Categories
Cold War Italian Armor

AB41 in Italian Republic Service

Italian Republic (1945 – 1954)
Medium Armored car – unknown numbers used

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

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

Alongside the AB41s, some powerful AB43s were also used.

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

Italian Units Situation after the War

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

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

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

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

Italian Political Situation after the War

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design

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

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

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

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

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

Operational Use with the Italian Republic

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

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

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

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

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

Polizia di Stato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arma dei Carabinieri

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

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

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

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

Esercito Italiano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camouflage and Markings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

AB41 Specification

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

Sources

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

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

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Categories
WW2 Italian APC Prototypes

FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote

Kingdom of Italy (1943)
Armored Personnel Carrier – Paper project

The FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote was an Italian Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) project developed by the FIAT company of Turin for the needs of the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army).

Designed on the basis of the FIAT 665NM all-wheel drive truck, it would have a similar weight and characteristics to the older FIAT 665NM Scudato. The new design would have more armor, be a bit lower, and with more internal space for an additional four soldiers.

The project was similar to the Carro Protetto Trasporto Truppa su Autotelaio FIAT 626 developed in 1941. When, on 8th September 1943, the armistice was signed with the Allied forces, the project was probably proposed to the Wehrmacht and the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army) but without success and was then canceled.

‘FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote’ means Armored FIAT 665NM with Protected Wheels in English. This designation is also meant to distinguish it from the FIAT 665NM Scudato (English: Shielded), which did not have protection for the wheels.

Context and previous APCs

During the first Italian actions against enemy troops in Europe, East Africa, and North Africa, the Italian High Command felt the necessity of an armored personnel carrier to transport the Italian assault troops to the battlefield and to support tank actions.

The first vehicles used, especially in East Africa and in the Balkans, were rudimentary improvised armored trucks produced by the troops or in civilian workshops. These added scrap armored plates or trench shields to the vehicle in order to protect it from small arms fire.

An Autocarro Unificato OM Taurus Blindato with armored plates on the cab’s windows and cargo bay, used in the Balkans by Italian troops before the Armistice.Source: Gli Autoveicoli tattici e logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943

In late 1941, the S37 Autoprotetto entered service. This was an APC produced by FIAT and SPA on the FIAT-SPA TL37 (TL for Trattore Leggero – Light Prime Mover) ‘Libia’ chassis. It could carry up to 10 soldiers, including the driver and the vehicle commander.

This APC, of which more or less 300 vehicles were made in total, was meant to be used in North Africa. However, all were actually employed in the Balkans. There, due to the narrow mountain roads and the many isolated Italian and German garrisons, they were not used offensively, but to escort supply columns to the isolated garrisons and to defend these in case of a partisan attack.

The prototype of the S37 Autoprotetto during tests. The machine gun support and the Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ sand tires are visible.Source: Gli Autoveicoli tattici e logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943

FIAT 665NM Scudato

The FIAT 665NM Scudato or Protetto was the heaviest and biggest armored personnel carrier of the Second World War. It was essentially a FIAT 665NM that, after coming off the production line, was immediately equipped with armored plates between 7.5 mm and 4.5 mm thick. This was not an adequate thickness against heavy machine guns or similar caliber guns, but adequate for the tasks it performed throughout the war.

More than 110 vehicles were produced until 8th September 1943, when production stopped. The vehicles that survived were used by the Wehrmacht and by the new Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic), the Republic founded by Benito Mussolini on 23rd September 1943 in the Italian territories not yet occupied by the Allied forces.

FIAT 665NM Protetto at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione in Rome.Source: tumblr.com

Design

FIAT 666NM and FIAT 665NM

The FIAT 665NM was developed after March 1941 as a 4×4 variant of the FIAT 666NM (NM stands for Nafta; Militare – Diesel; Military) produced by Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino or FIAT (English: Italian Automobiles Factory, Turin) in the FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin.

FIAT 666N propaganda poster.Source: Archivio FIAT

In 1937, the Kingdom of Italy passed a law that outlined the main characteristics required of each truck, civilian or military, that was produced. This was done for three main reasons: Italy was a rapidly growing nation with numerous companies producing dozens of different models of trucks. A standardization would lead to the production of vehicles that were similar and with common parts, increasing the production capacity, lowering costs, and easing maintenance. Linked to this purpose was the problem of the embargoes Italy was placed under, and the policy of Autarchy, or the aspiration of Italy to be economically independent of foreign countries. Standardized trucks would certainly have helped to avoid the wastage of resources. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, the unification of civilian and military trucks meant that, in case of war, civilian trucks could be requisitioned for war needs, as they had the same characteristics and spare parts as military ones.

A civilian FIAT 666N equipped with higher cargo bay sides and bodywork produced and installed by the Officine Viberti company. It was equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ tires.Source: Archivio Pasquale Caccavale

With Regio Decreto (English: Royal Decree) N° 1809 issued on 14th July 1937, the so-called Autocarri Unificati (English: Unified Trucks) were born. For heavy trucks, the maximum weight was not to exceed 12,000 kg, of which at least 6,000 kg of payload, with a minimum road speed of 45 km/h. For light trucks, the ground clearance was to be at least 200 mm, the maximum truck weight was to be 4,000 kg, and the payload was 3,000 kg.

Autocarro Unificato FIAT 665NM 4×4 coming out of the FIAT Mirafiori plant. It is interesting to notice that it is in Kaki Sahariano desert camouflage and that it has Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires for desert soils. Source: Archivio FIAT

The FIAT 666N was a heavy-duty truck. The civil version was developed in 1938 under the Regio Decreto N° 1809 rules. Its military version, the FIAT 666NM, was presented to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione on 19th September 1940 for evaluation. In total, about 8,000 FIAT 666s left the assembly lines of the Mirafiori plant, including the direct-injection post-war 666N7 and FIAT 665NM versions.

After the armistice of 8th September 1943, between November 1943 and December 1944, 79 FIAT 666NM and 2 FIAT 665NM were delivered to the Wehrmacht.

A FIAT 666NM in Luftwaffe hands. Unfortunately, due to the bad quality of the photo, the exact number painted on the license plate cannot be discerned.Source: o5m6.de

The FIAT 666 was produced in a wide range of fittings, such as standard trucks and fuel tankers for civil service. For military service, recovery trucks, fuel, and water tankers, mobile workshops, petrol engine variants, and many others were produced.

FIAT 666N with a fully loaded medium trailer.Source: italie1935-45.com

Engine

Propulsion was provided by the FIAT Tipo 366 6-cylinder in-line diesel engine. It had overhead valves, with a displacement of 9,365 cm³ and FIAT-produced injectors. The maximum output power was 110 hp at 2,000 rpm on the civil FIAT 666N, FIAT 666NM for the Regia Aeronautica, and on the FIAT 665NM. The maximum output power on the FIAT 666NM for the Regio Esercito was limited to 95 hp at 1,700 rpm. The direct-injection Ricardo-type chamber created lots of problems in the cold Russian steppes, which forced the crew to mix the diesel with gasoline to allow the engine to start.

FIAT Tipo 366 with oil bath filters (right).Source: Archivio FIAT

The maximum speed on-road was 57 km/h for the FIAT 665NM, 48.3 km/h for the power-limited FIAT 666NM, and 56.8 km/h for the FIAT 666N and FIAT 666NM without the power governor.

The fuel was kept in a 255-liter tank (135 liters for the FIAT 666N) located on the right side of the chassis and guaranteed a 750 km range on-road (465 km for the FIAT 666N). A FIAT 6-75-2510 diaphragm pump sent the fuel to a 5.5-liter tank located behind the cab’s dashboard. This ensured trouble-free feeding thanks to a gravity injection pump.

The lubricant oil tank had a capacity of 12 liters, while the water-cooling tank had a capacity of 50 liters. Air was drawn through two oil bath filters mounted on the back of the engine.

Brakes and electric systems

The single dry plate clutch was connected to the gearbox via a cardan shaft. This could be removed independently of the gearbox and engine simply by removing the rear casing. This meant that maintenance and disassembly were easier.

The transmission, thanks to the reductor, had eight gears and two reverse gears. The drum brakes were hydraulic and had a pedal-operated air brake booster. The compressed air tank, with a capacity of 55 liters, was located on the left of the frame and had a pressure of 5.5 bar. On the NM version, the rear axle was equipped with a differential lock system.

The battery box of the FIAT 666NM. Also visible are the air tank on the left and the fuel tank on the other side.Source: Archivio FIAT

There was a 12 Volt electrical circuit to power the headlights and dashboard, and a 24 Volt circuit for starting the engine. The two 12 V Magneti Marelli batteries were housed in a box on the left side of the chassis, behind the air tank.

Structure

The cargo bay measured 4.75 m long by 2.20 m wide, with a height of 600 mm on the civilian version and 650 mm on the military version. It was authorized to carry up to 6 tonnes of cargo but could carry, without difficulty, and L6/40 light tank (weighing 6.84 tonnes).

The cab had the steering wheel and the driver on the right, while the vehicle commander sat on the left. The cab’s doors opened backward. Due to the slow production rates, some early FIAT 666NM were equipped with civilian FIAT 666N cabs.

FIAT 665NM (above) and FIAT 666NM-RE with the civilian cab (under). The different placements of the toolboxes under the cargo bay and the different tire dimensions are clear. Sources: Archivio FIAT

In spite of its respectable dimensions and its large load capacity, the FIAT 666 heavy-duty truck, with a weight of 6 tonnes for the FIAT 666NM variant and 7.2 tonnes for the FIAT 665NM variant, could travel at more than 56 km/h with a 12-tonne trailer attached. Fully loaded, it could climb slopes of 26°. Thanks to its short wheelbase and cab layout, it was comfortable traveling on mountain roads.

The FIAT 666NM had a rim size of 20 x 8” (50.8 x 20.32 cm), while the FIAT 665NM had a rim size of 24 x 9” (61 x 23 cm). This allowed the latter to mount 11.25 x 24” (28.5 cm x 61 cm) tires, the same as the armored cars and camionette of the Regio Esercito. Like the armored cars and Camionette, it could use a wide variety of tires, such as the Tipo ‘Libia’ and Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’. These, thanks to their wide profile, afforded good flotation on loose sandy soils. The Tipo ‘Artiglio’ and Tipo ‘Artiglio a Sezione Maggiorata’ were used for continental terrain and Russian steppes, roughly equivalent to the Non-Directional Tread (NDT) tires used by the US Army. The Tipo ‘Raiflex’ was meant for sandy ground and produced with Rayon (Raion in Italian) synthetic fiber (RAI-flex for Raion). All were developed and produced by the Pirelli company in Milan.

Strangely enough, most of the images of the FIAT 665NM Scudati show that most of the vehicles were equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires, a very strange decision if we consider that none of the vehicles were used in Africa, but only in Northern Italy and the Balkans.

FIAT 665NM front and rear. Photos were taken shortly after production, and it is parked outside the FIAT Mirafiori production line.Sources: Archivio FIAT

FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote

The FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote was never finished. The project was started on 15th April 1943, a bit less than five months before the Armistice and it apparently did not have time to be accepted by the High Command of the Royal Army.

The vehicle chassis would be left intact, removing the standard cab and the wooden cargo bay. Unlike the FIAT 665NM Scudato, the armor would be mounted directly on the chassis and not around the cab and the cargo bay. A new armored structure with an open roof would be welded to protect the crew and personnel carried on board. This reduced the total weight by some tonnes, permitting the use of thicker armored plates on the vehicle.

The driver and vehicle commander’s seats were left intact, together with the driving position, the radiator, engine compartment, and the various fuel, air, and cooling water tanks and battery box.

FIAT 665NM frame. Visible between the wheels, on the left, are the air tank and the battery box. On the right is the fuel tank. Source: Archivio FIAT

The welded armored structure would be made of angled 8 mm armored plates in order to better deflect the small-caliber rounds. Frontally, the armored plates would have two vision slits, one for the driver, on the right, and one for the vehicle commander, on the left. Centrally, on the lower armored plate, an armored grille protected the radiator. This grille could be removed to extract the engine. As on the FIAT 626 medium truck and FIAT 666 heavy-duty truck, the engine could be extracted from the cab’s front after the removal of the grille thanks to rollers mounted on the two supports of the engine.

The engine extraction from a FIAT 626’s cab.Source: Archivio FIAT

Also mounted on the front were two headlights which were shielded to cover them when not in use. The frontal bumper was left intact from the FIAT 665NM chassis. The driver and vehicle commander also had at their disposal two armored doors to quickly enter the vehicle. They could also access their positions through the rear door.

The side doors were divided in two parts due to the angled armored plates. They were equipped with slits on the upper part to permit the driver and the vehicle commander to check the sides of the road or of the battlefield.

As on the original FIAT 666N and FIAT 665NM, the doors opened backward, and thus would not provide adequate frontal protection to crew members if they exited the vehicle in an emergency situation.

FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote left side and upper views, original blueprint.Source: Gli Autoveicoli tattici e logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943

Behind the driver’s and commander’s seats were two rows of wooden benches with backrests for 12 soldiers. These were placed longitudinally with a central corridor.

On the rear left side was the spare wheel support. In order to accommodate the wheel, the rear left wooden bench section was shifted forward some centimeters, partially obstructing the rear access door. The section’s backrest was foldable to help the crew extract the spare wheel from behind the bench.

