa, Italy, France and on the Eastern Front with good results and was used by the Italian Police after the war.
AS42 “Sahariana” armed with the 20/65 Breda Mod. 1935
AS42 “Metropolitana” armed with the 20/65 Breda Mod. 1935 and a Bred Mod. 1937 machine gun with the usual italian continental camouflage
5.62 x 2.26 x 1.80 m (18.43 x 7.41 x 5.90 ft)
Total weight, battle ready
6.5 tons (14330 lbs)
from 4 to 6 (depending on the main armament)
FIAT-SPA ABM 2, 6 cyl, 88 hp with 145 l fuel tank and 400 l in the 20 l Jerry cans (or 200l in the “Metropolitana” version)
on road 84 km/h (52 mp/h), off road 50km/h (30 mp/h)
535 km (332 miles) (2000 km with 20 Jerry cans and 1300 km with 10 Jerry cans)
Breda 20/65 Mod.1935 autocannon, 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon or Solothurn S18/1000 20 mm anti-tank rifle
From one to three Breda 37 or 38 8×59 mm machine-guns
17 mm front and sides (0.66 in), 5 mm engine compartment and floor (0.19 in). The windshield glass was 12 mm thick (0.47 in)
The M-50 Sherman was an Israeli upgrade of the United States’ famous Medium Tank M4 Sherman. It was developed in the mid-50s to keep the venerable World War 2 era tank effective and able to face other contemporary vehicles of the Arab armies of neighboring states even fifteen years after its development.
History of the Project
After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) needed to arm itself with modern vehicles and weapons. The new nation had to defend itself against the Arab armies of neighboring states which were rearming or arming themselves by purchasing modern equipment from the Soviet Union.
Immediately, many Israeli delegations set off around the world in search of military equipment and vehicles. In the early 50s, the Israeli Army had a heterogeneous M4 Sherman fleet consisting of practically every version, but the IDF High Command immediately realized that the versions armed with 75 mm were no longer able to face more modern vehicles, even the similarly venerable T-34/85.
At the beginning of 1953, an Israeli delegation was sent to France to evaluate the new AMX-13-75 light tank. This vehicle was judged favorably in terms of armament and mobility, but not in protection.
In 1953, Finland designed for Israel a version of the Sherman armed with a 75 mm cannon of Finnish production, but the project was not accepted by Israeli engineers.
After careful reflection, the IDF purchased some AMX-13-75s but realized that the 75 mm cannon would have been more effective on a medium tank hull. Not being able to find adequate armored vehicles able to replace the AMX hull on the international market, the IDF decided to improve the Sherman’s performance with this powerful cannon. Israel asked France for help in developing a prototype.
History of the Prototype
At the start of 1954, a team of Israeli technicians was sent to France and along with other French engineers took two different vehicles, an M10 tank destroyer and an M4A2 Sherman, modifying the two turrets to accommodate the AMX-13-75’s cannon, which had a bigger breech and a longer recoil. Both vehicles were called M-50, however, the development of the M-50 on the M10 GMC chassis was abandoned. Some M10 GMCs arrived in Israel without the main gun and were then converted with 17-pdr or CN-75-50 cannons and used for crew training until 1966.
The design of the new Sherman continued and in 1955, the first prototype was completed with a modified gun breech, no autoloader and the MX13 telescope of the AMX-13 stretched by 40 cm to adapt it to the new turret.
In summer 1955, the first tests of the new vehicle, called the M-50, began. Firing trials took place at the Bourges tank range in France and were unsuccessful. The vehicle had balance problems and there were still problems due to the recoil of the cannon.
Only after significant work was invested in improving the gun breech and the recoil system and a new counterweight was welded to the back of the turret, in late 1955, the vehicle was accepted by the Israeli Army.
The turret was sent by ship to Israel, where it was mounted on a M4A4 Sherman hull. It was tested in the Negev Desert and received positive judgment from the Israeli High Command. Assembly lines were prepared to modify the standard Israeli Shermans (75) to the new M-50 Sherman. The first 25 M-50 Shermans were built clandestinely in France and then sent to Israel in mid-1956. They were assigned to one armored company in time to see service in the 1956 Suez Crisis.
The M-50 Sherman was a medium tank, based on any available Sherman hulls in IDF inventory. After the Suez Crisis, the first Israeli M4 Shermans began to be modified locally. The same workshops where the Sherman tanks acquired from all parts of the world had been refurbished a few years earlier were used for the conversion.
In total, about 300 M-50 Shermans were converted for and by the Israeli Army. These tanks took part in the Suez Crisis in 1956, the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. During the last conflict, they proved to be inadequate in fighting against the more modern Soviet vehicles that the Arab countries had at their disposal, such as the IS-3M, the T-54/55 and the T-62. Between 1973 and 1976, almost all the M-50s were removed from service with the Israeli Army. Some vehicles were passed on to Chile and Lebanese militias.
The M-50 conversions used turrets with M34 and M34A1 mantlets. These had split or round commander’s cupola and a loader’s hatch. The turrets of the standard M4 Shermans (75) were modified with a new turret extension and mantlet, providing more space to accommodate the larger main armament. Starting from the first vehicles, a cast iron counterweight was welded on the back to balance the extra weight of the turret extension and of the new longer cannon.
Almost all vehicles had four 80 mm smoke launchers of French production mounted, two on each side of the turret. These were not present on the prototype. They replaced the 50 mm M3 smoke mortar mounted inside the turret. An M79 pedestal for a 12.7 mm Browning M2HB heavy machine gun was mounted on the few vehicles on which it was missing. A second ventilator was mounted on the turret counterweight and the radio system was improved, keeping the US-made SCR-538 radio, but adding a French-made radio positioned inside the turret counterweight, alongside a second antenna, not always mounted, on top.
Engine and suspension
The first vehicles built in France were based on M4, M4 Composite, a few M4A1 and M4A4T Sherman hulls. The M4A4T was a standard M4A4 Sherman re-engined by the French between 1945 and 1952 with a petrol Continental R-975 C4 engine with 420 hp. This engine was common in France after the war thanks to the supply of thousands of these engines by the US during the Second World War. In French nomenclature, it is known as the “Char M4A4T Moteur Continental”, where ‘T’ means ‘Transformé’ or ‘Transformed’.
Following the French example, all the Israeli Shermans were planned to be re-engined with the Continental engine and receive the needed changes to the engine deck. After the 1956 war, the Israeli workshops started to slowly convert their Shermans with the new engine and French cannon.
By 1959, only 50 vehicles were converted but there is no indication this number included the original batch of vehicles sent by France. During the same year, the Israeli understood that the Continental R-975 C4 used on all the converted Shermans was not the best engine for this heavier Sherman version. The engine was no longer able to offer the M-50 sufficient mobility and was breaking after long drives, and making continuous maintenance and repairs by the crew compulsory.
In late 1959, an Israeli M4A3 Sherman was tested with a new engine, the US Cummins VT-8-460 Turbodiesel engine delivering 460 hp. The mounting of the new engine did not require any changes to the engine compartment of the M4A3 and only the engine deck was lightly modified with new air intakes with sand filters and the radiator was also modified to increase engine cooling.
Accepted for production, the first batch of Cummins engines arrived in Israel only in early 1960 and the first vehicles with this conversion were the M-50s produced after 1960, first seen in a parade in early 1961. From mid-1960 to July 1962, all the M-50 built, more than a hundred, were powered by this more powerful engine.
The suspension was also changed. The old VVSS (Vertical Volute Spring Suspension) with 16-inch tracks did not offer acceptable top speed and comfort for the crew. For this reason, they were substituted by the more modern HVSS (Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension) with 23-inch wide tracks to ensure good mobility even on sandy soils. After the engine change, some M-50s still used the old VVSS suspension for a period, before receiving the new model. In 1967, during the Six Days War, all the M-50 Shermans had the new Cummins engine and HVSS suspensions.
The two different variants of the M-50 Sherman were named the Mark 1 or ‘Continental’ for the Continental-engined version, and the Mark 2 or ‘Cummins’ for the Cummins-engined version.
The Mk.1 version weighed 33.5 tons, could reach a lower maximum speed and had an autonomy of about 250 km due to the petrol engine. The improved Mk.2 version weighed 34 tons, could reach a top speed of 42 km/h and had a range of 300 km. The two standard 303-liter fuel tanks positioned on the sides of the engine compartment were left unchanged, but the exhaust system was modified.
Like in the case of the turrets, the hulls of the M-50 Sherman were of early or mid-type construction with ‘small’ hatches and ‘large’ hatches. The transmission cover was made of three pieces on the early type hull and from one cast piece for the mid and late types. The ‘Continental’ version received a few upgrades such as the replacement of the transmission with a better French one.
All Mk.II ‘Cummins’ vehicles had holder frames for cans of fuel and water, spare wheels and tracks, and two boxes for materials on the sides of the hull, a good feature given that lots of the combat would take place in the desert. A new cover for the horn on the left side of the frontal armor plate was installed, along with two supports for barbed wire, one between the crew hatches and the second on the transmission cover. On the rear armor plate a new telephone, connected to the intercom system of the crew, was installed in order to keep in contact with the infantry that fought alongside the tank.
A prototype variant of the M-50 Sherman was built at the Tel Ha-Shomer workshops in the early or mid-60s, called ‘Degem Yud’ Degem means ‘Model’ and ‘Yud’ (in Hebrew write י) is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The chassis of an M-50 Sherman Mk. 2 on the hull of an M4A3 ‘large hatch’ was lowered by 30 cm in order to reduce the height the tank. After the first tests, the project was abandoned and the prototype was probably scrapped.
The hull armor of the M-50 Sherman was left unchanged, but the thickness varied between the different versions of the M4 Sherman used as a basis.
On the ‘small hatch’ M4A1, M4A1 Composite, M4A2, and on the M4A4, the frontal armor was 51 mm thick angled at 56°. For the ‘large’ hatch variants of the M4A1 and M4A3 (the M4A4 was never built in the ‘large’ hatch variant), the thickness was increased to 63 mm but the slope was reduced to 47° to accommodate the new bigger hatches.