There was enough space under the benches to store the soldier’s personal equipment, in addition to the crew equipment, ammunition, and the spare parts which were also stored here. The soldier’s rifles and other weapons could be stowed between the angled armored plates and the benches.

The rear armored door was placed in the center and was also divided into two parts due to the angled armored plates, but did not have a vision slit. Under the armored rear door, there was a foldable step to help the personnel to enter the vehicle.

On the rear, the license plate would be placed on the left side. The trailer hitch was left intact, while the rear lights were placed on the armored fenders, which had a thickness between 10 mm to 15 mm. The armor plates that protected the wheels were 8 mm thick, as on the structure, while the front part of the fender was also from 10 mm to 15 mm thick.

The big problem of the vehicle seems to have been the open roof that would make the vehicle vulnerable to hand grenades, artillery splinters and shrapnel, and air attacks. This would be a common problem of Italian armored personnel carriers of the Second World War. However, this also had advantages, such as the fact that each carried soldier could open fire or throw hand grenades at enemy targets.

FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote front and rear views, original blueprint. This is the only blueprint of the vehicle, along with the previous ones.Source: Gli Autoveicoli tattici e logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943

The vehicle had a ground clearance of 325 mm, not enough to protect it from mines. Its belly armor would only be 28 mm of wood on the personnel compartment’s floor. This meant that the vehicle could not ford water over 325 mm deep and that, in the event of an explosion under the vehicle, the wooden floorboards would create dozens of splinters that would increase the effectiveness of the mine, killing or injuring the soldiers carried on board.

It was perhaps for this reason that the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (Eng: Center for Motorisation Studies), the department which examined new vehicles, had not yet authorized the production of a prototype even after five months.

Part Weight (kg)
Armor Plates, 8 mm thick 1,590
Wooden floor, 28 mm thick 200
Front Armored Fenders from 10 mm to 15 mm thick 40
Armored shield for the rear wheels, 8 mm thick 280
Rear Armored Fenders, from 10 mm to 15 mm thick 30
Wooden benches with backrest 140
Foldable rear step 20
Bolts and rivets 100
Total weight armored structure 2,440
Persons, 26 x 100 kg 2,600
Total weight structure and persons 5,040
FIAT 665NM Chassis ~ 1,300
Total weight ~ 6,340
Total Battle ready ~ 11,000

Had it entered service, the vehicle would have served as an armored personnel carrier to transport infantry squads and support Italian tank assaults, primarily in the desert.

As seen with the previous S37 Autoprotetti and the FIAT 665NM Scudati, its destiny would probably have been quite different and it would have acted as an armed escort for convoys loaded with supplies in places where partisan presence was a constant threat to unprotected military vehicles.

Armament

The FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote did not have armament in its blueprints, but it is logical to suppose that it would have a pintle mount or some supports for machine guns, as used on the Carro Protetto Trasporto Truppa su Autotelaio FIAT 626 or the previous FIAT 665NM Scudato, and German and Japanese armored personnel carriers.

As on the other armored personnel carriers of its era, the FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote could probably have a frontal support or, most common on Italian vehicles, a 360° traverse pintle mount with a shielded medium gun or a Solothurn S-18/1000 anti-tank rifle, as on the APC based on FIAT 626NLM chassis, and two supports for other light or medium machine guns on the sides like the German Sd.Kfz. 251 or the Japanese Type 1 Ho-Ha.

The most likely armament would have been a FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935 or a Breda Modello 1937 8 x 59 mm RB medium machine gun mounted frontally.

The first one was an Italian First World War era machine gun produced by FIAT under Revelli development, modified and recalibrated from 1935 and was fed by 50-rounds magazines. The second one was a modern machine gun, developed by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche and fed from 20-rounds clips.

Probably the frontal machine gun mount or the central pintle mount would have featured a shield to protect the machine gunner.

Some side supports for Breda Modello 1930 6.5 x 52 mm Mannlicher-Carcano light machine guns could also have been added.

A Breda Modello 37 with its 18.8 kg tripod.Source: associazionenazionalefantiarresto.it

The infantry squad of the Regio Esercito was composed of 18 men, consisting of a Commander Sergeant, a Deputy-Commander Sergeant armed with a rifle or Moschetto Automatico Beretta (MAB) Modello 1938 submachine gun, two corporals armed with a Breda Modello 1930 light machine gun, and 14 riflemen.

The vehicle could have comfortably carried an entire infantry squad with room for 4 more soldiers, sappers, medics or extra ammunition. In case of need, the two corporals of the squad could probably have mounted their Breda Modello 30 on the side supports and increased the firepower of the vehicle.

The Breda Mod. 1930 light machine gun.Source: guns.fandom.com

Less likely would have been the use of a Solothurn S-18/1000 20 x 138 mm B anti-tank gun or a Breda-SAFAT belt-feed medium machine gun chambered for the 7.7 × 56 mm R (Italian designation of the .303 British) in order to increase the volume of fire or suppressive capacity from the vehicle.

Conclusion

The FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote was one of the dozens of Italian paper projects that never came to light because of the Armistice of 1943. Like all other projects, it is very difficult to say whether it would have made a valuable contribution to the Italian troops or whether it would have become, like the previous Italian armored personnel carriers, a simple vehicle for escorting columns of supplies.

FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote. Illustration by Godzilla
Specification
Size (L-W-H) 7.4 x 2.7 x 2.48 m
Weight 11 tonnes
Crew 2 (commander and driver) + 24 soldiers
Engine FIAT 366 9,365 cm³, 110 hp with 255 liters tank
Speed ~50 km/h
Range ~700 km
Armament 1 machine gun
Armor from 8 mm to 15 mm
Production paper project

Sources

Gli Autoveicoli tattici e logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943, Tomo I Volume II – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano

Categories
WW2 Italian Armored Cars

Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43

Italian Social Republic (1944 – 1945)
Light armored car – 2 or 6 built

The Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43, not to be confused with any of the other many developments on this chassis that Italy experimented with in the 1940s, was produced by the Officine Viberti of Turin in small numbers.

Because of the scarce information about it, it is often mistakenly called Autoblinda AS43 (English: AS43 Armored Car) or Tipo Zerbino after Paolo Zerbino, Chief of the Province of Turin and then Minister of the Interior of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic).

The Carrozzeria Speciale su AS43 was used by the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Guard) from mid-1944 to the end of the war.

A Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 with a three-tone camouflage scheme and Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’ tires. The vehicle was unarmed because the photo was taken at the Officine Viberti plant. Source: Archivio Viberti

History of the Project

After the first engagements between Italian and Commonwealth troops in North Africa, it was clear to the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) High Command that it was necessary to field a light armored car for fast reconnaissance as soon as possible. Starting work from the FIAT-SPA TL37 ‘Libia’ (TL for Trattore Leggero – Light tractor) light prime mover, which had good mobility thanks to the powerful gasoline engine and oversized tires, a new armored car was designed.

The new Autoblinda TL37 or Autoblinda AS37 (AS for Africa Settentrionale – North Africa) had an open-topped turret armed with a powerful Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 20 mm L.65 automatic cannon and a coaxial machine gun. Only one was built by the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, near Genoa. It was shipped to North Africa, where it formed part of an experimental armored car platoon of the Regio Esercito, the Raggruppamento Esplorante del Corpo d’Armata di Manovra or RECAM (English: Reconnaissance Grouping of the Mobile Army Corp), alongside 3 AB41s of the Army, and 9 AB41s and an AB40 from the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana or PAI (English: Police of the Italian Africa) which arrived at a similar time.

Unfortunately, not much is known about its service. It was abandoned at Sidi Rezegh, south of the main road between Tobruk and Bardia, east of El Adem, probably due to a mechanical failure. The project was abandoned in favor of the ‘AB’ series of armored cars, the most produced during the war and the most modified Italian armored car during the war.

The Autoblinda TL37 in the desert. The front mudguard is damaged. An AB41 is in the background. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

Despite the failure of this project, the Regio Esercito did not lose hope, and a new APC was developed on the chassis of the FIAT-SPA TL37. The S37 Autoprotetto was developed for desert fighting. It was ready in February 1942 and 150 were produced, all delivered to the Italian Occupation Units in Yugoslavia.

In North Africa, there was a development of ‘special’ vehicles by Italian frontline troops, which desperately needed vehicles to support their offensives. This is how some camionette (Italian word for reconnaissance military cars) were born, based on the chassis of the FIAT-SPA AS37, a light lorry developed on the chassis of the FIAT-SPA TL37 ‘Libia’.

These easy-to-modify vehicles were appreciated for their off-road characteristics and sturdiness. In late 1942, the Royal Army started to mass-produce vehicles with similar characteristics and for the same purposes. The first one was the Camionetta Desertica Mod. 1943 (English: Desert Reconnaissance Car Model 1943), of which a dozen were produced and used mainly in the Defense of Rome between 8th and 10th September 1943.

Another vehicle developed was the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43, produced in 1943 on the AS37 light truck chassis as a cheaper and easier-to-produce vehicle to accompany the bigger and more expensive Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’. Even this vehicle, despite being developed for use in North Africa, was never used in that operational theater. It saw use in Italy with the troops of the Royal Army to prevent attacks by paratroopers and Allied landings on the Italian coast.

After the Armistice of 8th September 1943, which led to the occupation of central and northern Italy by the Germans, the few vehicles captured and those produced between 1944 and 1945 were used almost exclusively by the Wehrmacht.

A Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 in Luftwaffe hands after the Armistice. It has Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’ tires and is armed with a Cannone Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1941. Behind it is a FIAT-SPA 38R light lorry. Source: pinterest.com

Of the dozens of Italian units loyal to Mussolini after the armistice, only a couple used the SPA-Viberti. The 2ª Compagnia of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ of the 2° Reggimento of the Xª Flottiglia MAS used a single modified vehicle, known as the SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ modified a certain number of vehicles at the Officine Viberti of Turin.

Design

Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43

The Camionetta Desertica FIAT-SPA AS43 or SPA-Viberti AS43 was an Italian light reconnaissance unarmored vehicle developed for North African service as a cheaper, lighter and easier to produce variant of the SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’.

In Italian, the term ‘Camionetta’ (plural Camionette) designates unarmored cars, jeeps or light trucks used in reconnaissance and infantry support roles.

Another view of the SPA-Viberti AS43 prototype. The jerry cans are visible. Source: Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II

The AS43 was developed by Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA, a FIAT subsidiary, and by Officine Viberti, both based in Turin. The project was started using the chassis of the FIAT-SPA AS37 (AS for Autocarro Sahariano – Saharian truck) light lorry, itself derived from the FIAT-SPA Trattore Leggero 37 ‘Libia’ (English: Light Tractor).

The AS43 was produced from mid-1943 until the 8th September 1943 armistice. After the German occupation of northern Italy, production was restarted for the German Army, which used the vehicles, with some modifications, until the end of the war.

The AS37 chassis was lowered from a ground clearance of 390 mm to 345 mm. The cab was completely modified, apart from the hood and the radiator grille. The side doors, the windshield, the roof, and the third seat were removed. The cargo bay was completely modified. The spare wheel was moved from behind the cab to the cargo bay’s rear, on tiltable support that the crew could lower to allow a full 360° traverse to the main gun. The loading bay’s sides were fixed and could not be lowered.

Developed as a desert vehicle, there were two lockers on the sides, between the rear mudguard and the commander and driver’s seats. Each locker could store five 20-liter jerry cans. Another six could be placed on the mudguards, two for each rear mudguard, and one for each frontal mudguard. This gave a total of 16 20-liter jerry cans for drinkable water, engine lubricant oil, and fuel. Obviously, given its use mainly in the Italian peninsula, the jerry cans were rarely transported and the side lockers transported ammunition for the main gun instead.

The main gun of the Camionetta AS43 could be a Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 or Mod. 1939 47 mm L.32 support gun or a Cannone Breda da 20/65 Mod. 1935 anti-aircraft gun. The vehicle’s commander also fired a Breda Mod. 37 or Mod. 38 medium machine gun on a support mounted on the left side of the cab. The ammunition was placed in a small rack between the driver’s and commander’s seats.

Turret

The AS43 armored car’s turret was the Modello 1941 (English: Model 1941) developed and produced by Ansaldo for the L.6/40 light reconnaissance tank. The one-man turret had an octagonal shape with two hatches, one for the vehicle’s commander/gunner on the roof and the second one on the back of the turret, used to facilitate the disassembly of the main armament for maintenance. On the sides, the turret had two air intakes, in addition to two slits through which personal weapons could be fired for close defense. The vehicle did not have fans or smoke extractors.

Armor plate scheme of the Modello 1941 turret. Source: pinterest.com

On the roof, next to the hatch, there was a 30º vision panoramic periscope for the commander. This allowed the commander a partial view of the battlefield. Due to the limited space inside the turret, it was impossible for it to rotate 360°.

After the production of some armored cars and light tanks, it became apparent that the turret had some balance problems, so a counterweight was added on the back, under the rear hatch. The turret did not have a turret basket and the commander/gunner operated the cannon and the machine gun through the use of pedals. There were no electric generators in the turret, so the commander needed to control the traverse and gun elevation with handwheels. The steel cables used to operate the guns were of the ‘Bowden’ type, protected by a plastic sheath, the same principle as on bike brakes.

The AB41 turret, showing off the counterweight and the rear hatch, which is open to permit the extraction of the Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Breda Modello 1935. Source: pinterest.com

Armored Superstructure

In January 1944, the Turin Officine Viberti, a company specialized in bodyworks for Lancia Veicoli Industriali and FIAT Veicoli Commerciali trucks (mainly) and in the production (jointly with SPA) of armored cars and Camionette, resumed the project of the Autoblindo TL37, this time based on the chassis of the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43, in order to obtain a vehicle that was cheaper and easier to produce than the armored cars of the ‘AB’ series.

The first design of this project of the Technical Department of the Officine Viberti dates from 18th January 1944. The last modification is dated 3rd April 1944, while the first photos of operational vehicles are from May of the same year. This vehicle was officially designated Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 by Officine Viberti and offered a certain degree of protection to the crew.

As on most Italian armored vehicles of the war, the armor was made of steel plates riveted to an internal structure. The armored superstructure had a mass of 911 kg, excluding connecting elements such as bolts and rivets.

The engine compartment was in the front and it had an armored radiator grille divided into four. On the engine deck, there were two inspection hatches. In order to remove the engine, the bolts of the engine deck had to be unscrewed and the plate lifted with a winch. The driver to the right and the loader to the left had slits to view the battlefield.

An armored door was present on each of the crew compartment’s sides, divided into two parts due to the angled armored plates. These were new models. In order to speed up production, the slits for close defense were removed.

On the rear were the cap for the 120-liter gasoline tank (right side) and sapper tools. The water tank cap was placed on the engine compartment, on the front, while the unprotected headlights were mounted in front of the mudguards. The vehicle had four armored fenders to prevent small arms rounds from piercing the tires. On the front fenders were width-limit indicators, used by the driver to help drive on narrow mountain roads or to park.

Photo taken by Officine Viberti technicians at the Officine Viberti plant. The rear sapper tools are not present, but the fuel tank cap is visible. Source: Archivio Viberti

The armor was probably the same as on the armored cars of the ‘AB’ series, no more than 8 mm thick for the engine compartment and crew compartment. The turret had an armor of 18 mm on the frontal plate and gun shield, 10 mm on the sides and rear, and 6 mm on the roof. The lower rear angled armor plate was openable and protected the spare wheel from enemy fire.

The tires had the usual dimensions for Italian armored cars. These armored cars had the tires developed by Pirelli specifically for continental terrain, the Pirelli Tipo “Artiglio” 9 x 24″ (22.8 x 60 cm). Obviously, the rims were not modified and the vehicle could have mounted all the tires produced by Pirelli for the 24″ rims, also mounted on the AB series armored cars, the Camionette SPA-Viberti AS42 and the SPA TM40 prime mover.

Engine and Suspension

The SPA-Viberti AS43 was all-wheel drive, as on the AS37. On this new vehicle, only the front wheels steered, reducing the mechanical complexity and the need for complex maintenance of the steering system.

The front wheels had independent coil spring suspension coupled with hydraulic shock absorbers, which guaranteed great comfort on rough terrain. The rear wheels had inverse leaf springs, but these were reinforced compared to those of the TL37 light prime mover.

There are doubts about the brakes. ‘Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II’, written by Ralph Riccio, mentions that the Camionetta had hydraulic brakes, while ‘Le Camionette del Regio Esercito’, written by Enrico Finazzer and Luigi Carretta, makes no mention of modifications to the original AS37 desert light truck, which had mechanical brakes with the brake pedal acting on pairs of brake jaws for each wheel.

Poor quality photo of the SPA 18VT engine. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

The engine was a more powerful version of the one used on FIAT-SPA AS37, the SPA 18VT 4-stroke, 4-cylinder, petrol engine delivering 73 hp (or 75 hp, depending on the sources) at 2,000 rpm. This gave a maximum fully-loaded on-road speed of about 50 km/h due to the weight.

The fuel tank had a capacity of 120 liters, giving a range of 250 km, while the gearbox was the same as on the AS37, with 5 gears plus reverse.

Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 internal scheme. In front, the radiator and the engine are visible, while at the rear, the ammunition racks, the 120 liter tank and the spare tire are visible. Source: pinterest.com

Main Armament

The main armament was the Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Breda Modello 1935. This 20 mm L.65 gun was developed as an anti-aircraft cannon but also used with great success in an anti-light armor role, with a theoretical rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute, while the practical one was about 220 due to the cramped space in the turret. It was equipped with an x1 sight produced by the San Giorgio Optics Factory. The elevation was +18°, the depression was -9°, while the manual traverse was 360°.

The Breda cannon could fire Italian-produced Armor Piercing-Incendiary – Tracer (API – T) and High-Explosive-Fragmentation – Incendiary – Tracer (HEFI – T) rounds of Italian production. These had a caliber of 20 x 138 mmB ‘Long Solothurn’, the same used by the German FlaK 38 cannon and the Solothurn S18-1000 anti-tank gun. With Italian armor-piercing rounds, the Mod. 1935 cannon could penetrate a 38 mm armor plate angled at 90° at 100 meters and a 30 mm armored plate at 500 meters. With German Pz.Gr. 40 ammunition, it could penetrate a 50 mm armor plate angled at 90° at 100 meters and a 40 mm armored plate at 500 meters. This made it a fairly fearsome weapon even against light tanks.

The Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Breda Modello 1935 used by Italian troops in the Soviet Union. Source: pinterest.com

Secondary Armament

The secondary armament consisted of two Breda Modello 1938 8 x 59 mmRB Breda caliber machine guns. The first was coaxial to the cannon, on the left, while the second was in a ball support at the rear of the vehicle. These machine guns were the vehicle version of the Breda Modello 1937 medium machine gun and had a top-mounted curved box magazine with 24 rounds. The machine gun at the rear had x1 optics, identical to the main gun one.

From 1943 onward, anti-aircraft supports for the AB41 were produced by Ansaldo-Fossati, but very few were produced and not much is known about their use. No Carrozzeria Speciale su AS43 used them.

Gun mantlet. From the left: the Breda Modello 1938 coaxial machine gun, the Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Breda Modello 1935 and the San Giorgio 1x optic. Source: Archivio Ansaldo

Ammunition

The ammunition load on the Carrozzeria Speciale su AS43 consisted of 50 magazines with 8 rounds each, for a total of 400 20 mm rounds. There were also 48 magazines of 24 rounds, for a total of 1,152 8 mm rounds. This compared well to the 456 20 mm rounds and 1,992 8 mm rounds stored in the AB41 and AB43 armored cars. The rounds were stored in two different wooden racks painted white, placed at the vehicle’s rear.

Many sources and videogames, such as War Thunder, mention the use of 8-round magazines instead of the common 12-round magazines. It is unclear whether these magazines were actually produced or whether they were modified on the battlefield by the crews to facilitate loading in the narrow turrets of the AB series armored cars.

The same sources claim that post-Armistice vehicles were mostly equipped with German-made ammunition. In some cases, the guns were modified by German crews to load the 24-round magazines of the FlaK 38 anti-aircraft cannon.

Operational Use

The Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 was probably modified at the Officine Viberti plant in Peschiera Boulevard 249, where the Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 were produced.

Many Italian sources claim that Paolo Zerbino, Chief of the Province of Turin from 21st October 1943 to 7th May 1944 and then Minister of the Interior of the Italian Social Republic, “participated” in the development. It is not clear how he participated, whether economically, by providing money for the development and production, or if he only acted as an intermediary between Officine Viberti and another Turin factory that supplied the steel plates for the production of the vehicles.

Although the production dates are not known, it is likely that the first two were produced between 3rd April and mid-May 1944. They were spotted on 23rd May 1944 in a parade of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Turin.

The two Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 during the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ parade in Turin on 23rd May 1944. The two AS43s and the AB41 on the right are painted in Kaki Sahariano. The unit’s coat of arms on the far left is clearly visible. Piazza Carlo Felice near Porta Nuova Train Station. Source: mab.forumfree.it
The column of vehicles composed, from the closest one, of an AB41 armored car, two AS43 armored cars, an L6/40 light tank, and two M13/40 medium tanks. They are on parade along Via Roma, from Porta Nuova train station to Piazza Castello. Source: I Carristi di Mussolini, Il Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” dalla MVSN alla RSI

The two vehicles were assigned to the 1ª Compagnia (English: 1st Company) or the 2ª Compagnia (English: 2nd Company) of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, created in Montichiari, near Brescia in Lombardia.

In late February or early March 1944, the unit was transferred to Turin, in Piemonte and used almost exclusively in anti-partisan roles for the rest of the war. The two companies were located in the Caserma Dabormida and Caserma La Marmora barracks in Turin.

The same parade on 23rd May 1944. The first Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 is seen behind a L6/40 and two M13/40s. Partially legible, the license plate is GNR 0151. Piazza Castello, Turin. Source: forum.warthunder.com

Between 27th May and 4th July 1944, the unit was employed in hunting partisans between the provinces of Ivrea and Biella in northern Piemonte. On these occasions, the Autoblindo AS43 was probably used. Official sources claim the use of “two armored cars”, which would probably be the Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 on their first operational mission. A total of 33 partisans were captured, as well 3 Australian soldiers that had escaped from a prison camp, and some military equipment.

In June 1944, the continuous arrival of volunteer soldiers and the recovery of armored vehicles allowed the reorganization of the two companies. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was now composed of: 1ª Compagnia Carri (English: 1st Tanks Company), 2ª Compagnia Autoblindo (English: 2nd Armored Cars Company) and 3ª Compagnia Arditi (English: 3rd Arditi Company).

A Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 at the Caserma Lamarmora barracks during maintenance. The militiaman on the vehicle’s engine deck has the barrel cleaning rod in his hands. On the turret’s top is what looks like a Breda Mod. 38 dismounted from its support and ready to be cleaned. Behind the armored car is an OM Taurus medium truck on maintenance. Source: wikipedia.org

In late 1944, one of the AS43 armored cars may have been destroyed or abandoned. On 23rd March 1945, at the last official parade of the unit in Turin, there was only one Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43.

The hypothesis of the destroyed armored car is unproven. On 22nd March 1945, a detachment of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ took part in an anti-partisan war in Valsesia, in the province of Vercelli, with a tank and an armored car of unknown model. It could very well have been a Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 which would not have reached Turin, about 150 km away, in time for the parade.

The only Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 present at the 23rd March 1945 parade in Turin, with the new three-tone camouflage scheme, on the Via Roma. Behind it is a SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta and a FIAT 626NM. Source: pinterest.com

In late April 1945, a detachment of the group, composed of an L6/40 light reconnaissance tank and two armored cars, of which one was surely a Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43, was sent to Val Tellina, near Tirano in Lombardia, with the task of keeping the area clear of partisans.

This was the area chosen by the Secretary of the Italian Fascist Party, Alessandro Pavolini, for the “Ridotto Alpino Repubblicano” (English: Republican Alpine Redoubt), an area cleared of partisans where to amass the fascist units loyal to Mussolini fleeing from the cities of northern Italy and where to resist the Allied troops while Benito Mussolini fled to Switzerland.

One of the two armored cars dislocated at Val Tellina in late April 1945. Unfortunately, the license plate is unreadable because the author of the photo, Giorgio Pisanò, a former Italian politician and journalist, had to hide the camera roll with the photos and could only develop them a long time after. Source: Giorgio Pisanò

The second armored car was of an unknown model, either an AB41 or AS43. Apart from the improvised armored cars, the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ had in its ranks a total of 18 AB41s and AB43s during its time in Piemonte, Lombardia and Emilia Romagna.

If some Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 remained in Turin, they followed the same fate as the Fascist troops in the city. After 24th April 1945, some tanks were deployed to protect strategic points of the city, while the armored cars were used to patrol the streets and as a reserve to launch counterattacks.

On 26th April 1945, the partisans attacked the city, occupying the town hall, the railway stations, and some manufacturing plants. Tanks and armored cars in the city were used to counterattack the partisan forces.

Around 1800 hrs of the same day, 4 tanks, 3 armored cars (model unknown), a platoon of Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, and a platoon of the Black Brigade of Turin Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ attacked and reconquered the barracks on Cernaia Street, the headquarters of the Black Brigade. The attack succeeded but, for the rest of the night, two armored cars (again, the models are unknown) and 5 tanks continued to patrol the parts of the city still in Fascist hands.

It was clear that it was impossible to repel the partisans, so the Fascist command of Turin decided to resist to the bitter end, hoping for the arrival of Anglo-American troops in order to surrender to them.

On 27th April 1945, an armored car escorted a truck of the Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ to the Casa Littoria, the headquarters of the Italian Fascist Party of Turin in Carlo Alberto Street number 10. There, a group of Avanguardisti of the ‘Fiamme Bianche’ (English: White Flames) had barricaded themselves in for unknown reasons. The Avanguardisti were young people between 14 and 18 years old who voluntarily joined the RSI troops but, being too young, were not yet assigned to frontline units.

The armored car (of unknown model) managed to provide adequate supporting fire, evacuating all the young men from the building and escorting them to safety at the Caserma Cernaia barracks.

The situation was worsening by the minute. At 0140 hrs on 28th April 1945, all the surviving Fascist forces in the city, about 5,000 soldiers, gathered in Piazza Castello and fled towards Lombardia to gather at “Ridotto Alpino Repubblicano”. The protection of the column of trucks was entrusted to the tanks and armored cars of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’. The column reached Val Tellina and waited, with about 10,000 more men, until 5th May 1945, when they surrendered to the Anglo-American troops.