Some vehicles had the World War II upgrades with additional 25 mm applique armor plates welded on the sides of the hull, increasing the armor thickness in vulnerable spots and also on the frontal glacis two 25 mm hatch guards.
The turret, with a frontal armor thickness of 76 mm, received a new gun mantlet and turret extension with a thickness of 70 mm. On the back of the turret, the addition of a cast iron counterweight significantly increased the protection, although this was probably not made of ballistic steel. As on the hulls, some M4 Shermans had 25 mm applique armor added on the right side of the turret, covering part of the crew.
The cannon of the M-50 was the same as that of the AMX-13-75, the CN 75-50 (CaNon 75 mm model 1950), also known as the 75-SA 50 (75 mm Semi Automatic model 1950) L/61.5. It could reach a firing rate of 10 rounds per minute. This cannon had a muzzle velocity of 1,000 m/s with armor-piercing rounds. The Israelis did not want to install the AMX-13 autoloader on their Shermans, as they believed it to be unreliable and would otherwise have taken up too much space inside the turret.
Above the cannon, there was a large searchlight for night operations, but due to its size, this light was easily damaged by light weapons fire. Therefore it was often not mounted on vehicles.
The secondary armament remained unchanged. Two Browning M1919 7.62 mm machine guns were carried, one coaxial to the cannon and one in the hull, to the right of the driver. The anti-aircraft machine gun was the typical 12.7 mm Browning M2HB.
At an undefined time between the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, the hull machine gun and the machine gunner position were eliminated. In some cases, the spare M1919 machine gun was mounted on the turret, used by the tank commander or the loader in an anti-aircraft role.
The total ammunition carried consisted of 62 rounds, of which 50 were stowed in the hull in two 25-round racks, nine ready to use on the left side of the turret basket, and the last three on the floor of the turret basket.
The French cannon could fire a range of shells:
The Obus Explosif (OE – Explosive Shell) had a projectile weight of 6.2 kg and a total weight of almost 21 kg.
The Perforant Ogive Traceur Modèle 1951 (POT Mle. 51 – Armor-Piercing Capped Tracer), also called POT-51A, had a muzzle velocity of 1,000 m/s, a projectile weight of 6.4 kg and a total weight of 21 kg. It could penetrate 110 mm of RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armor) angled at 90° or 60 mm at 30° at a distance of 1,000 m.
The Perforant Coiffé Ogive Traceur Modèle 1951 (PCOT Mle. 51 – Armor-Piercing Capped Ballistic Cap Tracer), also called PCOT-51P, had a tungsten carbide cap which gave it a muzzle velocity of just over 1,000 m/s. It had the same weight as the APC shell, with a projectile weighing 6.4 kg and a total weight of 21 kg. It could pierce 170 mm of RHA at 90° and 90 mm at 30° at a distance of 1000 m.
Other shells that could be fired by this gun were High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS). However, it is not certain if they were ever used by the Israeli tanks.
The first ammunition stocks were sent from France by train to Italy, where they were shipped to Israel. By 1959, the ammunition was being produced by Israeli companies.
The secondary armament ammunition capacity was 4,750 rounds for the 7.62 mm machine guns and 600 for the 12.7 mm Browning.
There were also 8 reserve smoke bombs for the smoke launchers. The crew also had access to 5 M3A1 Grease Guns with 900 .45 ACP caliber rounds. These were subsequently replaced by locally produced IMI UZI.
Finally, two boxes with a total of 12 hand grenades of different models were carried. Usually, like in the US tanks, these consisted of six fragmentation grenades, two thermite grenades, and four smoke grenades. The smoke grenades and the two incendiary ones were transported in a box on the left wall of the turret, while the other grenades were transported in another box under the gunner’s seat. Over the years, the grenades used were of French or American production models or Soviet captured ones.
The crew of the M-50 consisted of 5 men, as in a standard Sherman. These were the driver and machine gunner in the hull, to the left and right of the transmission. The gunner was on the right of the turret, in front of the tank commander and the loader was operating on the left side.
Many photos show M-50 and M-51 Shermans without the 7.62 mm machine gun in the hull. At an unclear moment between the years after the Six Day War and before the Yom Kippur War, the IDF decided to remove this position in order to better allocate the limited numbers of soldiers at its disposal. 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 these reduced to 4 individual rations.
The first 25 M-50s arrived in Israel in mid-1956 and went to equip a company of the 27th Armored Brigade. This Brigade also had two companies equipped with M-1 Super Shermans, one Half-tracked company equipped with M3 Half-Tracks, a Motor Infantry Battalion and a light reconnaissance battalion with AMX-13-75 tanks.
The Suez Crisis
The first use of the M-50 Sherman was between 29 October and 7 November 1956 during the Suez Crisis. The 27th Armored Brigade was sent into the Sinai Desert to engage the Egyptian forces.
The Israeli attack took the Egyptian Army by surprise. The Egyptians were counting on the fortifications erected in the Sinai Desert to defend the roads that crossed the peninsula.
The Israeli Shermans and AMX light tanks fought with excellent results against the Egyptians, which had a huge variety of armor, consisting of T-34/85s, Self Propelled 17pdr Archers, Sherman Fireflies, Sherman M4A4s refitted with the GM Twin 6-71 375 hp diesel engine of the M4A2 and M4A4 FL-10s. This last version, produced by France for the Egyptian Army, had the AMX-13-75 turret, equaling the firepower of the M-50 while also keeping the autoloader.
The Israelis lost a few armored vehicles and captured many Egyptian depots and military bases. They took possession of about a dozen M4A4 FL-10s and many other M4A4 Shermans that were transferred to Israel, converted and put into service as standard M4A4 Shermans or M-50s.
Between 1956 and 1967, there were many border skirmishes between Israel and its Arab neighbors. During one of these, on 6th March 1964, Major General Israel “Talik” Tal, was aboard his M-50 Sherman along with a Centurion tank. They spotted eight Syrian tractors at about 2,000 m distance, and in 2 minutes, Tal claimed five of the eight tractors destroyed by his Sherman. The other three were knocked out by the Centurion. Some days later, another Sherman destroyed an Egyptian recoilless rifle at a distance of 1,500 m.
The Six Day War
The second and biggest use of the M-50 was between 5 and 10 June 1967, in the Six Day War. At that time, the Israeli armored force was mostly relying on M48A2C2, M48A3 Patton and Centurion Mk 5, a part of which were rearmed with the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 cannons, increasing anti-tank performance.
About a hundred of M-50 Shermans were sent into the desert to take part in the offensive in Sinai. Another hundred were sent to the north to take part in the offensive on the Golan Heights, while the rest remained in reserve.
In Jerusalem, very few M-50 Sherman fought because their offensive power was needed on other fronts of the war. The Israelis preferred to use the old M-1 Sherman armed with the US 76 mm cannons in the clashes against the Jordanians in the city.
At least three M-50 Shermans supported infantry assaults on Ammunition Hill and the final attack on Jerusalem’s Old City with no M-1 lost in combat and only one M-50 Sherman destroyed.
The Sinai Offensive
The Sinai offensive was launched at 8 am on 5 June 1967. The M-50 and the M-51 Sherman played a marginal role against the Egyptian tanks.
One of these engagements was during the Battle of Abu-Ageila, a stronghold that controlled the road to Ismailia. Consisting of three lines of trenches 5 km long and almost one km apart, they were defended by T-34/85 and T-54 tanks present in ‘hull down’ positions. Soviet 130 mm cannons were placed in Um Katef, a nearby hill, and the Egyptian reserves included an armored regiment consisting of 66 T-34/85s and a Battalion with 22 SD-100s or SU-100Ms. These were two versions of the SU-100 Soviet tank destroyer; the former was produced after the Second World War by Czechoslovakia, and the latter was a version modified by the Egyptians and Syrians to better adapt the SD and SU-100 to desert operations.
About 150 Israeli tanks were employed. The 14th Armored Brigade had over 60 M-50 and M-51 Shermans, the 63rd Armored Battalion had over 60 Centurion Mk. 5 tanks while the Divisional Mechanized Reconnaissance Battalion had an unknown, but limited, number of AMX-13s.
The Israeli attack was launched at night, under the cover of darkness. No. 124 Paratroopers Squadron attacked and destroyed the cannons on Um Katef hill as the 14th Armored Brigade Sherman tanks advanced hidden and covered by the dark and an artillery barrage that was hitting the Egyptian trenches.
The infantry, supported by M3 Half-tracks, cleaned up the trenches while the Shermans, after breaking through, supported the Centurions, which had outflanked the Egyptian positions, by intercepting the reserves that advanced for the counterattack.
During the battle fought between 4 am and 7 am, the Egyptians lost over 60 tanks and 2,000 soldiers, while the Israelis only lost 19 tanks (8 during the battle, while the other 11 were Centurions damaged in the minefields) with a total of 7 crewmen and 40 soldiers dying during the attack.
When Egyptian Field Marshal Mohamed Amer learned of the defeat of Abu Ageila, he ordered his soldiers to withdraw to Gidi and Mitla just 30 km from the Suez Canal.
The order to withdraw was received by almost all Egyptian units, which retreated in a disorganized manner to Suez, often abandoning fully functional weapons, cannons or tanks in their defensive positions.
In the afternoon of the 6th June, with the arrival of materials such as MIG fighters and tanks from Algeria, the withdrawal order was canceled, creating even more confusion in the troops that except in rare cases, continued the retreat to Suez.
Sensing the situation, the Israeli High Command ordered that access to the Suez Canal be blocked by trapping most of the Egyptian Army in Sinai.
Due to the rapid advance of those days, many Israeli tanks were left with little fuel and ammunition, for this reason, not all Israeli forces were able to move immediately towards the canal.
To give an idea of this problem, the road to Ismailia was blocked only by 12 Centurions of the 31st Armored Division which had at least 35 other Centurions with empty fuel tanks.
Another example is that of Lieutenant-Colonel Zeev Eitan, commander of the 19th Light Tank Battalion, equipped with AMX-13-75 light tanks. Since his vehicles had full tanks, he was given the task of stopping an enemy attack with his reconnaissance light tanks.
Eitan left with 15 AMX-13 and positioned himself in the dunes near Bir Girgafa, waiting for the enemy.
The Egyptians counterattacked with 50 or 60 T-54s and T-55s, forcing the AMX-13s to retreat after suffering many losses, without destroying a single Egyptian tank.
The 19th Light Tank Battalion, however, slowed down the Egyptians long enough for some M-50s and M-51s to fill up with fuel and intervene in the area. These, by hitting the heavier vehicles on their sides, managed to destroy many of them, forcing the others to retreat to Ismailia encountering the other 12 Centurions that totally destroyed them.
In Sinai, the Egyptian Army lost 700 tanks of which 100 were captured intact by the Israelis in addition to an unknown number that were repaired and put into service in the IDF in the following months.
The Israelis lost 122 tanks, of which about a third were recovered and repaired after the war.
The Jordan Offensive
The 10th Harel Mechanized Brigade under Col. Uri Ben Ari attacked the hills north of Jerusalem on the afternoon of June 5th, 1967. Made up of five tank companies (instead of the 3 standard ones), the 10th Brigade had 80 vehicles, 48 of which were M-50 Shermans, 16 were Panhard AML armored cars and 16 were Centurion Mk. 5s armed with old 20-pdr cannons.
Their attack was thwarted by the rough terrain and mines scattered everywhere on the narrow streets of that region. The accompanying engineers had no mine detectors and mines had to be found by probing the ground for hours with bayonets and sub-machine gun ramrods.
On that day, 7 Shermans and an M3 Half-track were damaged by mines and were left nonoperational for the rest of the offensive.
During the night, all 16 Centurions got stuck in rocks or damaged their tracks and could not be assisted or helped because of the Jordanian artillery fire.
Later that night, an assault by Israeli mechanized infantry destroyed the Jordanian artillery and, the next morning, repairs began.
Only six M-50 Shermans, some M3 Half-tracks and a few Panhard AML armored cars arrived the next morning at their destination but were immediately greeted by Jordanian fire. Two Jordanian Armored Companies arrived during the night, equipped with M48 Pattons, immediately putting a Sherman out of action.
The remaining Shermans, with the assistance of others which arrived shortly after, outflanked the M48 Pattons, which were placed in fixed positions, and hit them in their sides, where their additional fuel tanks were placed.
The additional fuel tanks the Pattons carried had not been dismounted as they should have, and became an easy target to hit. After a few minutes of fighting, six Jordanian M48 Pattons were on fire. The remaining tanks retreated to Jericho, abandoning another eleven M48s along the way because of mechanical failures.
The Ugda Brigade that fought further north was equipped with 48 M-50s and M-51s and had the task of defeating Jordanian positions in the Jordan town of Janin, defended by 44 M47 Patton tanks and the 40th Armored Brigade in reserve with M47 and M48 tanks.
After a very rapid advance throughout the day, during which Ugda forces also destroyed some artillery positions that were hitting Jerusalem and a crucial Israeli military airport, night fell and many Sherman were stuck in the small mountain roads.
Six or seven Sherman M-50s and M-51s climbed Burquim Hill. During the night of the 5th of June, among the olive groves, these found themselves face-to-face with an entire Jordanian Armored Company armed with M47 Pattons less than 50 meters away.
Under the cover darkness, the Israeli tanks attacked the Jordanian forces, destroying more than a dozen tanks for only one knocked out M-50 Sherman and no Israeli tank crew losses.
The fighting in the area was bloody for several more days. The Jordanians resisted vigorously, counter-attacking Israeli forces with all their available tanks. Although the 90 mm cannons of the M47 and M48 Patton were very effective against the Israeli Shermans, the crews operating them were not very well trained, especially in long-distance shooting.
The Israelis, in addition to superior training, were able to count on almost unlimited air support that turned out to be, both during day and night, very effective.
During the advance, an Israeli armored company had to face many M47s and M48s hidden in fixed positions. The Israelis decided to request air support, but the first wave of fighters did not find any targets because the Jordanian tanks were well camouflaged. A crew of an M-50 Sherman, rather recklessly, decided to launch at full speed towards enemy positions. The Pattons immediately opened fire without hitting them once. The Sherman got close enough to hit a Patton knocking it out, before turning around and returning to Israeli lines and rejoining its company. The smoke from the burning Patton, in addition to the accurate coordinates sent by an Israeli M3 Half-track observer vehicle, which had spotted all the Jordanian tanks, made it possible to precisely bomb all the Pattons from the air and destroy them.
In the end, in the last two days of the war, the commander of the Jordanian 40th Armored Brigade, Rakan Anad, staged a counterattack by hitting Israeli supply lines.
At first, the attack launched on two different roads was quite successful, managing to destroy some M3 Half-tracks that carried ammunition and fuel for the Israeli tanks. The Israelis, who expected the offensive, however, repelled the first attacks by the Jordanian Pattons.
A small force composed of AMX-13, twelve Centurions and some Shermans of the 37th Israeli Armored Brigade went up a very narrow road (considered unusable by the Jordanians) and attacked the rear of the enemy forces by surprise. Commander Anad, along with his forces, was forced to retreat without being able to attempt any more 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 on Syria were not immediately authorized by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, even though General Albert Mendler’s forces were sent to the border ready for battle.
After much pressure from the villagers living in the area, fed up with the periodic Syrian bombing, and senior army officers, after a whole night of reflection, at 6 am on 9 June 1967, Moshe Dayan authorized the attack on the Golan Heights.
From 6 to 11 am, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) bombarded Syrian positions relentlessly while the army engineers sapped the streets from below.
The advance of armored vehicles, mostly M-50s, M-51s and M3 Half-tracks, began at 11.30 am. Hundreds of vehicles lined the road behind a bulldozer.
At the top of the road, at a crossroads, the forces of Colonel Arye Biro, commander of the column, split up. Divided into two columns, they attacked the Qala’ stronghold, a hill with 360° defenses with bunkers and WW2 anti-tank guns of Soviet origin.
Six kilometers north, the Za’oura stronghold, another defensive hill, supported Qala’ with its artillery fire by obstructing Israeli vehicles and not allowing Biro’s officers to see the battlefield.
The situation confused several officers who advanced towards Za’oura convinced they were attacking Qala’.
The battle lasted over 3 hours and the information available is very confusing, as many officers died or were injured during the battle and were evacuated.
Lieutenant Horowitz, the officer who commanded the assault on Qala’, continued to command while injured and with the radio system of his Sherman destroyed by a Syrian shell.
During the approach, he lost many of the Shermans under his command. About twenty of them remained functional at the base of the hill.
The climb to the top was hampered by ‘dragon teeth’ (concrete anti-tank obstacles) and heavy artillery fire.
In an interview after the war, Lieutenant Horowitz said that one of his M-50 Shermans, commanded by a certain Ilan, was hit by a Syrian anti-tank cannon and set in flames during the climb.
Ilan and his crew jumped out of the tank, put out the flames, and after ordering his crew to find cover, Ilan climbed up on the burning Sherman, turned the turret, hit the anti-tank gun that had knocked out his tank, and then jumped out of the tank and sought cover.
Of the approximately twenty functional Shermans, most were hit by anti-tank guns, but the sturdy hull of the vehicle made it possible to recover and repair many after the battle.
At 4 pm, the stronghold of Za’oura was occupied, while Qala’ was occupied only 2 hours later. Only three Shermans arrived at the top of the hill, including that of Horowitz, who easily overcame the barbed wire and the trenches, forcing the Syrian soldiers to escape after throwing hand grenades from the turrets of their tanks into the trenches.
An hour after Arye Biro’s attack, the Israeli 1st Golani Infantry Brigade climbed the same road and attacked the positions of Tel Azzaziat and Tel Fakhr that were hitting the Israeli villages.
Tel Azzaziat was an isolated mound 140 m above the border, where four Syrian Panzer IV tanks in fixed positions constantly hit the Israeli plain below.
The Tank Company of the 8th Armored Brigade, equipped with Sherman M-50s, and the Mechanized Infantry Company of the 51st Battalion, equipped with M3 Half-tracks, attacked the positions and quickly managed to silence the cannons of the Syrian Panzers, but this was not the case in Tel Fakhr.
Located 5 km from the border, the two companies that attacked it with 9 M-50 Shermans and 19 M3 Half-tracks, made a wrong turn while under intense artillery fire. Instead of going around the enemy position, they ended up with all the vehicles in the center of the fortifications, under heavy anti-tank fire and in the midst of minefields which soon destroyed or knocked out all the vehicles. This forced the Israelis to attack the fortification with only infantry.
At the end of the battle for the Golan Heights, the Israelis occupied all their targets 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 were much higher than the 122 tanks lost in the Sinai Offensive and the 112 in the Jordan Offensive.
On the Golan Heights, the M-50s had no difficulty dealing with the Syrian T-34/85s and against the last Panzer IVs in use. However, their limitations were seen against the Jordanian M47 and M48 Pattons and the Syrian and Egyptian T-54s and T-55s. It was shown that the CN 75-50 cannon was no longer able to deal with the most modern tanks.
After the war, the M-50 Shermans began to be taken out of active service, as it seemed that they would no longer be effective. Some may have been converted into 155 mm Self-Propelled Guns (SPGs).
The Yom Kippur War
On October 6th, 1973, at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, the Israelis were caught unprepared by the Arab attack. They deployed all the available reserves, including 341 M-51s and M-50 Sherman Mk.2s still available. The M-50 Mk.1s had all been brought to Mk.2 standard or removed from the reserve and scrapped by January 1st, 1972.
The Golan Heights Sector
At the outbreak of the war, on the Golan Heights front, the Israelis could count on two Armored Brigades with a total of 177 Sho’t Kal tanks with 105 mm L7 cannons, against three Syrian Armored Divisions with a total of over 900 Soviet-made tanks, mostly T-54s and T-55s with a few T-34/85s, SU-100s and more modern T-62s.