The detachment sent to Val Tellina had a different fate. Until 26th April 1945, all was quiet at Tirano, near Sondrio, a few kilometers from Switzerland. On the morning of 27th April, a column made up of the detachment from the ‘Leonessa’, 2° Battaglione of the III Legione Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana di Frontiera ‘Vetta d’Italia’, XXXVIII Brigata Nera ‘Ruy Blas Biagi’, and some soldiers of the French Vichy Republic, a total of about 1,000 men, set out for Sondrio in order to reach Benito Mussolini. The column was immediately blocked at the exit of the city by partisan troops, starting the Battle of Tirano.

On the night of 27th April, the Brigata Partigiana ‘Gufi’ (English: Partisan Brigade) encircled the city of Tirano. In the following hours, groups of partisans from Val Grosina and from the Sondalo area also arrived.

A photo showing part of the Fascist column under partisan fire. Source: Giorgio Pisanò

The total number of partisans is difficult to determine, partly because their lines were strengthened by citizens who arrived in the early hours to join them. The writer William Marconi, who took part in the battle as a partisan of the Brigata Partigiana ‘Gufi’, states in his book ‘L’Aprile 1945 fra Tirano e Grosio’ that there were no more than 300 or 350 partisans, with no heavy weapons apart from some mortars. They faced 1 L6/40 light reconnaissance tank, two armored cars (one AS43 and the other of an unknown model), and several trucks armed with Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Breda Modello 1935, including at least one civilian FIAT 634N 2nd Series requisitioned weeks or days earlier by the Army.

Civilian FIAT 634N 2nd Series with a Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Breda Modello 1935 on the loading bay, used by the Fascist forces against the partisans at Tirano on 27th April 1945. Source: Giorgio Pisanò

The fight lasted from dawn until 1630 hrs. Among the partisans, there were two deceased, Ermanno Balgera and Nello Braccaioli, and some others were wounded. The Vichy French troops suffered 5 casualties and several wounded. The Fascists lost nine men and two auxiliaries (women assigned to units as nurses, cooks, etc.). In the reports, three Germans are also marked as fallen, of whom nothing else is known.

The armored car ended up in partisan hands after the clash, along with other vehicles of the Fascist column. These were used in the following days, until 2nd May 1945, in the area of the Mortirolo Pass, at 1,852 meters above sea level, where an attack by the I Legione d’Assalto ‘M’ ‘Tagliamento’ was feared.

The Autoblinda AS43 captured by the partisans at Tirano waiting in a street in Sondrio together with two Peugeot pick-ups captured from Vichy troops. Source: Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile

Camouflage and Markings

The known vehicles had two different types of camouflage schemes, the Kaki Sahariano (English: Saharan Khaki), standard monochrome camouflage of the Italian Regio Esercito until mid-1943. However, as they were delivered to the unit in May 1944, this scheme was probably used because Officine Viberti had no other paint. The other scheme was the Continentale (English: Continental) three-tone camouflage scheme. It was the standard camouflage scheme for the vehicles produced after the end of the North African Campaign, when it became obvious that the peninsula had to be defended from Allied attacks and a desert camouflage was no longer suitable for the purpose.

The Kaki Sahariano base vehicles were covered with reddish brown and dark green spots. It was adopted from December 1944. The vehicles spotted from 23rd March until April 1945 had this camouflage pattern.

The only license plate known is ‘GNR 0151’, spotted on 23rd May 1944. When the vehicles had Kaki Sahariano camouflage they received the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ coat of arms on the turret sides and rear hatch. This was a red ‘m’, for Mussolini, with a lictorian beam (symbol of the Italian Fascist Party), and the acronym ‘GNR’ painted in red.

The vehicle captured in Tirano by the partisans received some patriotic slogans painted in white on the superstructure. Due to the framing of the only known photo of the vehicle and the low quality, only the word “ESERCITO” (English: Army) is legible.

It was common practice for the partisans to paint slogans or the names of fallen comrades on vehicles captured from the Fascists, both for superstition and in order to avoid friendly fire. It is possible that the phrase on the armored car was “ESERCITO DI LIBERAZIONE” (English: Liberation Army).

The captured vehicle in Tirano. The writing “ESERCITO …” is visible on the front. The men in front of the armored cars look like partisans. There is also a man dressed in a suit, maybe the city’s mayor or a citizen that joined the partisans that day. Source: Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile

Conclusion

In the desperate situation in which the Italian Social Republic found itself in 1944, the Carrozzeria Speciale on AS43 was all the Fascist Italian troops could get.

Even if it was not a vehicle with extraordinary characteristics, it was employed in secondary tasks and against adversaries equipped with weak weapons that could not destroy it. The few examples produced were used successfully until the end of the war.

Carrozzeria Spegiale su SPA-Viberti AS43. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 Specifications

Total weight, battle ready 5 or 6 tonnes
Crew 3 (driver, loader and commander/gunner)
Propulsion Tipo 18 VT 4-cylinder petrol, 4,053 cm³, 73 hp at 2,600 rpm and 120 liter tank
Speed ~50 km/h
Range ~ 250 km
Armament One Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Mod. 1935 and a 8 mm Breda Mod. 38
Armor 8 mm
Total production From 2 to 6 built

Sources

zimmerit.com
I corazzati di circostanza italiani – Nico Sgarlato
Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile – Paolo Crippa
Le Camionette del Regio Esercito – Enrico Finazzer and Luigi Carretta
I Carristi di Mussolini, Il Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” dalla MVSN alla RSI – Paolo Crippa
L’Aprile 1945 fra Tirano e Grosio – William Marconi

Categories
WW2 Italian SPGs

Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8

Kingdom of Italy 1941 – 1943
Truck-mounted Artillery – 24 Built

The Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 was a wheeled self-propelled gun built during the Second World War by the workshops of the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) in Libyan territory. This vehicle was created by installing a 65 mm infantry cannon on the cargo bay of British Morris CS8 trucks captured during the first actions in North Africa in 1940. This Autocannone was used by the Batterie Volanti (English: Flying Batteries) artillery group that fought against the Commonwealth forces in the Libyan desert during the North African Campaign.

The Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 with a two tone camouflage, unit coat of arms on the fender, and a Savoia Cross for air recognition on the hood. Source: pinterest.com

Context

The word ‘Autocannone’ (Autocannoni plural) designated any truck equipped with a field, anti-tank or support gun permanently mounted on the cargo bay. It differs from the British term ‘Portée’ in that the Portée cannon was transported in the cargo bay on its wheeled carriage and, if necessary, could be unloaded and used as a normal field gun.

After the initial military success in the North African Campaign, such as the Italian Invasion of Egypt between 9th and 16th September 1940 and Operation Sonnenblume between 6th February and 25th May 1941, the Regio Esercito captured lots of British light trucks, such as the Morris CS8, Ford and Chevrolet 15 CWT, and some Canadian Military Pattern or CMPs. In that period, the Italian Army in Africa had serious motorization problems because the Italian industry could not provide enough trucks for the necessity of the Italian Army, Air Force, and Navy.

To replace losses and provide needed vehicles for supplying the units, the Army High Command was forced to requisition civilian trucks and French trucks captured during the French Campaign. Despite this, the number of trucks was still insufficient.

To fill the gap, newly captured British trucks were immediately put into service alongside Italian vehicles, some as normal light transport trucks, while others received some modifications. Some were transformed into reconnaissance vehicles, ammunition carriers, and command vehicles for motorized artillery groups.

A column of Morris CS8 trucks used by the Regio Esercito as ammunition vehicles during a break in the Libyan desert. Source: Italian truck-mounted artillery in action

The inadequacy of the Italian tanks, such as the L3 series light tanks and the medium M11/39 and M13/40 tanks, apparent in the fighting against the British tanks, and the reduced mobility of the infantry support artillery in the desert territory, pushed the High Command to appeal to the Italian workshops in Libyan territory to create vehicles for the role. These had to be light and fast and be able to support the Italian infantry or armored units from short-to-medium ranges with guns that would normally be towed. Such vehicles would be able to move quickly from one point to another on the North African battlefields to engage the enemy forces that broke through the Axis defensive lines.

This was seen by the Italian commanders in Africa as only a temporary solution before the production of better armed vehicles with adequate characteristics. The vehicles, like other autocannoni, were built at the Libyan workshops of the 12° Autoraggruppamento AS (‘AS’ stands for Africa Settentrionale – North Africa) situated in the Village of Giovanni Berta, near the city of El Gubba in north-east Libya.

The Trucks

The Morris CS8 was the standard light truck of the Commonwealth Armed Forces in North Africa. Dozens of different variants were built, including a command post, radio center, water and fuel tanker, compressor and, most noticeably, French Hotchkiss 25 mm Mle. 1934, Bofors 37 mm and 2 pounder portée versions.

A Morris CS8 with Bofors 37 mm anti-tank gun used by Polish troops in the Commonwealth Army in the North African Desert. Source: acemodel.com.ua

It was a compact and reliable 15 CWT (Centum WeighT, a multiple of the British pound equivalent to 750 kg of loadable weight in the metric system) 4×2 truck. The rear-wheel drive vehicle was equipped with a civil-derived 6-cylinder gasoline engine with a volume of 3.5 liters, delivering 60 hp. It had a 100 liter tank that offered a range of 600 km.

Morris CS8 captured by Italian troops during the first stages of the African Campaign. Source: modellismopiù.com

Captured in large numbers by the Italians in Cyrenaica during the first phases of the war, the CS8 was appreciated for its characteristics by the Axis troops. It was widely used by the Italians as a desert reconnaissance truck, ammunition carrier, command post, or used to transport artillery pieces for Autocannoni da 65/17 field artillery guns and da 20/65 anti-aircraft guns for motorized artillery groups.

Modifications

First of all, the modifications involved the removal of the windshield, which was replaced with a small lowerable windshield for the driver, the removal of the waterproof tarpaulin and the tarpaulin rods, and the front bumper. The standard Morris truck’s cargo bay was lengthened from 460 mm to 510 mm. A rotating trunnion and a manual rotation system taken from knocked out or destroyed M13/40 Italian medium tanks was fixed on the cargo bay. The modified gun carriage, without the spade and the wheels, was mounted on it.

The Autocannone prototype during trials. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

The fixed sides of the cargo bay were replaced with lowerable sides to allow 360° of rotation for the cannon and clear the recoil of 95 cm when the gun was pointed to the truck’s sides. On the rear part were the sappers’ tools, while on the side, were two perforated metal plates used for unditching the vehicles.

General Gastone Gambara and other officers inspecting the Autocannone prototype. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

The weight of the truck increased from the standard Morris’ 1,969 kg to 2,846 kg, a weight not too much higher than a Morris CS8 at full load, which was around 2,700 kg.

Each vehicle was equipped with eight 20 liter jerry cans, usually 6 for fuel, with3 per side in two racks under the cargo bay, one for lubricant, and one for drinkable water, hooked on both sides of the cabin. In this way, the range from 600 km more than doubled to 1,325 km. Each Autocannone carried a reserve of 36 rounds for the cannon, increased later to 60 rounds stored in a rack on the cargo bay’s rear.

The Morris CS8 in British Army service and the Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 in Italian hands. Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com & wikipedia.org

For close and anti-aircraft defense, a 360° support for a Breda Mod. 38 caliber 8 mm machine gun was mounted on the left side of the cabin for use by the vehicle’s commander. The ammunition for the machine gun was probably stored under the commander’s seat or wherever there was space. There were 5 crew members: a driver on the right of the cabin; a commander on the left; a gunner and two loaders on the cargo bay. They carried their personal weapons on board which were, from photographic evidence, Carcano Mod. 91/38 carabines, one of the shortest variants of the Carcano Mod. 1891 rifle family.

The Cannon

The Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1908, and its successor, the Mod. 1913, were the standard mountain cannons of the Regio Esercito during the First World War. They were produced by the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino or ARET (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin) and afterwards, in the 1920s, the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Napoli or AREP.

In 1920, the Cannone da 75/13 produced by Škoda, of which hundred were captured during the war and thousands more were obtained after the war from Austria as war reparations, became the standard mountain gun in the Italian Army. As a consequence, the Cannone da 65/17s were assigned to all infantry divisions as a support cannon to replace the 3.7 cm Infanteriegeschütz M.15, which were produced in Italy as the Cannone da 37/10 Fanteria Mod. 1915.

Each Italian regiment was equipped with four 65/17 Mod. 1908 or Mod. 1913 cannons. The cannon was used in great quantities in the Ethiopian War and the Spanish Civil War, being used, due to the lack of guns specifically designed for the anti-tank role, as an anti-tank gun, succeeding in penetrating the armor of armored vehicles in service with the Spanish Republican troops, such as the Soviet BA-6 armored cars and T-26 and BT-7 light tanks, proving equivalent to the 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun in the anti-tank role.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the 65/17 was assigned primarily to the Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia (English: Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia) and to the troops in North Africa.

The Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1913 in North Africa. Source: pinterest.com

Although it was a light and practical cannon to move, as it could be towed by the Moto Guzzi 500 TriAlce motorized tricycle, in the North African terrain, on the sand, it had mobility and stability problems. The main factor that characterized the war in the wide desert spaces was the need to have excellent mobility and rapid response to enemy attacks.