On October 6th, a few hours after the beginning of the war, the 71st Battalion, composed of students and instructors of the IDF Armor School, a force of about 20 tanks including some M-50s, was sent to the front line.
On October 7th, the Syrians attacked the position held by the 77th OZ and 71st Battalion, trying to bypass the Israeli defenses. After several hours, in the afternoon, the Syrians were forced to give up their attack by withdrawing and leaving over 20 destroyed tanks on the battlefield.
Around 10 pm, the Syrian 7th Infantry Division and the 3rd Armored Division, which had night vision equipment, and also the 81st Armored Brigade equipped with the powerful T-62, attacked again.
The Israelis, deploying a total of 40 tanks, were able to withstand two different waves of the 500 tanks of the Syrian Army.
During the second attack, at 4 am, the Syrian commander, General Omar Abrash, was killed when his command tank was hit by an Israeli shell.
The loss of the general slowed down the offensive in that sector, which resumed only on October 9th. The Syrian tanks attacked the now exhausted Israeli soldiers of the 71st and 77th Battalions of the 7th Armor Brigade. After several hours of combat, the Israeli Commander, Ben Gal, had only 7 tanks left that had managed to fire hundreds of shells thanks to the crews that, hidden among the rocks, were going out to retrieve ammunition from the damaged or destroyed Israeli tanks.
Lieutenant Colonel Yossi Ben Hannan, who at the outbreak of the war was in Greece, arrived in Israel and rushed to the rear of the Golan Heights front where, in a workshop, he found 13 tanks that had been damaged during the fighting of the previous days (among them at least a couple of Shermans). He quickly grouped together as many crews as he could (often wounded soldiers, volunteers and even some who escaped from hospitals to fight), took command of this heterogeneous company and moved in support of the 7th Armor Brigade.
When they reached the 7 surviving tanks, a counterattack began and hit the left flank of the Syrian Army, destroying another 30 Syrian tanks.
The Syrian commander, believing that Ben Hannan’s 20 tanks were the first of the Israeli fresh reserves, gave the order to retreat from the battlefield.
After 50 hours of battle and almost 80 hours without sleep, the survivors of the 71st and 77th Battalions, who had destroyed 260 tanks and about 500 other vehicles, were finally able to rest.
The real Israeli reserves were already on their way and did not take long to arrive. Of the hundreds of tanks that the Israeli Defence Force had, some were M-50 Shermans, which were still effective at short ranges or from the sides against most of the Syrian and Jordanian tanks that they would face in the following days.
The Sinai Sector
In the Sinai Desert, the Egyptians, after crossing to 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 Israeli tanks, which numbered only about 290 along the whole front, of which only a few dozen were M-50 and M-51 Shermans.
The Israeli tanks made a valuable contribution during 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 decimated the Israeli tanks.
Information about the use of the Shermans in the Sinai Campaign is scarce. About 220 M-50 and M-51 Shermans were employed in the battles against the Egyptians, with unsatisfactory results. The M-50s had a marginal role, as they could only effectively deal with the odd T-34/85 still used in some Egyptian armored brigades and PT-76 amphibious tanks which attempted an amphibian assault on Lake Amari. The M-50 could only damage the T-54 and T-55 on the sides, where the armor was thinner and straight. Also in this campaign, they proved to be ineffective against the T-62s and IS-3Ms and too vulnerable to infantry anti-tank weapons, such as AT-3s and RPG-7s.
A small batch of M-50 Sherman Mark 1s which had not been converted to HVSS suspensions were employed in fixed positions in the fortification lines built after 1967 by the IDF in the West Bank area. They were meant to defend the ‘Kibbutzim’, or settlements, founded by Israel after 1948.
The tanks went to reinforce the militia bunkers already in the area and armed with obsolete or second-line weapons, such as T-34/85 or M48 Patton MG cupolas.
In some cases, the suspensions were left and used to drag the tank to its position while the engines were removed, as was all the interior except for the turret basket. The radio system was also removed. The ammunition racks were left and the amount of ammunition stored was increased. For some vehicles, an entrance was created in the rear of the vehicle. For others, the entrance was created in the front by removing the transmission cover and part of the floor.
After these modifications, the vehicles were put into holes in the ground and covered with earth and rocks. Only the turrets and in some cases a few inches of the hull were visible. They were accessible through trenches dug in their vicinity, which connected them to the rest of the fortifications.
The hatches were not sealed so that they could be used as emergency exits in case of danger. Some of these rusty hulls are visible in some places in Israel even to the present day. The most famous is that of the Kibbutz Hanita, on the border with Lebanon, near the Mediterranean Sea. Another is located in the city of Metula, also on the border with Lebanon, which has been painted in bright colors by some local artists and is still visible in its original position. Many others have been removed from their positions and scrapped.
Withdrawal from Service in the Israeli Army
Between 1974 and 1976, the remaining M-50 Shermans were fully removed from active service in Israel. The surviving M-50s had different destinations. In 1975, a total of 75 were supplied to various Lebanese Christian militias during the Lebanese Civil War which began in 1975. 35 were supplied to the South Lebanon Army (SLA), 19 were provided to the Kataeb Regulatory Forces, 40 to the Lebanese Forces, one to the Guardians of the Cedars and 20 to the Tiger Militia.
The M-50 Shermans supplied to the Lebanese Christian Militias fought fiercely against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)
Many M-50s supplied to the Lebanese Militias were old and in bad condition and the inexperience of their Lebanese crews meant that they soon ran out of spare parts and were mostly used in fixed positions by digging the hull into the ground.
Before 1982, the PLO took possession of several vehicles that were dismantled. The PLO nevertheless managed to put two of them back into service and used them to fight in Beirut, until the Palestinians also ran out of spare parts. During the Israeli invasion in 1982, one of the two M-50s was destroyed by the Israelis near the Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium while the other was found sometime later by French troops (employed in the NATO mission in Lebanon) hidden inside the ruins of the same stadium.
At least three of the seventy-five M-50 Sherman supplied to Lebanese militias, two based on the M4A3 Sherman and one on a M4A1, which had been probably damaged, had their turrets removed and had angled armor plates added on every side of the turret ring along with three machine gun mounts. The armament, according to photographic evidence, consisted of a Browning M2HB and two Browning M1919 machine guns on the sides. It is not known to which Christian militia these belonged to and it is not even known how they were employed. The most accepted hypothesis claims that they would have been employed as command tanks or Armored Personnel Carriers (APC).
When the South Lebanon Army disbanded in 2000, the M-50 Shermans which had survived (the SLA still had spare parts) were returned to Israel to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.
However, it is not known how many returned to Israel or the operational deployment of the other 40 Shermans sent to Lebanon.
The remaining vehicles not sent to Lebanon or Chile remained in the Israeli reserve until the mid-1980s and then nine were sold to museums, three to private collectors, four turned into monuments, while the others were scrapped.
A document of the Ejército de Tierra (Spanish Army) dating from November 1982, proposed to the country’s High Command the modernization of some of the vehicles in service and examined some modernizations being carried out in other nations. Among the many proposals to upgrade Leopard 1s and M48 Pattons, an interesting proposal of the Israeli NIMDA company is mentioned. The Israeli company was planning to upgrade the M-50 and perhaps also the M-51 Sherman with the installation of a new power pack consisting of the Detroit Diesel V8 Model 71T engine connected to a transmission system with mechanical clutch or to an Allison TC-570 torque converter with a modified gearbox. After conversion, the tank would have a top speed of 40 km/h and a range increase of 320 km. The new drive system would also include dust filters and an improved cooling system that could be housed in the existing engine compartment without any structural changes.
In addition, the company proposed the adaptation of the old CN-75-50 75 mm cannon, reboring it from 75 mm to 90 mm caliber, making it similar to the French-made CN-90-F3 90 mm L/53 cannon, the same one mounted on the AMX-13-90. The gun could fire rounds at a muzzle velocity of 900 m/s and could fire the same rounds as the GIAT D921 cannon of the Panhard AML armored car: HE and HEAT-SF. It could also fire an APFSDS round designed for another French 90 mm cannon.
This project was most likely proposed to Chile in 1983, but they opted for the IMI 60 mm Hyper-Velocity Medium Support 60 (HVMS 60) cannon, which was more effective in anti-tank combat.
In the early ’80s, Chile asked the Israeli Military Industry (IMI) for an upgrade package for the M-50 Sherman.
A prototype armed with the new HVMS 60 was built on an M-50 hull and, after positive evaluations during training in 1983, it was presented to the Chilean High Command, which accepted to upgrade their sixty-five M-50 Shermans. From early 1983, this vehicle was used by Chile, which only replaced them in 2006.
Camouflage and Markings
At the birth of the first armored corps in 1948, the IDF used the Olive Drab paint on its first Shermans, left by the British in military warehouses or purchased together with the first vehicles in Europe. Until the first half of the ’50s, Olive Drab was sometimes used in more brownish shades on all Israeli Shermans, including the very first M-50 Mk. 1s.
Already in the early ’50s, however, the “Sinai Gray” was tested on some M-3 Shermans, accepted in service shortly before the Suez Crisis. At least until 1959, the M-50s coming out of the conversion workshops were painted in Olive Drab.
By the early ’60s, all the M-50s were painted in the new Sinai Gray which, however, as can be seen in many color photos of the time, had many shades, painted even to the discernment of local commanders. The Armored Brigades stationed in the Golan Heights and on the borders with Jordan, Syria and Lebanon had a darker or brownish color, while the vehicles used in the south, on the border with Egypt, had a more yellowish shade for use in the Sinai. Obviously, over the years, these vehicles were mixed in with the various Israeli armored units or were repainted with other shades.
The Israeli marking system entered service after 1960 and it is still used today by the IDF, even if the meanings of some symbols are still unknown or unclear.
The white stripes on the cannon barrel identify which battalion the tank belongs to. If the tank belongs to the 1st Battalion, it only has one stripe on the barrel, if it is the 2nd Battalion, it has two stripes, and so on.
The company the tank belongs to is 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-50 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 backward it belonged to the 4th Company.
The company identification markings have different sizes according to the space a tank has 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 are written on the turrets and are divided in two: a number from 1 to 4 and one of the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet: א (Aleph), ב (bet), ג (gimel) and ד (dalet ). The Arabic number, from 1 to 4, 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 number without the letter, or in rare cases, the platoon commander has א, i.e. the first tank of the platoon.
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-50s 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 white inside a blue circle surrounded by another red ring.
All seventy-five vehicles that were given to Lebanese militias were repainted in white before delivery.
A small number of the 35 Shermans delivered to the South Lebanese Army (SLA) were repainted with a blue-gray camouflage with black stripes. Some received a light blue camouflage, while others kept the white color with which they arrived from Israel in 1975. The M-50 Shermans of the SLA had the symbol of the South Lebanon Army, a hand holding a sword from which cedar tree branches (the symbol of Lebanon) came out in a blue circle, painted on the frontal glacis.
The M-50 Mk. 2s delivered to Chile in 1983 had another type of camouflage. The 85 M-51s Chile first received in 1979 arrived with Sinai Gray camouflage. The Ejército de Chile (Chilean Army) greatly appreciated the camouflage because, in the Atacama Desert, where Chilean crews were training, it was very useful. After a short time, however, they decided to switch to other paints because the dust and salt were affecting the Israeli paint (the Atacama Desert is the driest on earth because of the very high salt content). No single camouflage scheme was decided for the whole army, and it was the local commanders who chose the scheme and bought the paints.
The M-50s which arrived in Chile in 1983 were also in the classic Sinai Gray camouflage but were repainted immediately after being assigned to their units. Many of the camouflage patterns remain a mystery, but a lot of information is available about the ones used by the Grupo Blindado Nº 9 “Vencedores” of the Brigada Acorazada Nº 1 “Coraceros” used in the north of Chile. This unit repainted some of its M-50s in a light sand yellow color and others in green-grey, similar to the Olive Drab. In the end, in 1991, all the Shermans of the Armored Group were re-painted in light sand yellow because the grey-green was covered by desert sand.
Myths to dispel
The Israeli Army had practically every version of the Sherman in service. The common practice was to call them based on the name of their main armament: M-3 Sherman designated vehicles armed with the 75 mm M3 cannon; M-4 Shermans were the vehicles armed with the 105 mm M4 cannon; and M-1 Shermans for those armed with 76 mm M1, M1A1 and M1A2 cannons.
Consequently, the Shermans modified with the French CN 75-50 cannon took the name of M-50 Sherman.
The nickname “Super” was actually used only for Sherman versions armed with 76 mm cannons. These, which also had a dozer blade, remained in very limited use through the Yom Kippur War, before being removed from service entirely. These vehicles were the only ones to receive this nickname from the IDF. These vehicles were supplied in the 1950s by the French.
The ISherman (aka Israeli Sherman) nickname is also often encountered, but it was never used by the Israeli Army to indicate any vehicle on the Sherman chassis. It probably originated from model kit producers or ill informed writers/journalists.
Chilean vehicles armed with the 60 mm cannon were never called, neither by the Chilean Army nor by the Israeli Army, M-60 Shermans. The only known name for this variant is M-50 Sherman with HVMS 60.
The M-50 Sherman appeared as a vehicle of necessity for the Israeli Army. It was meant to make the standard M4 Shermans armed with the obsolete Second World War 75 mm M3 cannon effective enough to still be viable on the battlefield by upgunning them with more modern cannons and changing the engines.
In this period, the Arab armies were heavily rearming after the 1948 defeat and the IDF needed to have tanks capable of dealing with these more modern threats.
The M-50 Shermans proved themselves when fighting against similar vehicles of WW2 vintage, taking part in some of the crucial events that led to the continued existence of the Israeli nation. While they managed to also deal with later vehicles, such as the T-54 in some situations, by the late 60s and 1973, the M-50 was clearly obsolete.
M-50 Mk.2 Sherman specification
6.15 x 2.42 x 2.24 m
(20’1″ x 7’9″ x 7’3″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready
5 (driver, machine gunner, commander, gunner and loader)
Cummins VT-8-460 460 hp diesel with 606 liters tank
Range (road)/Fuel consumption
Armament (see notes)
CN 75-50 L.61,5 with 62 rounds
2 x Browning M1919 7.62 mm with 4750 rounds
Browning M2HB 12.7 mm with 600 rounds
63 mm frontal hull, 38 mm sides and rear, 19 mm top and bottom
70 mm mantlet, 76 mm front, sides and rear of the turret
50 of the Mk. 1 version and 250 of the Mk. 2 version
Italy (Starting in 2019)
Wheeled Tank Destroyer – 1 Prototype Currently
The Centauro II MGS 120/105 is a wheeled tank destroyer built by the Consortium IVECO OTO-Melara (CIO). It will be delivered to the Italian Army, or Esercito Italiano (EI), with the name “B2 Centauro”. It is the evolution of the B1 Centauro, which was the first purposely built tank hunter 8×8 armored car in the world, armed with a 105 mm NATO ammunition-compliant cannon.
The Centauro II wheeled tank destroyer represents the natural evolution of the B1 Centauro. The B1 Centauro was designed to fulfill the needs of the Italian Army during the late Cold War years. Its main aim was that of providing greater mobility to the Italian armed forces deployed in the defense of the national territory, for hunting down Warsaw Pact tanks that would break through the NATO defense lines in a hypothetical conflict, penetrating an enemy rearguard, for anti-parachute patrols and amphibious landings off the Adriatic coast. For these requirements, the Italian Army needed different characteristics from those of the tanks used by Italy in that period, such as the M47, M60A3 Patton and Leopard 1A2. Mobility, heavy armament, and a low weight were to be the strengths of this new vehicle. The CIO, against all expectations, devised a wheeled vehicle rather than a light tank, which it presented to the Italian Army in 1986. Soon after, it entered into service in the Italian Army. Even at the time of writing (2020), the Centauro is employed by the Italian cavalry regiments, although in reduced numbers, and in the armed forces of Spain (called VRCC-105), Oman and Jordan.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the B1 no longer served the purpose for which it had originally been designed. The Centauro has since taken part in peacekeeping operations and humanitarian operations with NATO and the European Union, taking the vehicle from the severe Balkan winters to the hot climate of Somalia and the Sultanate of Oman.
The design of a prototype for an upgrade of the B1 Centauro began in 2000, with the new HITFACT-1 turret and OTO-Melara 120/44 cannon, the same as on the C1 ARIETE. It was presented at IDEX 2003 and at EUROSATORY in 2005, but was not very successful, with only 9 vehicles bought.
In December 2011, CIO signed a contract with the Italian Army and began the development of a vehicle that would replace the B1 Centauro, also wheeled but with a completely modified structure, more anti-IED (Improvised Explosive Device) or mine protection and a 120 mm cannon to optimize the Army’s ammunition logistics line. After four years of very careful planning aimed at providing excellent protection for the crew, in 2015, the B ll Centauro was born.
The prototype was tested intensively. It was subjected to 20 anti-mine or anti-IED tests which determined its excellent resistance to explosions. The turret and the hull were also extensively tested, with excellent results, against infantry weapons and light cannons.
With a weight of 30 tons when battle-ready, the B2 Centauro does not weigh much more than the armor upgraded B1 Centauro, which comes in at 27 tons (in contrast to the 24 tons of the original B1). The B2 Centauro has been designed for the modern doctrine of Network-Centric Warfare, to serve in OOTW (Operations Other Than War) missions and for urban warfare, where a wheeled platform is far more functional than others in terms of mobility and firepower. It was designed as an improved substitute for the B1, but many lessons were also taken from the experience gained with the Freccia VBM (Veicolo Blindato Medio – Medium armored vehicle) an Italian wheeled IFV variant of the B1 Centauro, with which it shares some electronic systems. In the future, the new versions of the Freccia E1/2 will incorporate experience gained from the design of the Centauro II.
The Centauro II is the result of a close collaboration between Industry and Defense. It is a new generation armored vehicle, able to operate in every possible scenario, including traditional missions in defense of national security, humanitarian interventions to help populations following natural disasters, infantry support operations and peacekeeping missions, in short, any operation in which the armed forces that employ these vehicles are called to intervene.
The hull is divided into three parts: the front part with the engine compartment, one fuel tank and the gearbox; the crew compartment in the middle with the turret on top; and the compartment for ammunition and main fuel tanks at the rear, separated from the rest of the hull by a bulkhead with a door. This system offers greater safety for the crew, as the three compartments are separated and sealed from each other.
At the front of the vehicle, there is a sturdy trapezoidal travel lock, two headlights, the driver’s hatch equipped with periscope, one camera with IR visors, rearview mirrors and a cable-cutter.
The crew has three hatches: two on the turret, one for the tank commander and the other for the gunner, and one on the left side of the hull for the driver. Additionally, in an emergency, all crew members can evacuate the vehicle through an armored door located at the back of the hull.
Its structure and its technological systems are able to operate even at external temperatures from -30° C to +55° C thanks to the air conditioning system integrated into the modern air filtering system.
The turret has a hatch for the commander with eight periscopes, of which two can rotate, and another hatch for the loader with five periscopes. The glass on the periscopes is made of special anti-splintering material. At the back of the turret is the ammunition compartment and outside, there is a rack where ammunition for the secondary weapon or the crew’s equipment can be placed.
The upgrades CIO installed on the Centauro II begin with the new HITFACT-2 (Highly Integrated Technology Firing Against Combat Tank) turret built by Leonardo Finmeccanica. It weighs 8,780 kg (in contrast to the 7,800 kg of the B1), is equipped with the latest generation of optoelectronics for the commander and the gunner, including the two-axis stabilized panoramic binocular periscope model ATTILA-D (Digital) independent from the turret rotation, allowing the commander to control the battlefield without having to rotate the turret. It is also equipped with an ERICA Full Format infrared camera able to spot targets at 10 km during day or night in all weather conditions.
It also mounts for the gunner the LOTHAR-SD (Land Optronic THermal Aiming Resource) aiming sight with TILDE B IR camera already in use on the VBM Freccia. However, on the Centauro II, this is the updated digital version and can, therefore, share images with other vehicles or command centers. In the event of system failure, the gunner has an optical sight with 10x magnification.