These factors prompted the Italian Royal Army leadership to install the cannons on truck beds.

There were four types of ammunition available for this cannon:

Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1908 ammunition
Name Type Fuze Weight (kg) Muzzle velocity (m/s) Penetration
Cartoccio Granata Dirompente High-Explosive (HE) Mod. 1912 4.22 355 //
Cartoccio Granata a Shrapnel Shrapnel grenade Mod. 1912 4.5 320 //
Cartoccio Granata Perforante Armor-Piercing (AP) I-90-909-R.M. 4.23 348 Not specified
Granata Effetto Pronto High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) // // ~300 120 mm

Unfortunately, there is not much information about the rounds of the Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1908/13. The High-Explosive Anti-Tank shells were distributed to first line units on the North African front after spring 1942. They were quite effective given the low muzzle velocity of the cannon and could penetrate 120 mm of armor at 90° at any distance. The maximum range of the gun was 6,000 meters, but the practical anti-tank effective distance dropped to 500 to 1,000 meters.

The original cannon was modified, removing the wheels and tail. It was mounted on a system taken from the traverse system of damaged or destroyed Italian tanks, of which the workshops were full. The elevation was limited from 0° to +20°, while the traverse was a full 360°.

An Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 from the rear. The gun and its support are visible on the cargo bay. Source: pinterest.com

Operational Service

The first batch consisted of 24 Morris trucks armed with the Italian 65/17 field gun. These were presented for the first time on August 8th, 1941, by Italian Royal Army General Gastone Gambara, the commander of the Corpo d’Armata di Manovra (English: Mobile Army Corp) during a meeting with other generals in Cyrenaica. There, he said they had 24 all-terrain anti-tank vehicles based on captured trucks under construction and that they would be ready shortly.

General Gastone Gambara and Colonel Tullio Nicolardi inspecting the prototype of the SPG. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

The first batch went to equip the Italian Raggruppamento Esplorante or RE (English: Exploration Grouping) of the Corpo d’Armata di Manovra. The first two armed Morris trucks were ready on September 8th, 1941, while the first Batteria Volante was ready on September 22nd of the same year.

During the last days of September 1941, the Batteries equipped with armed Morris CS8 trucks participated in the battles of the African Campaign. These proved to be useful, so the Italian Royal Army immediately began to modify other British vehicles, equipping its batteries with a total of 71 captured vehicles and managing to create a total of 16 Batterie Volanti equipped with Autocannoni armed with anti-tank, anti-aircraft, or field guns based on Italian or captured trucks. Of these 16 Batterie Volanti, the Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 equipped seven.

The batteries equipped with this type of autocannoni were also often used in the anti-tank role, even if the Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1913 was certainly not suitable for that role. However, they managed, on more than one occasion, to slow down or stop the attacks of British armored forces.

Another important role was intercepting and engaging the patrols of the Long Range Desert Groups (LRDGs) or the Special Air Service (SAS) that attacked Axis airfields and fuel and ammunition storage centers located at the rear of the Axis line, and the columns loaded with supplies going to the frontline.

After the Invasion of Egypt, the British reorganized and launched several surprise attacks in the rear of the Axis lines, trying to weaken the Italian Army. An attack force, presumably composed of the LRDG, perhaps supported by a small nucleus of armored vehicles, attacked the workshop of the 12° Autoraggruppamento AS on December 4th, 1941. This was one of the first clashes in which the Autocannoni da 65/17 participated.

A defense was organized which, thanks to the brave work of Umberto Galli Da Bino, the Italian NCO in charge of the workshop, was effective and was able to stop the enemy attack, capturing some enemy vehicles and losing a few men. The NCO was later awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valor for this action.

The to the 3ª Batteria Volante equipped the I° Gruppo (English: 1st Group), while the 4ª to the 6ª Batteria Volante equipped the lll° Gruppo. On May 24th, 1942, all six Batteries were renamed Batterie Autocannoni and the two groups were renamed XIV° Gruppo and XV° Gruppo, respectively. The last battery created was the 11ª Batteria Volante Indipendente (English: 11th Independent Flying Battery).

In 1941, the equipment provided to each battery consisted of four Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8 with 36 rounds on board and two ammunition carriers, often modified Morris CS8, with 250 rounds each. Other batteries were equipped with three Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8 and two anti-aircraft vehicles, 20/65 su Ford 15 CWT, or Chevrolet 15 CWT trucks.

During the campaign, some batteries were equipped with three 65/17 su Morris CS8 and two captured Ford F15 truck armed with the Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 anti-aircraft gun or with another 16 Morris CS8 trucks that were modified by the Italians and armed with a 20/65 Breda Mod. 1935, used to defend the autocannoni batteries from air attacks.

In November 1941, a friendly fire incident destroyed half of the autocannoni su Morris CS8 of a Batterie Volante and an entire battery, 4 vehicles, of Autocannoni da 100/17 on Lancia 3Ro. A German Junker Ju. 87 ‘Stuka’ ground attack aircraft hit the vehicles, mistaking them for British trucks, despite the flags of the Kingdom of Italy painted on the fenders and attached to the hoods of the vehicles. This killed 6 crew members and the lieutenant colonel of the battlegroup.

On March 23rd, 1942, the XIV° Gruppo was completely destroyed by the British during an aerial bombardment against their positions. Between March 24th and 25th, British troops also hit their positions with artillery fire. The few surviving vehicles of the XIV° Gruppo fought against the 8th Army and almost all surviving personnel of the group were taken prisoners.

During the following weeks, the XIV° Gruppo was rebuilt from the III° Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ (English: 3rd Armored Group), equipped with AB41 armored cars and four Autocannoni da 65/17 su FIAT 634N, based on an Italian heavy duty truck.

In the spring 1942, the first Autocannoni da 90/53, developed and produced in Italy for the African Campaign, arrived. These armed trucks did not have great mobility, but their 90 mm cannons were really powerful. As a consequence, in June 1942 the production of new autocannoni da 65/17 was stopped.

Because of the losses, the Autocannoni da 65/17 Batteries were reorganized into: command unit, 3 batteries with 12 autocannoni da 65/17 in total, four autocannoni da 20/65 su Ford, Chevrolet or Morris CS8 chassis, a staff car, 4 armored trucks, 10 light trucks, 13 motorcycles, 4 machine guns, four 20 mm wheeled anti-aircraft guns and two RF2 radio station with a staff of 13 officers, 7 NCOs, 137 artillery crew, and 56 drivers.

General Ugo Cavallero delivering a speech, along with General Gastone Gambara and General Ettore Bastico, sitting on an Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8. On the right is visible a flag of the Kingdom of Italy in order to avoid friendly fire. Al-Kararim village near Misratah, Libya, June 1942. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

The three renamed batteries were assigned from January 1943 to the 136º Reggimento Artiglieria (English: 136th Artillery Regiment) of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ (English: 136th Armored Division) and remained in the division for the rest of the African Campaign, fighting with tenacity during the battles in Tunisia.

Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 of the 1st Batteria Autocannoni, 136° Reggimento d’Artiglieria Celere of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ in Tunisia, 1943. Source: reddit.com

The first battle in which the Autocannoni da 65/17 participated under the insignia of the ‘Giovani Fascisti’ division was the Battle of Médenine on March 6th, 1943. There, they supported the failed offensive of the Axis that led to the loss of 52 tanks.

During the Battle of the Mareth Line, March 16th to 31st, and the Battle of Wadi Akarit (in Italian called Uadi) on April 6th to 7th, 1943, the Axis units were supported by the autocannoni. However, their use in anti-tank actions was almost completely fruitless because the Allies were armed with modern tanks with thicker armor than the tanks used at the beginning of the campaign.

The last autocannoni were still used between April 19th and 30th, during the First Battle of Enfidaville (now the Tunisian city of Enfidha) and in the Second Battle of Enfidaville. During these, the last forces of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ fought even after the declaration of surrender of the Axis forces in the region.

An autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 of the 1st Group lies abandoned in the African desert. In this photo is clearly visible the 360° rotating support derived from the Italian ‘M’ tanks and the modified cannon carriage. Source: pinterest.com

Conclusion

The autocannoni da 65/17 were very effective in the African Campaign, where their timely intervention succeeded on more than one occasion in turning the fortunes of some battles. However, like any military vehicle, they were not free from flaws.

They were unarmored and vulnerable to enemy small arms fire and lacked protection for the crew, who were vulnerable to shrapnel and small bullets. The crew was then exposed to sunlight and sandstorms and the cargo bay, although widened, was narrow, making it difficult for the three gun crew to work around the gun.

In order to protect themselves from enemy infantry attacks, the crew was forced to transport their personal weapons and ammunition for them, but there were no gun racks available on the cargo bay.

Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.69 – 4.74 x 1.98 x 1.98 m
Total weight, battle-ready 2.846 tonnes
Crew 4 (vehicle commander, driver, gunner and loader)
Propulsion 6 cylinder, 3.5 l, gasoline
Speed 65 km/h
Range 600 km or 1325 km (with additional jerry cans)
Armament cannone d’accompagnamento 65/17 Mod. 1908/1913 and a Breda Mod. 38 machine-gun
Armor //
Total production 24 65/17 su Morris CS8 and around 30 others in the other variants.

Sources

I corazzati di circostanza italiani – Nico Sgarlato

Italian truck-mounted artillery in action – Ralph Riccio e Nicola Pignato

I mezzi da combattimento di circostanza del Regio Esercito – Bruno Benvenuti e Andrea Curami

Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Volume II, Tomo II – Nicola Pignato, Filippo Cappellano

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WW2 Italian APC

FIAT 665NM Protetto

Kingdom of Italy (1942 – 1945)
Armored Personnel Carrier – more than 110 built

The FIAT 665NM Protetto (English: Protected) was an Italian Second World War Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) developed on the 4×4 FIAT 665NM chassis. A total of 110 were produced before the Armistice on 8th September 1943 and were used by the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army). Some were then captured by the Germans, who reused the majority of those vehicles.

The Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army) had a few vehicles too, which were mainly used in anti-partisan operations, with great success.

Special thanks to Marko Pantelić and Daniele Notaro, who helped with information on the service of the vehicle in the Balkans and units that operated it.

FIAT 665NM Protetto at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione in Rome. Source: tumblr.com

Context

The Regio Esercito entered the Second World War without armored personnel carriers, which were desperately needed. In the vast deserts of North Africa, Italian troops were transported on trucks that could not follow the troops into the battlefields because of their vulnerability.

In order to solve the lack of APCs, the Italian troops in the various war theaters, Yugoslavia, North Africa, and East Africa, created a few improvised solutions.

The Italian occupation forces in Yugoslavia were often widely distributed across many smaller garrisons, with the purpose of protecting them against any possible Partisan attacks and to keep the cities out of Partisan hands. This worked in theory, but in practice, it made them easy targets for the Yugoslavian Partisans. They would simply surround and then eliminate these small Italian garrisons, which lacked the means to properly fight back. In order to respond to these major issues, in 1941, the Italians began developing a series of new armored vehicles. However, in order to respond faster to the threat, the Italian occupation force in Yugoslavia started to produce many improvised armored trucks on civilian or military trucks.

Italian units used trench shields or scrap armored plates to armor some Renault ADRs, which had been captured during the French Campaign.

A Renault ADR Blindato of the Regio Esercito used in the Balkans. Source: pinterest.com

In East Africa, the Italians had a total of 5,300 civilian and military trucks, of which 96 were fully or partially armored to fight the British troops and Ethiopian partisans.

In North Africa, where the necessity for specialized vehicles was greater, improvised APCs were few in number, as priority was given to Autocannoni, trucks armed with cannons used for infantry support. Despite this, some FIAT 626 trucks were armored with lightweight steel plates.

The need for APCs forced the Regio Esercito to make a request for an armored personnel carrier on the FIAT-SPA TL37 (TL for Trattore Leggero – Light Tractor) ‘Libia’ chassis in January 1941. About 150 vehicles were built. It was never sent to Africa, but was used in anti-partisan operations in the Balkans.

Ceirano 47 CM Blindato used by the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana in the Italian East African Colonies. Source: pinterest.com

Development

The development of this armored personnel carrier, initially called Autocarro Scudato (English: Shielded Truck) and then Autocarro da Trasporto a 4 Ruote Motrici (English: 4 wheel drive transport truck), began in mid-1942 by the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin) in collaboration with FIAT Veicoli Industriali (English: FIAT Industrial Vehicle), which provided the trucks and some suggestion to the arsenal, and the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (English: Centre for Motorisation Studies).

The Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino, which had around 1,377 workers, mostly produced artillery pieces and armored plates during the Second World War, but also armored some vehicles, especially after the Armistice, in a semi-improvised manner. After the war, the arsenal refurbished dozens of armored vehicles that had survived the war in order to be put back in service with the new Italian armored forces.

Production and Name

The FIAT 665NM Protetto was accepted into service without testing because one of its developers was the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione. They were responsible for testing vehicles and then deciding whether to produce or reject them. The exact day that production began is unclear.

The FIAT 665NM heavy duty truck was probably tested between October and November 1942 and was accepted into service along with the FIAT 665NM Protetto or Scudato armored personnel carrier version in early November 1942. On 24th November 1942, the first request for 300 FIAT 665NM Scudati APCs was made, while the exact number of FIAT 665NM trucks ordered is not certain. Unfortunately, four days later, on 28th November, the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino was hit by an Allied bombardment that heavily damaged the building, destroying some ready-to-deliver equipment, and slowing the production of armor plates produced in the arsenal. Despite this, the next day, on 29th November 1942, the General Staff of the Royal Italian Army received a dispatch from the FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin in which it was asked to whom to deliver the 44 FIAT 665NM Protetti already produced and stored in the plant’s depot.

The FIAT Mirafiori plant was damaged on 20th November and 8th December 1942 by two Allied bombing raids with a total of 4,000 lbs (~2 tons) of bombs. These damaged or destroyed 110,000 m2 of the plant, damaged or destroyed vehicle production tool machineries, and set fire to the office building, where important documents relating to the production programs were lost.

FIAT 626 Furgone Radio (English: Radio Van) on the left and a FIAT 666NM (on the right) at the FIAT Mirafiori Plant that was hit by Allied bombs. Source: Satiz Foto

The exact number of vehicles produced is not clear, but the majority of sources claim that 110 FIAT 665NM were produced, but this seems to be incorrect. The Italian Royal Army ordered 300 vehicles to be produced until 8th September 1943. According to a report compiled by the FIAT Mirafiori Plant Services Office, 110 FIAT 665NM Scudati were produced until 30th April 1943, four months before the Armistice.

During these four months, production did not cease, but rather resumed at full capacity. In March 1943, in fact, there was a drop in production due to strikes. The workers from FIAT Mirafiori plant not only participated, but were the first to strike and set an example for the dozens of other factories in Turin, Genoa, and Milan, resulting in a national strike. Other strikes took place on 27th and 28th July and 19th August 1943, but they only minimally slowed down the production of vehicles and tanks.

During these four months, there was no bombing of the factory, so it is logical to assume that several FIAT 665NM Scudati came off the assembly lines, supplementing the 110 units produced by April.

Therefore, it is plausible to assume that the number of vehicles produced was higher than 110, even if the Armistice and the destruction caused by Allied bombings on 8th November and 1st December 1943 probably destroyed the documents relating to the FIAT 665NM Scudati production. Because of the same problems, it is not clear if the production was restarted for the Germans or the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army), the new Italian Army formed in the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic), in October 1943.

The name of the vehicle creates more problems. Some sources mention it as FIAT 665NM ‘Protetto’ (English: Protected), others as FIAT 665NM ‘Blindato’ (English: Armored), and others as FIAT 665NM ‘Scudato’ (English: Shielded).

In Italian, these words are synonyms for an armored vehicle. Consequently, all three designations are correct. In this article, the ‘Protetto’ or ‘Scudato’ terms, which are the most common, will be used. This also avoids confusion with the FIAT 666N Blindato, which was an improvised armored car used by an RSI unit in Piacenza province.

Planned Replacement

The FIAT 665NM Scudato was not without flaws, notably its production. The majority of vehicles produced were standard FIAT 665NM fresh off the assembly line that were requisitioned by the workers and armored. This was a drawn out process which slowed down the production of the FIAT heavy duty trucks and of the armored personnel carrier, and the armor turned out to be too light, vulnerable to even small arms fire.

This led FIAT to develop a new vehicle with the same chassis and engine but with a new redesigned superstructure directly fixed to the chassis, and not on the truck’s bodywork.

The development of a new vehicle, the FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote, began in April 1943 but never materialized. It had a new well-inclined, rectangular-shaped superstructure with 8 mm thick armored plates that would have greatly increased the protection of the vehicle. Unfortunately, after the Armistice was signed, neither the Germans nor RSI were interested in pursuing with it.

FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote. Source: Gli Autoveicoli tattici e logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943

Design

FIAT 666NM and FIAT 665NM

The FIAT 665NM was developed after March 1941 as the 4×4 variant of the FIAT 666NM (NM stands for Nafta Militare – Diesel Military) produced by Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino or FIAT (English: Italian Automobiles Factory, Turin).

FIAT 666N propaganda poster. Source: Centro Storico FIAT

The Kingdom of Italy was forced in 1937 to pass a law that outlined the main characteristics required for all civilian or military trucks that were produced. This was done for three main reasons:

Firstly, Italy was a rapidly growing nation with numerous companies producing dozens of different models of trucks, a standardization would have led companies to produce vehicles very similar to each other and with common parts, increasing the production capacity.

Secondly, there was also the problem of embargoes placed on Italy and the policy of autarky, or the aspiration of Italian leaders to be economically independent from foreign countries. Unified truck standards would certainly have helped to avoid wasting resources.
Thirdly, and probably the most important reason, was the unification of civilian and military truck standards, which meant that, in case of war, civilian trucks could be requisitioned for war needs.

FIAT 666N with an Officine Viberti trailer with the Giovanni Ambrozich transport group. Source: pinterest.com

With Regio Decreto (English: Royal Decree) N° 1809 of 14th July 1937, the so-called Autocarri Unificati (English: Unified Trucks) were born. For heavy trucks, the maximum weight was not to exceed 12,000 kg, of which at least 6,000 kg had to be of payload, with a minimum road speed of 45 km/h.

As for light trucks, the ground clearance was to be at least 200 mm, the maximum truck weight was to be 4,000 kg, and the payload 3,000 kg.

FIAT 666N prototype at the FIAT Mirafiori plant. Source: FIAT Archives

The FIAT 666N was a heavy duty truck. The civilian version was developed in 1938 under the Regio Decreto N° 1809 rules. Its prototype was ready at the end of 1938 and was presented to Benito Mussolini on 15th May 1939, on the occasion of the inauguration of the FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin. This factory building covered 300,000 m2 on an area of over one million m2, with a total of 22,000 workers on several shifts. All 50,000 FIAT workers of Turin were present for Mirafiori’s inauguration. The AB40 prototypes were also presented then. The military version, the FIAT 666NM, was presented to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione for evaluation on 19th September 1940.

The FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin, photo taken in early 1940s by a Regia Aeronautica pilot. Source: panorama.com

It differed from the civilian version through the addition of acetylene headlights, a bulb horn, and manually operated turn signals on the sides of the windscreen. The first military order for 1,000 FIAT 666NM trucks was issued on 10th January 1941. Another 1,500 were ordered on 23rd July 1941, 1,000 on 5th March 1942, and 700 on 16th June 1943. In total, about 8,000 FIAT 666s left the assembly lines of the Mirafiori plant, including the post-war direct-injection 666N7 and FIAT 665NM versions.

The Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) ordered 796 trucks on 23rd October 1941. This truck was used on the Eastern Front, in North Africa, in Italy, and in the Balkans.

After the Armistice of 8th September 1943, between November 1943 and December 1944, 79 FIAT 666NM and 2 FIAT 665NM were delivered to the Wehrmacht.

FIAT 666NM of the Luftwaffe. This vehicle was equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires. The license plate, WL (Luftwaffe) – 583495, helps to indicate that it was in service with Luftgau-Kommando V in France. Source: kfzderwehrmacht.de

The FIAT 666 was produced in a wide range of variants, such as standard truck and fuel carrier for civilian service, while for military service, recovery trucks, fuel and water carriers, mobile workshops, petrol engine variants, and many others were produced.

FIAT 665NM 4×4 outside of the FIAT Mirafiori plant. It is interesting to notice that it is in Kaki Sahariano desert camouflage and that it has Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires for desert soils. Source: Archivio FIAT

Engine and Suspension

Propulsion was provided by FIAT Type 366 6-cylinder in-line diesel engine. It had overhead valves, with a displacement of 9,365 cm³ and FIAT-produced injectors. The maximum output power was 110 hp at 2,000 rpm on the civil FIAT 666N, the FIAT 666NM for the Regia Aeronautica, and on the FIAT 665NM. The maximum output power on the Regio Esercito’s FIAT 666NM was limited to delivering 95 hp at 1,700 rpm. The Ricardo type direct-injection chamber created lots of problems in the cold Russian steppes, which forced the crews to fix the diesel fuel with gasoline in order to allow the engine to start.

FIAT Tipo 366 with oil bath filters (right). Source: Archivio FIAT

The maximum speed on-road was 57 km/h for the FIAT 665NM, 48.3 km/h for the power-limited FIAT 666NM, and 56.8 km/h for the FIAT 666N and FIAT 666NM. The fuel was kept in a 255 liter tank (135 liters for the FIAT 666N) located on the right side of the chassis, which offered a 750 km on-road range (465 km for the FIAT 666N).

A FIAT 6-75-2510 diaphragm pump then pumped the fuel into a 5.5-liter tank located behind the cab’s dashboard. This ensured trouble-free feeding thanks to a gravity injection pump. The lubricant oil tank had a capacity of 12 liters, while the water-cooling tank had a capacity of 50 liters.

Air was drawn through two filters mounted at the back of the engine. Up until engine number 000530, they used cartridge filters, after which it was replaced with oil bath filters.

As on the FIAT 626 medium truck, the engine could be extracted through the cab’s front after the removal of the grille thanks to rollers mounted on the two supports of the engine, rolling on guides fixed to the frame.

FIAT 665NM frame. Between the wheels, on the left, the air tank and the batteries box are visible. On the right is the fuel tank. Source: Archivio FIAT

Brakes and Electric Systems

The single dry plate clutch was connected to the gearbox via a cardan shaft. This could be removed independently of the gearbox and engine simply by removing the rear casing. This meant that maintenance and disassembly were easier.

The transmission, thanks to the reductor, had eight gears and two reverse gears. The drum brakes were hydraulic and had a pedal-operated air brake booster. The compressed air tank with a capacity of 55 liters and was located on the left of the frame. It had a pressure of 5.5 bar. On the NM version, the rear axle was equipped with a differential.

There was a 12-volt electrical circuit used to power the headlights and dashboard, and a 24-volt circuit for starting the engine. The two 12V Magneti Marelli batteries were housed in a box on the left side of the chassis, behind the air tank.

Structure

The cargo bay measured 4.75 meters long by 2.20 meters wide, with a height of 600 mm on the civilian version and 650 mm on the military version. It was homologated to carry up to 6 tonnes of cargo, but could carry, without much difficulty, an L6/40 light tank (weighing 6.84 tonnes).

Two unarmed L6/40 light reconnaissance tanks loaded on a FIAT 666NM and its 15 tonnes payload trailer. Source: Cavalleria Italiana

The cab had the steering wheel and the driver on the right, while the vehicle’s commander was placed on the left. The cab’s doors opened backwards. Due to the slow production rates, some early FIAT 666NMs were equipped with civilian FIAT 666N cabs.

FIAT 665NM (above) and FIAT 666NM-RE with civilian cab (below). The different placements of the tool boxes under the cargo bay and the different tire dimensions are clearly visible. Sources: Archivio FIAT

In spite of its respectable dimensions and its large load capacity, the FIAT 666 heavy duty truck, with a chassis weight of 1 tonne and about 5 tonnes of additional structure weight, for a total weight of 6 tonnes in the FIAT 666NM variant and 7.2 tonnes in the FIAT 665NM version, could travel at more than 56 km/h with a 12 tonne trailer attached. Fully loaded, it could climb 26º slopes. Thanks to its short wheelbase and cab layout, it was comfortable traveling on mountain roads.

The FIAT 666NM had a wheel rim size of 20 x 8” (50.8 x 20.32 cm), while the FIAT 665NM wheels had a rim size of 24 x 9” (61 x 23 cm). This allowed the latter to mount 11.25 x 24” (28.5 cm x 61 cm) tires, the same as the armored cars and camionette of the Regio Esercito, in order to offer smoother cross-country driving. Like the armored cars and Camionette, it could use a wide variety of tires, such as the Tipo ‘Libia’ and Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’, which, because of their wide profile, afforded flotation on loose sandy soils, Tipo ‘Artiglio’ and Tipo ‘Artiglio a Sezione Maggiorata’ for continental soils and Russian steppes, roughly equivalent to the Non-Directional Tread (NDT) tires used by the US Army, and Tipo ‘Raiflex’ for sandy grounds and produced with Rayon (Raion in Italian) synthetic fibers (RAI-flex for Raion), all developed and produced by the Pirelli company in Milan.

Strangely enough, most of the images of the FIAT 665NM Scudati show that most of the vehicles were equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires, a very strange decision if we consider that none of the vehicles were used in Africa, but only in northern Italy and the Balkans.

FIAT 665NM front and rear, photos taken shortly after production. The vehicle is parked outside the FIAT Mirafiori production line. Sources: Archivio FIAT

The FIAT 665NM Protetto Modifications

The vehicles were produced by the FIAT Veicoli Industriali section in the FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin. They were then armored by the Tank Production section with armored plates produced by the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino and also some FIAT owned steel mills and foundries in Turin.

The FIAT 665NM was fully armored to protect the crew and the personnel placed in the rear. The cab was armored with 7.5 mm thick armored plates in the front, placed 3 cm in front of the original cab that was left intact under the armor, and 5 mm thick on the cab’s side. The roof was not armored and some vehicles had the original cab removed. This meant that the crew could also enter through the rear and that the vehicle had no roof.

The original doors were kept under the armor and had two hatches each to permit the two crew members to check the battlefield and to defend themselves from enemy attacks with their personal weapons.

To view the front arch of the vehicle in order to drive and give orders, the driver and the vehicle’s commander had at their disposal two frontal upward-hinged hatches. Two tiltable armored doors were at the front, used to improve airflow to the radiator cooling and for maintenance of the engine.