Another noteworthy upgrade is the independent stabilization on three axes of the gun. This means that, even if the vehicle is moving on rough terrain, the gunner will have on his screen a clear and steady image of the target and can then shoot with good precision.
For external communication, a series of communication systems with HF-VHF-UHF-UHF LB-SAT and the SIstema di Comando, COntrollo, e NAvigazione or SICCONA (Eng. Command, Control and Navigation System) are available. These upgrades ensure maximum interoperability with other armored or infantry units and availability of information on the terrain, the environment, the climate and the operating theater in which the Centauro II operates. In total, there are six antennas on the back of the turret, one of which is an anemometer (to measure wind speeds), another one a GPS transmitter, two are jammers (C4ISTAR System), while the last two are used for communication.
Armament and Ammunition
The Centauro II is equipped with a high-pressure gun of the latest generation. It can handle a firing pressure of 8200 bars (The bar is a unit of pressure, 1 Bar is equal to 0.98 atm or 100,000 N/m2). For comparison, the 120 mm Rheinmetall L44 cannon of the Leopard 2A5DK can handle a 7100 bar firing pressure, the Cannone OTO-Melara 120/44 can handle 7070 Bar, the cannon of the Russian T-90 MBT can reach 7000 bar and that of the M1A2 SEP cannon can handle 7100 bars.
The OTO Melara 120/45 LRF (Low Recoilless Fitting), which is derived from the OTO-Melara 120/44 of the C1 ARIETE, which, in turn, is derived from the Rheinmetall 120 mm L44, gives the vehicle a firepower equal to that of the most Modern Battle Tanks (MBTs), such as the M1A2SEP Abrams, Leopard 2A6, Leclerc, Merkava Mk. IV, K2 Black Panther or Challenger 2. The gun is compatible with the latest-generation NATO standard ammunition, such as APFSDS-T (Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot – Tracer) M829 ammunition (with tungsten tip) for heavily armored targets, the anti-tank APFSDS model DM 53A1, HEAT-MP-T or MPAT (Multi Purpose Anti-Tank) M830A1 against less armored, unarmored targets or helicopters, HE-OR-T (High Explosive – Obstacle Reduction – Tactical) or MPAT-OR M908 against buildings or roadblocks, M1028 ‘Canister’ against personnel or buildings, and HE (High Explosive) type DM 11 anti-personnel ammunition. In addition to these types of ammunition, the cannon can shoot ammunitions developed by LEONARDO and can also shoot PELE (Penetrator with Enhanced Lateral Effect), STAFF (Smart Target Activated Fire and Forget) ammunition or ATGM-LOSBR (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles – Line-Of-Sight Beam Riding, anti-tank missiles fired from a cannon), which several NATO states are evaluating.
The cannon has hydroelectric elevation that ranges from -7º to +16º. In order to achieve the high level of ballistic performance, the large-caliber cannon is produced with the most modern and lightest materials available. Even given the wide range of equipment on board, the Centauro II turret has a low weight, which increases the maximum speed of the vehicle and its mobility. The cannon (like its predecessor) is equipped with a ‘pepperbox’ muzzle brake which allows a reduction of the recoil and a semi-automatic electric revolver loader (which makes a loader superfluous). Thanks to the automation, the ammunition compartment at the back of the turret, which contains two six-rounds drums, can autonomously load the cannon when the type of ammunition is chosen by pushing it through a guide inside the breech and throwing the case cartridge into a basket.
On top of the turret is installed a smaller Remote Operated Weapons System (ROWS) turret, the HITROLE (Highly Integrated Turret Remotely, Operated, Light Electrical) Model L2R or “Light”. It weighs 125 kg, 150 kg or 145 kg depending on the installed armament, which can be an MG3 or MG42/59 7.62 mm machine gun with 1,000 rounds, a Browning M2HB 12.7 mm with 400 rounds or an automatic SACO Mk. 19 40 mm grenade launcher with 70 rounds. For this latest generation remote turret, detection and monitoring actions and remote fire control are performed by a modular detection system that includes a high-performance TV camera, infrared camera for night vision and laser rangefinder. The fire control system is assisted by a Computer Fire Control (CFC) with ballistic and cinematic calculation and an automatic tracker, based on Digital Signal Processing technology. The system is equipped with a gyroscopic stabilizer, and in case of malfunction, can be operated manually.
It is not clear if the Italian Army has purchased their Centauro IIs with HITROLE turrets or if, like with its predecessor, it will have the classic pintle-mounted MG 42/59 for the tank commander and loader.
The stowable ammunition adds up to a total of 31 rounds. 12 are placed in two cylinders (like those of a revolver) inside a separated compartment at the rear of the turret that, in the event of an explosion, would not damage the crew compartment. Another 19 are placed in the hull, in two cylinders of 10 and 9 rounds on the sides. The ammunition for the coaxial armament, which can be an MG42/59 machine gun (or the Rheinmetall version, the MG3) or Browning M2HB machine gun, varies between 1,250 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition to 750 rounds of 12.7 mm ammunition. In addition, there is another set of ammunition for the weapon mounted on the HITROLE Mod. L2R turret consisting of another 1,000 rounds of 7.62 mm, 400 of 12.7 mm or 70 of 40 mm ammunition, as well as an extra sixteen 80 mm smoke grenades.
As with the B1, at the request of the buyer, the vehicle can be armed with the less powerful (for anti-tank combat) but still capable OTO-Melara Cannone da 105/52 LRF which fires all standard NATO ammunition. This solution carries forty-three 105 mm rounds.
In order to increase the protection for the crew, a Jammer Guardian H3 system (four small round noise amplifiers, two frontal and two lateral) are used to disturb wireless communications and thus inhibit the remote activation of RC-IED’s (Radio Controlled – Improvised Explosive Device). Other passive defenses consist of eight 80 mm GALIX 13 smoke projectors positioned in two groups of four on the sides of the turret, also several RALM sensors (ie Laser Alarm Receivers) designed by Marconi, able to identify laser emissions (such as those used for rangefinding) from enemy vehicles in a 360° radius. These can determine the type of threat and automatically trigger the grenade launchers to create a smokescreen that is able to hide the vehicle also from infrared radiation sights. An acoustic signal is also sent to the on-board intercom system and the source of the light beam is sent on the display so that the crew can react quickly to the threat.
In addition to the four Jammer Guardian H3 against the RC-IED, there are two more antennas. One is a stylus, classic type and the second a cylindrical one, used to disturb the enemy’s communications. In the event of the detonation of a mine or an enemy cannon shot that blows up a wheel, the vehicle, if not severely damaged, can continue to run and move away from the combat zone. Furthermore, the tires are designed with a run-flat system, allowing the vehicle to move even if all eight wheels are perforated, though obviously reducing the maximum speed.
There are also numerous mechanisms, including fuel leak monitor, fire and explosion-proof systems. In the case of the latter system, the Automatic Fire Suppression System (AFSS) produced by the Italian company Martec uses FM-200 gas (heptafluoropropane), which despite having several negatives, can extinguish a fire in 200 milliseconds, less than a blink of an eye, has the possibility of self-diagnosis and battery disconnection system to preserve its duration. In addition, the system cannot be deactivated when the vehicle has the engine running, preventing any risk of tampering. The gas is injected into the compartments, which can then be removed by simple ventilation. There are a total of six 4-liter tanks in the engine, in the crew and in the rear compartments. The CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) system was developed by Aerosekur and features 2 filters. A BRUKER device was also installed for the detection of chemical pollutants and radiation outside the vehicle.
CIO has developed three levels of protection of this vehicle. In the basic prototype version, the defense is “Type A”, which allows the alloy armor to withstand armor-piercing rounds from 30 mm guns on the front, 25 mm on the sides and 12.7 mm on the back.
With additional composite armor plates on the hull and with the replacing of other spall liner plates in the turret, the Centauro II increases its weight by 1.5 tons, but reaches “Type B” protection and becomes completely protected from 40 mm APFSDS rounds. Inside the vehicle, the plates are covered with Kevlar which, together with the spall liner plates, considerably reduces the number of splinters produced by a shell that pierces the armor.
In the future, with the experiences gained from the VBM Freccia and from the B2 Centauro vehicles tested, the consortium will develop “Type C” defenses and perhaps also “Type D” with an APS (Active Protection System) designed also for the C1 ARIETE MBT. In addition, several Italian industries are studying new ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor) with which to equip the vehicle to offer increased protection against even large-caliber HEAT shells and missiles used by modern tanks.
OTO-Melara, for one, is trying to design something similar to the British ROMOR-A armor already successfully used by the B1 Centauro in Somalia as part of European Union Training Mission in Somalia. This armor has allowed the vehicle to withstand fire from the Soviet RPG-7 and RPG-29 rocket launchers. It can also reduce the effect of the 125 mm HEAT-SF ammunition used by most of the former Warsaw Pact tanks, which are its potential opponents, by a claimed 95%.
The bottom of its hull is shaped like a ‘V’ with a double steel plate to better deflect mine or IED explosions. All the mechanical parts on the bottom of the hull are arranged so as to not cause damage to the crew in case of an explosion. Like the turret, the bottom is equipped with high-efficiency ballistic armor. For the crew, the innovation consists in having explosion-proof seats so, in the rare case that an IED or a mine severely damages the vehicle, the crew members would have a higher chance of surviving.
The ammunition racks in the hull and in the turret have been designed so that, in the event of an explosion, this will not damage the rest of the equipment or the crew (as on the M1 Abrams). Its dedicated anti-explosion systems, explosion-proof doors and pre-carved panels allow the explosive energy to discharge to the outside of the vehicle, further increasing the safety of the crew.
Engine and Driving System
The engine of the vehicle is a diesel 8V IVECO-FPT (Fiat Powertrain) VECTOR 720 hp supercharged by 2 turbochargers feeding bi-fuel, diesel or kerosene (JP-8 or F-34 NATO) a 20 liter displacement. It is equipped with a system common rail electronic injection system, which is more than 60% more powerful than the mechanical injection pump of the B1.