FIAT 665NM Scudato with opened door. The presence of the original cab with the 5 mm armored plate fixed on is clear. The rear wall of the cab, with its inspection window, is also visible. The vehicle has a two tone camouflage and some bushes to camouflage it from aircraft attacks. Source: beutepanzer.ru

The cargo bay was partially armored. The first vehicles built had the 65 cm high cargo bay sides and the roof unarmored, but the production line was modified to add armor plates on the sides.

The side armor plates were 4.5 mm thick, but the upper part was angled, while the lower part also had the wooden planks of the cargo bay’s sides to reinforce it. There were eight loopholes for each side of the personnel compartment, plus another three on the rear, for a total of 19 loopholes that gave the vehicle great firepower coverage. The fuel tank of the vehicle was also armored to protect it.

FIAT 665NM Scudato. Source: wikipedia.com

To enter into the personnel compartment, there was a removable ladder on the rear, which was not a great solution to quickly enter and exit from an armored personnel carrier on a battlefield. The twenty fully equipped soldiers could sit on two wooden benches placed on the sides of the compartment. Under the benches, there was enough space to store personal stuff, tools, a machine gun, and probably some ammunition crates and fuel cans.

Armament

The serial production vehicle was not equipped with gun supports but had 19 loopholes in the personnel compartment and more openings in the armored cab. On the prototype, a Breda Mod. 37 or Mod. 38 medium machine gun support was added to the cab roof.

The FIAT 665NM Scudato prototype. The Breda machine gun’s support is visible on the cab’s roof. Source: wikipedia.com

In the rear compartment, there was space for 20 soldiers, but this meant that one did not have a loophole to use. This could have meant that the twentieth soldier was an officer who only gave orders, or that the twentieth soldier had the task of operating the Breda Mod. 30 light machine gun that was carried on board. Given the absence of a mount for the gun, the soldier had to fire by resting the Breda’s bipod on the roof of the cabin or on the sides of the personnel compartment.

Italian units were largely equipped with rifles and carbines, so only rarely could MAB 38 submachine guns be employed from this vehicle. There could also be more than one Breda Mod. 30 machine gun.

FIAT 665NM Scudato rear. Source: Archivio FIAT

At least two vehicles of the Compagnia Comando Reggimentale ‘Mazza di Ferro’ (English: Regimental Command Company) of the 2° Reggimento Milizia Difesa Territoriale ‘Istria’ (English: 2nd Territorial Defense Militia Regiment) were equipped with an internal structure behind the cab to mount an improvised open-top octagonal turret produced by the unit to increase the vehicle’s fire and to protect the machine gunner.

In the few photos of those vehicles, it is clearly visible that the armor plates were scrap rusty metal recovered by the unit from an unknown location. The machine guns were probably Breda Modello 38.

The FIAT 665NM Scudati armed with shields and machine guns of the Compagnia ‘Mazza di Ferro’. Source: pinterest.com

The XIV Battaglione Difesa Costiera (English: 14th Coastal Defense Battalion) armed a FIAT 665NM Scudato with a 8 mm machine gun in a cylindrical open-topped turret, while the Reggimento Volontari Friulani ‘Tagliamento’ (English: Friulian Volunteer Regiment) armed the only vehicle it had with an 8 mm machine gun without armor. It was probably a 8 x 59 mm RB caliber FIAT-Revelli Mod. 1914/35 machine gun.

Operational Use

The first FIAT 665NM Scudati were assigned to the 154ª Divisione di Fanteria d’Occupazione ‘Murge’ (English: 154th Occupation Infantry Division) and to the 13ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Re’ (English: 13th Infantry Division). Unfortunately, nothing is known about the service of the FIATs in these units.

At the beginning of 1943, the 154ª Divisione di Fanteria d’Occupazione ‘Murge’ participated in the Battle of the Neretva, probably with some of these armored trucks.

In general, the FIAT 665NM Scudati were used by the units to escort supply convoys to its isolated garrisons in Mostar, Jablanica, Konjic, Cacko, and Nevesinje in Herzegovina.

FIAT 665NM Scudati on flatcars arriving in the Balkans from the FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin. The original photo was auctioned online a few years ago. Source: beutepanzers.ru

After the Battle of the Neretva, Murge’s vehicles took part in patrols, raids, and clashes in the anti-partisan struggle in the region of Lika. It was then transferred to Trebinje in May 1943, with the role of coastal defense. It remained there until September 1943, when the Armistice of Cassibile took place. On 8th September, it was located between Signo and Buccari in Slovenia and managed to reach the city of Fiume on 14th September 1943. There, the 154ª Divisione di Fanteria d’Occupazione ‘Murge’ disbanded. The vehicles at its disposal were abandoned for various reasons, partly in Signo and Buccari and partly in Rijeka, where they were captured by the Yugoslav Partisans and the Germans.

In late 1942, the 13ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Re’ was used to garrison Gospic, Otocac, and Bihac in Croatia. Increasingly, the unit had to repel Partisan attacks that became more violent as the war intensified.

Its garrisons often remained isolated and the armored trucks were used to support the troops breaking through the Partisan roadblocks to reach the units that remained isolated.

In 1943, the Re division fought hard in Dalmatia, first in Korenica and Kapela in January, then in Lapac, Jelovi, and Pavlovacka in February and March. It then continued to supply the isolated garrisons and conduct anti-partisan patrols in the same region until late August 1943, when it was repatriated to Italy, arriving in Ladispoli, near Rome.

Some autieri (English: drivers) of an unknown unit in the Balkans with their new FIAT 665NM Scudati, ready to be used against the Partisans. The original photo was auctioned online a few years ago. The vehicles have Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires. Source: beutepanzers.ru

With the announcement of the Armistice, the Division Command was disbanded and the division was left without orders. Many soldiers escaped, joining the Allied troops or returning home. The few remaining took part in the defense of Rome until 10th September. Those who survived were captured or joined the Italian Partisans. It is not known what happened to its FIAT 665NM Scudati. It is possible not all of them had arrived in Rome, perhaps even none, being captured in Dalmatia by the Germans while they were waiting to return to Italy.

At least two FIAT 665NM Protetto were taken by the 2° Reggimento Milizia Difesa Territoriale ‘Istria’, which was created shortly after the Armistice with veterans of the 60ª Legione Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale ‘Istria’. The unit was composed of two companies and the Compagnia Comando Reggimentale ‘Mazza di Ferro’, plus six companies for territorial security. It was stationed in Pola on the Istria peninsula, present day Croatia.

The unit had in its ranks 2 L3 light tanks and, as claimed by some sources, 6 armored trucks. These were 2 FIAT 665NM Protetti, a Lancia 3Ro Blindato, and a curious vehicle, a FIAT 626 with the armored cab of a FIAT 665NM Protetto, while the other two armored cars are unknown. Some of these vehicles were armed with twin 13.5 mm Breda Mod. 31 heavy machine guns and at least one with a Cannone Breda da 20/65 Mod. 1935 taken from the Arsenale della Marina (English: Navy Arsenal) in Pola.

The hybrid FIAT 626NM chassis and FIAT 665NM Scudato armored cab was already in service on 12th November 1943 in the Compagnia ‘Mazza di Ferro’. This suggests that it was modified before the Armistice by a unit of the Royal Army.

In the Istria regions, Tito’s Partisans were present in large numbers and very active, attacking isolated Italian or German garrisons and conducting ambushes against weekly convoys loaded with supplies.

The FIAT 626NM with the FIAT 665NM Scudato armored cab of the Compagnia Comando Reggimentale ‘Mazza di Ferro’ with other trucks in the Capodistria main square. Another FIAT 626NM, a pair of SPA 38R and a pair of OM Taurus trucks are also visible. Source: beutepanzer.ru

The Compagnia ‘Mazza di Ferro’ used its armored and armed trucks to escort the supply convoys, which the Partisans soon learned to avoid. The columns of vehicles were sometimes joined by vehicles of other Italian or German units, and even civilian cars or trucks, given the security that the armored vehicles of the regiment offered.

Even the SS- und Polizeiführer Oberabschnitt Alpenland (English: SS and Police Leader in the Upper Alpine Region) in the Operationszone Adriatisches Küstenland or OZAK (English: Operational Zone of the Adriatic Littoral), Erwin Rösener, often requested that the armored trucks of the regiment escorted him together with his German vehicles for greater safety. Nothing is known about the final fate of these vehicles.

Three FIAT 665NM Scudato were used by the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzato ‘San Giusto’ (English: Armored Squadrons Group), together with two S37 Autoprotetti and at least a Renault ADR Blindato. The Gruppo was created in Spalato by Captain Agostino Tonegutti, the former commander of the 1° Squadrone carri L (English: 1st Tank Squadron L) of the 1ª Divisione Celere ‘Eugenio di Savoia’ (English: 1st Celere Division), stationed in Spalato, in September 1943, after the Armistice. Refusing to abide by the terms of the Armistice with the Allied forces, Toneguzzi began to move towards the northern part of Istria with other soldiers loyal to Mussolini and 10 tanks. In Fiume, the unit supported the local Italian garrison, moving then to Gorizia and finally moving to Mariano del Friuli.

In Mariano, several armored vehicles were recovered and refitted, until reaching such a strength that the Squadron became Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ with three squadrons in early 1944. It was also known under the German designation Italienische Panzer Schwadron (English: Italian Panzer Squadron).

Two FIAT 665NM Scudati were lost during one of the heaviest fighting the group saw, against the Yugoslavian Partisans in Dobraule di Santa Croce on 31st May 1944. During this fight, 3 Italian soldiers perished and another 3 armored vehicles were lost.

One of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ FIAT 665NM Scudato destroyed and captured by the Yugoslav Partisans in Dobraule di Santa Croce. The Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires and the strange three-tone camouflage are visible. Source: Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile

The last FIAT 665NM Protetto armored personnel carrier of the unit was lost on 6th December 1944, during a Yugoslav Partisan attack.

The Reggimento Volontari Friulani ‘Tagliamento’ had a FIAT 665NM Protetto in its Command Company. This arrived in December 1943, probably requisitioned from the Autocentro di Udine (English: Udine’s Car Center), where it was probably in storage. It was initially used to defend the Tarcento garrison and, after May 1944, used for anti-partisan patrols and to escort convoys in the Vipacco and Isonzo valleys.

This vehicle was attacked by partisans more than once, trying to destroy it without success. During one such attack, on 26th August 1944, Tito’s Partisans used at least one anti-tank rifle at short range against it, probably a Soviet PTRS-41 or PTRD-41. Chambered for the 14.5 x 114 mm cartridge, this anti-tank rifle, obsolete against tanks, was still able to penetrate more than 30 mm of armored plate at 90° at a distance of 500 meters, easily piercing the FIAT 665NM Scudato’s armor from side to side. The vehicle was penetrated in several places, killing all the soldiers inside except for two. It was abandoned on the road and then set on fire by the Slovenian Partisans.

One vehicle was used by the Italienisches Küsten-Festung-Bataillon 14 (English: Italian Coast Fortress Battalion 14) in Rijeka. This was an Italian unit under German Wehrmacht and then SS-Polizei command, which defended the city from Partisan attacks. It received a FIAT 665NM Scudato with an 8 mm medium machine gun in early 1945 (probably February). It was used until the war’s end to escort convoys.

The last known unit that used this vehicle was the XIV Battaglione Difesa Costiera, which received a FIAT 665NM Scudato in January or February 1945. Like the other vehicles used by the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano, it escorted columns of supplies and patrolled the main roads to deter partisan attacks.

The Germans managed to capture the majority of the FIAT 665NM Scudati after the 8th September 1943 Armistice, renaming them Gepanzerte Mannschaftstransportwagen 665(i) (English: Armored Personnel Carrier 665 – Italian).

The 1. Infanterie-Regiment of the SS-Polizeiregiment “Bozen” received some of these trucks, while other German units requisitioned or received some. Some were given to Luftwaffe units that used the vehicles for escorting fuel trucks and airport perimeter patrols.

A FIAT 665NM Scudato in Northern Italy with an unknown German unit. The license plate numbers are not legible, but “WL – ” is visible, meaning Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe. The tires are the ‘Libia’ ones. Source: beutepanzer.ru

During a Yugoslav Partisan ambush against an Italo-German convoy between Comeno and Rifembergo (today Komen and Branik, Slovenia) on 2nd February 1944, a FIAT 665NM Scudato armored personnel carrier was destroyed and set on fire. Two German police officers, 20 German policemen, and 38 Italian soldiers belonging to the Milizia were killed. The origin of this armored truck is not sure. It could have belonged to the Italian Militia’s Compagnia ‘Mazza di Ferro’ or SS-Polizeiregiment “Bozen”.

The 1. Infanterie-Regiment of the SS-Polizeiregiment “Bozen” had in its ranks at least an AB41 reconnaissance armored car, a Lancia 1ZM First World War-era armored car, one L3/33 or L3/35 light tank, and some FIAT 665NM Scudati.

FIAT 665NM Scudato destroyed in the Yugoslav Partisan attack on 2nd February 1944. The door has fallen off and the original door is visible under the armored plate. The tires were Tipo ‘Libia’. Source: beutepanzer.ru

One of the FIAT 665NM Scudato of the 1. Infanterie-Regiment of the SS-Polizeiregiment “Bozen” was equipped with an armored roof to protect it from hand grenades and to protect the front machine gunner. The gunner had a hole through which he could fire.