At full tank capacity (520 liters of fuel), the Centauro II has an autonomy of 800 km and a top speed of 110 km/h on road. Its engine is more powerful than the IVECO MTCA V6 of the B1 by over 240 hp, though still having the same top speed. The new engine weighs 975 kg (300 kg more than the MTCA) and has a power-to-weight ratio of 24 hp/t (compared to 19 of the B1). Originally designed as an engine for buses and bulldozers, this engine meets the European laws of emission level 3 (Euro 3).
The B2 has four fuel tanks, one located near the engine, two next to the rack in the hull, and the fourth one located under the ammunition racks. The transmission is the automatic ZE ECOMAT 7HP ZF902 with 7 forward gears and one reverse, produced under license by FIAT The exhaust mounted on the right side has been designed to decrease the infrared radiation (IR) footprint by mixing the exhaust gases with cold air.
The Centauro II can overcome slopes of up to 60%, run alongside slopes of 30%, ford depths of up to 1.5 m without preparation and overcome obstacles up to 0.6 m high and trenches 2 m wide.
Of the four wheels on each side, the first two and the fourth are used for steering (the last set of wheels turn in the other direction), giving a turning radius of just 9 m. The eight suspension units are McPherson models, equipped with ample traverse, and allow better off-road driving and more accurate aiming of the cannon on-the-move, combining the good dynamic behavior of the vehicle with the comfort of the crew. The tires are of the R20 14/00 type which, thanks to the CTIS system, can be calibrated with four different inflations: from standard pressure to an emergency pressure in case of minimal grip on the ground. It is also possible to mount model 415/80 R685 tires, as in the German BOXER MRAV, that increases the ground clearance from 40 cm to 45 cm.
The crew size ranges from three to four members: driver, commander, gunner and loader. In the future, when the electrical loading system will be fully automated, the crew size will drop to three at the expense of the loader. The lack of a loader will free up space that can be occupied by additional 120 mm ammunition or (hypothetically) other net-centric warfare systems.
A noteworthy improvement is the decision to adopt a system that allows the vehicle to drive with only ‘indirect’ vision through the seven cameras (of which four have infrared radiation vision) installed externally. The displays for the crew are made by Larimart S.P.A. with BMS (Battle Management System). The tank commander has 2 screens available, one with the management system and the other with the FCS (Fire Control System) and has a joystick; the gunner has a clutch and the loader has a ‘Playstation’ type joypad for the control of HITROLE Mod. L2R. The driver also has a screen with the vehicle management system on which the status of the tank is highlighted, along with the lithium battery charge, the fire fighting system, the entire observation system and a centralized system for controlling the inflation pressure of the pneumatics (CTIS).
This vehicle has many names that create a lot of confusion.
In some articles in specialized magazines that talked about it before its appearance at EUROSATORY, it was called the ‘B2 Centauro’.
CIO has given it the factory and export designation of “Centauro II MGS 120/105” (the numbers indicate the calibers of the cannons that can be mounted on this vehicle).
The Italian Army that is, for now, the only expected buyer of the vehicle, calls it “Centauro II” or “B2 Centauro”. In the future, when it enters service, its name will become B2 Centauro.
Cost and Orders
The new wheeled tank destroyer was unveiled on 13th June 2016 at EUROSATORY and was officially presented to the Italian Army on 19th October of that same year at the Cecchignola military complex.
The Centauro II project has so far cost the Italian Army US $592 million due to its cutting-edge systems and applied technologies, such as the brand new armor and electronic systems materials. The Italian government, on 24th July 2018, signed a contract with CIO allocating US $178 million for the modification of the prototype with some new systems and the acquisition of the first ten pre-series units called B2 Centauro 2.0. The total price to build the vehicles amounts to approximately €1.5 billion (US $1.71 billion) and includes, in addition to the 150 vehicles, spare parts and logistic support from the Leonardo Finmeccanica experts for the next 10 years. The delivery of the remaining 140 vehicles will be done in several installments (together with their payment) until 2022.
The B2 Centauro 2.0 will have several changes that will include: a new LEONARDO Swave Radio Family produced by LEONARDO with Network Enabled Capability (NEC) i.e. the ability to connect in a single information network all the forces on the battlefield: infantry, Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs), aircraft and ships to improve their interoperability and command by officers. The LEONARDO VQ1 (Vehicular Quad-channel Type1) used to “connect” armored vehicles to the Italian Army’s universal network. It is a four-channel radio weighing about 45 kg, capable of replacing up to 4 traditional radios while at the same time ensuring less space on board the vehicle is occupied. The VQ1 will be installed not only on the B2, but also onboard the new VTLM2 Lince and the new updated version of the C1 ARIETE.
This new radio also allows the removal of the telephone on the rear of the vehicle used for infantry to communicate with the tank’s commander, as it connects with the model L3Harris AN/PRC-152A Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) adopted by the Italian Army’s infantry.
The latest generation Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) LEONARDO M426 Air-to-Surface IDentification (ASID) system was already successfully tested in 2016 on Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force) aircraft will also be added to the B2. This system will allow to respond to the inputs sent by the aircraft identifying itself as an ally to cancel the risk of friendly fire in Close Air Support (CAS) missions in which air forces and ground forces are called to intervene.
New Rheinmetall ROSY (Rapid Obscuring SYstem) smoke launchers have also been added. These are environmentally friendly system that in 0.4 seconds makes the vehicle invisible to Near-Infrared Radiation (NIR), Intermediate Infrared Radiation (IIR) and Long-Infrared Radiation (LIR) lenses mounted on the periscopes and gunner’s sights of modern tanks for 15 seconds, with the ability to shoot more salvos to double, triple or even quadruple this time. With conventional optics, a single salvo can hide the vehicle for 40 seconds. It can be installed to a minimum of 5 40 mm smoke grenades on each side of the vehicle for a 360° defense.
The total weight for each 5-smoke module is 10 kg plus 500 g for each grenade and approximately 2 kg for the control panel and connection cables. The ammunition types that can be fired from the ROSY are: tear gas ammunition (loaded with 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile also called o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile commonly referred as CS gas), Red Phosphorus (RP-Smoke) and Flash-Bang.
Probable upgrades also include ATTILA-D and LOTHAR-SD optics, a new position for the HITROLE turret for a greater firing range, replacement of the 4 lateral jammers with one new antenna system to inhibit RC-IED, a new opening system for the hatches, increased driver’s view, new ‘Type B’ add-on kit to decrease the effectiveness of APFSDS ammunition, increased power of the lithium batteries and finally, the addition of a manual backup system for the rotation of the ammunition cylinders in the hull.
During 2019, vehicle tests were carried out to assess its mobility in any climate and to evaluate the efficiency of the on-board weapons. Before the COVID-19 emergency, the Army’s program was to homologate the new vehicle by early 2020 in order to produce the first 10 pre-series vehicles by the end of the year and to sign a new contract for a new version called B2 Centauro 3.0 to be produced in 40 units. Version 3.0 will differ in, according to LEONARDO programs, an upgrade to the LOTHAR-SD system enabling to fire LEONARDO VULCANO ammunition, developed by LEONARDO for the OTO-Breda 127 mm L.54 and L.64 naval guns, but which also came into use in 2019 for the self-propelled Panzerhaubitze 2000 and M109 with 155 mm howitzers. These HEFSDS (High Explosives Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot) ammunition weigh about 20 kg (2.5 kg of explosive), and compared to traditional ammunition of the same caliber, have a much greater range against naval or land targets and, in some versions, have a guidance system that allows precision attacks.
LEONARDO, after having developed a variant of the VULCANO subcalibe ammunition for the OTO-Breda 76/62 cannon, the same one as on the OTOMATIC, is developing for this type of ammunition for the 120 mm cannon of the B2 Centauro.
The Esercito Italiano intends to mount the same communication systems on the B2 Centauro, the VBM Freccia, the VTLM2 Lince (Veicolo Tattico Leggero Multiruolo – Tactical Light Multirole Vehicle) and the C1 ARIETE MLU (Mid Life Upgrade). This will be done in order to speed up production, save money, increase the commonality in parts of the four vehicles and above all to allow the interoperability of vehicles in the SICCONA program. This program will transmit data on the position and status of the vehicle, updating in real time the situation on the battlefield and displaying on the tank commander’s display a map with the positions of each allied vehicle present in the area of operations, its status and other useful data for cooperation.
Other armies are interested in purchasing a certain number of Centauro II, but CIO has not disclosed which countries and the quantities of vehicles to be produced. It is certain that Spain was interested in updating its 84 Centauro B1’s and some unconfirmed sources have declared that the Ejército de Tierra (Spanish Army) is interested in buying several Centauro II.
The Italian Army will use these powerful vehicles to support and then replace the now worn out B1 Centauro used by the Italian Reggimenti di Cavalleria (Cavalry Regiment) 1° Reggimento “Nizza Cavalleria”, the 2° Reggimento “Piemonte Cavalleria”, the 3° Reggimento “Savoia Cavalleria”, the 4° Reggimento “Genova Cavalleria”, the 5° Reggimento “Lancieri di Novara”, the 6° Reggimento “Lancieri di Aosta”, the 8° Reggimento “Lancieri di Montebello” and the 19° Reggimento Cavalleggeri “Guide” which have used their B1 in all the Italian Army Peace Missions from 1992 to this day.
The B2 Centauro during testing at Cecchignola. An illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.
B1 Centauro specifications
8.26 x 3.12 x 3.65 m
Total weight, battle ready
3-4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Diesel IVECO FPT VECTOR 8V, 520 liter, 720 hp
110 km/h on road
Operational maximum range
800 km (500 mi)
120/45 LRF OTO-Melara with 31 rounds or 105/52 LRF OTO-Melara with 43 rounds
MG42/59 or Browning M2HB coaxial
HITROLE L2R RWS with different armament with a total of 2,750 rounds
Italian Social Republic (1944-45) Armored Truck – 2 Built
After the Italian Armistice was signed on 8th September 1943, Benito Mussolini created, on 23rd September, the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana – RSI). In Northern and Central Italy, which was controlled by the Axis, German and Italian troops had about 1,000 trucks in service, quite few considering that the National Republican Army (Esercito Nazionale Repubblicana – ENR) and the Wehrmacht counted about 600,000 soldiers. On 26th June 1944, Mussolini approved the legislative decree no. 446, which had been proposed by Alessandro Pavolini, the secretary of the Republican Fascist Party (Partito Fascista Repubblicano – PFR). This order constituted the Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts, simpler known as the ‘Black Shirts’ or ‘Black Brigades’ under the control of the National Republican Guard (Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana – GNR), the fascist Military Police. The Brigades had the task of fighting in the second line against the partisan groups that carried out sabotage and ambush missions against the Axis mechanized columns. Only two Black Brigades out of 56 received factory-built armored vehicles, while the other brigades were equipped with trucks (military or civil) that they used as transport vehicles or that they armored themselves or in civil workshops.
Idreno Utimpergher, trusted man of Pavolini, was the commander of the XXVI° Black Brigade “Benito Mussolini”, located first in Lucca but, after an Allied offensive, moved to Piacenza in Emilia Romagna. It was composed of over 200 men and was later renamed the XXXVI° Black Brigade “Natale Piacentini”, after the first soldier from the unit that died in action against the partisans. On the order of Idreno, they armored the only working truck of the Brigade (they also had a Fiat 1500) to better engage the partisans, a Lancia 3Ro heavy truck. The transformation of the Lancia 3Ro was ready after a month of work, from September to October 1944. A Viberti Mod. Bianchi trailer, normally used to transport tanks, was also armored with salvaged plates. It could be towed behind the armored truck and used as a troop transport.
The armored car was built by the Arsenal of Piacenza, along with another identical one which was used by the XXVIII° Brigata Nera “Pippo Astorri”, but the destiny of this second vehicle is unknown. In the Arsenal of Piacenza workshop, two other vehicles were armored, a Ceirano CM 47 and a Fiat 666N that was totally armored and received a turret with a Breda-SAFAT 12.7 mm aerial machine gun, used by the 630° Provincial Command of the GNR.
The front of the Lancia 3Ro Blindato in Dongo, on 25th of April 1945. Note the armament of the vehicle, with a machine-gun in the front, one on the side (there was another one on the other side), and a cannon in the turret. Also, note the Bianchi trailer at the rear. Source: City of Dongo archive
The Lancia 3Ro
The 3Ro Lancia truck was produced from 1938 to 1949 for both civil and military use by the Lancia Veicoli Industriali company in Milan. The vehicle proved to be robust and reliable, being used on all the war fronts the Italian army was engaged on, with about 10,000 vehicles built.
It was developed from the slower Lancia Ro, for use both in the colonies and in Italy proper. It had a weight of 5610 kg and a cargo bay of 7.49 m x 2.35 m.
In the basic Italian Army version, the Lancia 3Ro could carry 32 fully equipped soldiers or 6390 kg of materials or ammunition. Most versions were built for the Army. Other variants included tanker versions for fuel (5000 liters) or for water (one tank of 5000 liters or two of 2000) modified by the Viberti company of Turin, the mobile workshop Mod. 38, an ammunition transporter with 210 90 mm rounds and a command post. Tank transporter variants could carry almost all the tanks of the Italian Royal Army, which could be carried on the cargo bay (L3, L6/40 or Semovente L. 40 da 47/32) or on a Viberti Mod. Bianchi trailer (“M” tank family and all the Semovente). In all versions, this heavy truck was equipped with a Lancia Type 102 diesel engine with 5 cylinders in line giving 96 hp. Its top speed on the road was 45 km/h and its range, with the 135-liter tank of the basic version, was 450 km.
The vehicle was dubbed “the last armored car of the Duce”. All the truck’s automotive components were unchanged, including the engine, gears, and transmission. The rear wheels received armor plates, and the radiator had two inclined plates with slits to allow the engine to cool. For the maintenance of the engine, there were two doors on the sides of the cabin, above the front fenders and headlights.
The vehicle received armor 9 mm thick on all sides and a cylindrical single-seater turret that could rotate 360°, which was also fitted with 9 mm thick armor. The vehicle was equipped with three entrances: two doors on the sides and a large rear door at the back that provided access for some of the crew and for the 8 men that could be transported inside the vehicle.
On the sides of the vehicle there was painted the writing “XXXVI° BRIGATA NERA NATALE PIACENTINI LUCCA” and on the doors of the cabin were painted two lions, the symbol of the Lucca city.
The vehicle was armed with three 8×59 mm machine guns (two Breda 38 and a Breda 37) and a Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1939 anti-aircraft/anti-tank light automatic cannon. The Breda 37 was mounted on a spherical support on the front plate, on the driver’s left; two Breda 38 machine-guns were also mounted on spherical supports located on the two sides of the vehicle. In the turret was fixed the Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1939 automatic cannon. The elevation of the gun was very high to allow the use of the gun against aerial targets. The number of cannon and machine guns rounds transported was unknown.
There were seven crew members. Three were sat in the cabin on seats, namely the driver, the commander/machine gunner, and the machine-gun loader that had an ammunition rack for the 20 round magazines. There were also two side machine-gunners in the body of the vehicle with a gunner in the turret and the loader. Two wooden benches on the sides of the hull seated eight fully armed and equipped soldiers (with the two machine-gunners and the loader). In addition, on the sides were wooden racks of ammunition and two fire extinguishers.
The Lancia 3Ro Blindato being inspected by some civilians in Dongo, 25th April 1945. Note the Viberti Mod. Bianchi trailer. Source: City of Dongo archive
Illustration of the Lancia 3Ro Blindato produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign.
The vehicle was used from October 1944 up to the first months of 1945 as an anti-partisan patrol armored car. It saw action on 30th December 1944 against a partisan patrol. Between mid-February and early March, the XXXVI° “Natale Piacentini” Black Brigade was moved from Piacenza to Pinerolo in Piedmont. Around 23rd April, the brigade received an order to reach Valtellina in Lombardy.
On the 24th, the “Natale Piacentini”, now armed with this armored vehicle and a Fiat 626 truck armed with a Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 automatic cannon in the cargo bay, had to escort a column of trucks carrying other Black Brigades towards Milan. At Vercelli, they found themselves involved in a shootout with a partisan brigade; for this reason, the surviving vehicles of the column arrived in Milan in the late afternoon. They were the last fascist vehicles arriving in the city before the insurrection of the following day.
On the morning of April 25, the partisans attacked the major cities of northern Italy still in the hands of the Germans and the fascists. At first, the XXXVI° Brigade was chosen to defend the city, but then it was realized that, thanks to its armored car, the Brigade would have been more useful to escort the Duce, Benito Mussolini, to safety in Switzerland.
On 26th April, the XXXVI° joined a convoy of Republican forces (178 trucks, 4636 soldiers and 346 female auxiliaries) that was moving to Como, where they arrived after lunch. From Como, the brigade and the Lancia 3Ro Blindato moved to Menaggio to escort Benito Mussolini to Merano. During the night of the 26th to 27th April, a column of German Flak vehicles arrived in Menaggio, which, along with the Italian vehicles, resumed the march to Merano with the Lancia at the head of the column. Mussolini, Mrs. Clara Petacci, Alessandro Pavolini and other members of the fascist party were part of the column, transported inside this armored car, along with many documents of the fascist government and Mussolini’s personal baggage.
The Lancia 3Ro Blindato in Dongo, the village where Mussolini was captured by the partisans in April 1945. It is unknown when this photo was taken. Source: web photo
On the morning of the 27th, in Musso, the convoy, led by the Lancia 3Ro Blindato, with all the fascist leaders inside, was stopped on the highway that runs along Lake Como at a checkpoint of the 52nd Garibaldi Partisan Brigade “Luigi Clerici”. The partisans only allowed the German trucks and FlaK cannons to continue, so Mussolini, dressed as a German soldier, got into a German Opel Blitz which turned onto the road to Merano.
The remaining vehicles, with which the Lancia armored car remained, were moving back when, for unknown reasons, there was a clash. The vehicle fired several machine-gun bursts against the partisans, who responded with rifle fire and several hand grenades. One of these hit the vehicle, damaging one of the two front wheels, immobilizing it while it was trying to retreat. The fascist dignitaries then came out of the vehicle with weapons in hand. During this incident, the driver, Guido Taiti, and vehicle commander Merano Chiavacci were killed, while Pavolini was wounded. Pavolini, along with Idreno Utimpergher and Paolo Zerbino, were captured.
The vehicle was then captured by the partisans and taken to Milan to a foundry, where it was fixed up and placed in the village of Dongo for many years as a symbol of the victory against fascism and in the 60s it was probably demolished.
The vehicle was developed due to the lack of other armored vehicles in Northern Italy. Due to its poor armor, like the SPA-Viberti AS43 built in Turin for the same role, it was not meant to fight against similar vehicles, such as the British Humber armored cars or the American M8 Greyhound; its tasks were patrolling and anti-guerrilla warfare, which it carried out well. This article covered the vehicle used by the XXXVI° Black Brigade “Natale Piacentini” but there were other such vehicles built on the same Lancia 3Ro hull, but produced by other workshops and armed with different armament, such as Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 automatic cannons, for the XXVIII° “Pippo Astorri” or Solothurn S-1000 anti-tank rifles mounted on a Lancia modified like the Carro protetto trasporto truppa su autotelaio FIAT 626. Some Lancia 3Ro were used to transport troops with armor only on the sides and on the front, like on the Fiat 665 NM Blindato.
A Lancia 3Ro truck with armor in the rear cargo bay, used as a troop transport. Source: Beutepanzer.ru
Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1939
Three 8×59 mm machine guns (two Breda 38 and one Breda 37)
Aprx. 9 mm
1 – 5
Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile. Tank master special.
Ricciotti Lazzero “Le Brigate Nere”
“Gli Ultimi in Grigio Verde” di Giorgio Pisanò
Nico Scarlato, I corazzati Di Circostanza Italiani.
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