The workshop or depot where it was modified is unknown, but it is very likely it was one in Italy, since the photo was taken between February and March at a checkpoint in Castelnovo del Friuli in the northeast of Italy.

The FIAT 665NM Scudato with an armored roof of the SS-Polizeiregiment “Bozen” at a German checkpoint. Two Panzer III Ausf. N and a French Renault truck of the AD series are also visible. Sources: beutepanzer.ru

Other interesting modifications were made on a FIAT 665NM Scudato in German hands. A FlaK 38 automatic anti-aircraft cannon was mounted on the top of the personnel compartment to provide heavy support fire and to discourage even the bravest Partisan units from attacking the supply columns.

There are only three photos of this vehicle that do not show exactly how the cannon was mounted in the personnel compartment, although it can be assumed it was mounted on an internal support. The photos were auctioned online a few years ago and no other information is given about the German unit that used it or the period.

The vehicle was also armed with a medium machine gun, probably of Italian origin, with a shield. In two photos, an Italian cavalryman armed with a MAB 38 is clearly visible. Maybe the Germans kept an Italian driver or the vehicle belonged to a mixed unit in which Italian units were also present. The license plate is not visible in the photos, making it impossible to identify the unit. The FIAT had Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires.

The FIAT 665NM Scudato armed with the 20 mm FlaK 38. From this angle, the machine gun is not visible, but the Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires and the Italian cavalryman are clearly visible. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Another vehicle, probably of the SS-Polizeiregiment “Bozen”, was equipped with rods, probably recovered from a destroyed FIAT 666NM, for the water-proof tarpaulin mounted on the non-armored version of the FIAT 665NM. This tarpaulin probably had a double function, protecting the personnel compartment from the rain and from hand grenades.

The FIAT 665NM Protetto with rods for the water-proof tarpaulin. It has the Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires. The license plate is not visible. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Some FIAT 665NM Scudato were captured and used by the Yugoslavian Partisans, but their service is unknown. None survived the war.

The camouflage scheme was the standard Kaki Sahariano (English: Saharan Khaki) for the Regio Esercito. The FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin already painted them in that scheme before delivery.

Some FIAT 665NM Protetti captured by the Germans were maintained in the original camouflage scheme, while others were painted in a two tone scheme with some dark green stripes.

The Compagnia Comando Reggimentale ‘Mazza di Ferro’ vehicles were painted in two ways. One received an interesting three-tone camouflage scheme with polygonal dark green and reddish-brown spots, while the second received a normal three-tone camouflage scheme with standard spots in the same colors.

The Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ vehicles received a curious ‘tree’ camouflage. Some trees were airbrushed on the Saharan Khaki in order to better camouflage them in the Balkans woods.

Conclusion

The FIAT 665NM was one of the largest and most spacious armored personnel carriers of the Second World War. Unfortunately, its light armor and production of fewer than 200 vehicles did not allow for adequate employment.

It was developed as an armored personnel carrier but was used most of the time as a vehicle for patrolling roads and escorting supply convoys, roles for which it was not designed. However, it was able to perform these without too many problems, especially since the adversaries were hardly ever armed with anti-tank weapons. It should have been replaced by the FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote but the Armistice canceled the project leaving the FIAT 665NM Scudato as the only Italian heavy APC.

FIAT 665NM Scudato of the Regio Esercito. On the top is a Breda Modello 1930 machine gun. Yugoslavia 1943. Illustration by David Bocquelet, modified by Godzilla, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

FIAT 665NM Scudato Specifications

Size (L-W-H) 7.345 x 2.67 x 2.73 m
Total weight, battle ready 11 tonnes
Crew 2 (driver and commander) + 20 soldiers
Propulsion FIAT Tipo 366 9,365 cm³, 110 hp with 255 liter tank
Speed 57 km/h
Range ~ 700 km
Armament One machine gun
Armor Cab: 7.5 mm front and 5 mm sides. Crew compartment: 4.5 mm
Total production More than 110

Sources

Italian Armored & Reconnaissance Cars 1911-45 – Filippo Cappellano and Pier Paolo Battistelli
istoreto.it
Gli Autoveicoli tattici e logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943, Tomo I and II – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
Ruote in divisa, I veicoli militari italiani 1900-1987 – Brizio Pignacca
Controguerriglia, la 2ª Armata Italiana e l’Occupazione dei Balcani 1941-43 – Pierluigi Romeo and Colloredo Mills
Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile – Paolo Crippa
…Come il Diamante, I Carristi Italiani 1943-45 – Sergio Corbatti and Marco Nava

Categories
WW2 Italian Autocannoni

Autocannone da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE

Italian Social Republic (1944 – 1945)
Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun – at least 2 converted

The Autocannone da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE was an Italian Second World War improvised Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) mounting a 20 mm automatic cannon on the ALFA Romeo 430RE chassis. It was used by the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ (English: Mobile Autonomous Legion) of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: Republican National Guard) in Lombardia and Piemonte near the end of the war.

Its primary task was to escort fascist military convoys between Milan and Turin, defending them from Allied air attacks, and also protecting the convoys from partisan ambushes at a time when they were becoming increasingly frequent.

Two Autocannoni da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE of the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ on parade on 17th December 1944 in Milan. Source: Istituto Luce

The Situation of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana after the Armistice

After the Italian Armistice was signed on 8th September 1943, the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) was disbanded. The Italian soldiers in the Italian Peninsula independently decided their own fate. Some joined the Esercito Cobelligerante Italiano (English: Co-belligerent Army) under Allied control, others created and joined the first Italian partisan units, while others swore allegiance to the Germans. The soldiers who opposed the German troops in Italy or in the rest of the territories under Italian and German control were killed or captured. Between 8th and 23rd September 1943, about 20,000 Italian troops were killed and over a million Italian soldiers were captured by the Germans.

A coup organized by the Italian king Vittorio Emanuele III di Savoia and some generals loyal to the king had deposed Il Duce Benito Mussolini on 25th June 1943. Mussolini had spent the period of time between his arrest and the Armistice in an Italian prison. On 12th September 1943, he was freed in a daring mission by a group of German Fallschirmjäger commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny.

Benito Mussolini was then taken to Germany, where he met Adolf Hitler in order to decide the destiny of the rest of Italy and also to recover from his prison experience. Returning to Italy on 23rd September 1943, he created the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (English: Italian Social Republic) in northern and central Italy, regions that were controlled by the Germans at that moment.

Of the thousands of Italian vehicles captured by the Germans (tanks, armored cars, supply vehicles, artillery pieces, etc), only a few were returned to the new Italian units loyal to Mussolini. This meant that the units needed to equip themselves with vehicles abandoned by the Regio Esercito after the Armistice, with vehicles damaged before the Armistice and abandoned in the military depots after 8th September, or with civilian trucks requisitioned for military necessities.

The Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano, the heir of the Regio Esercito, received the majority of these vehicles, but there were not enough. The Army seems to have received or retrieved less than the 20% of the vehicles it needed.

The Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, or GNR, was used as a Military Police and to counter partisan actions, with most of its units assigned to the rearguard. It was equipped with an even lower amount of vehicles, although some units were able to equip themselves with many armored fighting vehicles and trucks, such as the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group), which managed to acquire around 60 tanks of multiple types, around 20 armored cars and more than a hundred of trucks, cars, and motorcycles.

The Corpo Ausiliario delle Squadre d’Azione delle Camicie Nere (English: Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts), an auxiliary corps used mostly to counter partisan actions, was barely equipped at all. Of the 56 Black Brigades created, only two received armored vehicles, while the other brigades had only civilian or military trucks which the Black Brigades had to armor in an improvised way in civilian workshops.

The majority of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana’s units were only equipped with military or civil trucks that they used as transport vehicles or that they armored themselves or in civilian workshops.

The RSI faced the problem of the Italian partisan units that were present throughout the territory under Nazi-Fascist control and that almost daily struck military convoys or isolated Italian or German garrisons. The RSI also had to face another major threat, the fighters and ground attack aircraft of the U.S. Army Air Force and the British Royal Air Force. These acted almost undisturbed, attacking Italian convoys and other military and civilian targets.

Design

The ALFA Romeo 430 truck

The company now known as Alfa Romeo was founded under the name A.L.F.A. (Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, English: Anonymous Lombardy Automobile Factory) in Milan on 24th June 1910 . In 1918, it changed its name to ‘ALFA Romeo’ following the acquisition of the company by Engineer Nicola Romeo. The first and largest plant of ALFA Romeo was in Milan, in the ‘Portello’ district, from which it took its name.

Prototype of the Alfa 430RE parked outside the ALFA Romeo factory in Portello. Source: ALFA Romeo

The ALFA Romeo 430 (factory designation T.430) was a cab-forward 3.5 tonnes medium-duty truck originally developed for the military. In order to speed up development and save money, it was derived from the Alfa Romeo 800 heavy truck. Its development was approved by the Italian War Ministry on 23rd September 1941.

In early 1942, ALFA Romeo presented the prototype of the T. 430RE (RE for Regio Esercito) to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione or CSM (English: Center of Motorization Studies). However, it was powered by a 4-cylinder diesel engine developed to be connected to an electrical generator, while the military wanted a gasoline engine.

The first Regio Esercito order was for 400 units, which increased to 600 by the end of 1942. The Italian Regio Esercito insisted on the adoption of a gasoline engine, so the company manager, engineer Ugo Gobbato, ordered the development of a petrol version of the truck which never entered production.

After the armistice of September 1943, the Portello plant stopped the production for some days and the petrol engine version was abandoned. The Regio Esercito order was initially reconfirmed by the Germans. In early November 1943, Germans officers and specialists evaluated the truck and canceled the request.

Thanks to the tenacity of engineer Ugo Gobbato, ex-manager of the FIAT Lingotto plant, furious at this decision, production resumed. He sent a letter to the Reich Ministry of Armaments and Production to defend his project and, for an unknown reason, the Germans reversed their decision and the Portello plant restarted production, building a total of 99 ALFA Romeo 430RE with diesel engines between 1944 and 1945.

Civilian ALFA Romeo 430 post-war tractor variant with single axle semi-trailer. Source: pinterest.com

After the war, the ALFA Romeo 430 was also produced as a civilian version, with medium trucks, buses, and tractor variants. Production resumed in 1945 and continued for another five years, until 1950.

After the war, the military version was redesignated as ALFA Romeo CM50 (Carro Medio Modello 1950 – Medium Truck Model 1950). The engine was upgraded, increasing the power by about 10% and enlarging the cab, allowing the addition of a berth behind the seats. There was also an increase in the empty weight to 3.7 tonnes. The military version remained in production until 1952. A military all-wheel-drive version was also developed but did not meet with success and the project was abandoned.

A post-war civilian ALFA Romeo 430. Strangely enough, it is equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ tires. Source: ALFA Romeo

Engine and Suspension

The engine of the Alfa Romeo 430 was the Tipo 430. This was a direct injection, 4-cylinder, 5,816 cm³ diesel engine providing 80 hp at 2,000 rpm. The maximum on-road speed of the truck was 65 km/h, while the range was 390 km thanks to the 75 liters tank fixed on the right side of the chassis. The water-cooling system was connected to a 26-liter water tank, while the oil tank capacity was 11 liters.

Fuel consumption was 19 liters for 100 km, remarkably low for the time, thanks to the FB company direct injection system and the use of a Spica PC4C80 T29/0 variable injection pump. The good qualities of the engine, however, hid flaws. The Tipo 430 was derived from a static engine used as a generator. On the truck, it proved inadequate to the rigors imposed by its new role.

The Tipo 430 diesel engine in a ALFA Romeo brochure. Source: ALFA Romeo

The gearbox, with an intermediate reductor, had four forward gears plus the reverse gear.

The front suspension was independent. The main innovation was the adoption of double coil spring suspension and hydraulic shock absorbers. The T430 was the first truck to be equipped with this suspension system. The rear suspension consisted of easy-to-produce leaf springs. The tire dimensions were 7.5 x 20” (19 x 50.8 cm). Photographic evidence shows that the most frequently used on the T430 were the Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’.

The big advantage of the Alfa Romeo 430RE was that it retained the bigger ALFA Romeo 800’s silhouette and they had a high logistic commonality, sharing many spare parts. The two vehicles were distinguishable primarily by the bumpers. The T430 had two-part ones, with the central section cut for the radiator grille, while the T800 had a one piece bumper.

Structure

Like the bigger ALFA Romeo 800 from which it was derived, the ALFA Romeo 430 was a medium truck with a forward cab and right-hand drive.

The RE version differed from the civilian one by the addition of acetylene headlights, a bulb horn, and lacking the triangular placard on the roof of the cab used in the civilian models to indicate the presence of a towing trailer.

The ALFA Romeo T430 chassis, radiator and engine. Source: ALFA Romeo

The wooden loading bay was 4 m long, 2 m wide, and 0.65 m tall. Only the rear side was foldable and the chassis had a step to facilitate the climb. The T430, with an empty weight of 3.55 tonnes, was homologated to load a cargo of 3.15 tonnes. For the RE variant, it was not rare to see trucks with a load of more than 4 tonnes of cargo. Thanks to the tow hook, the truck could also tow a load not exceeding 6.5 tonnes.

Armament

The main armament of the autocannone was the Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1939 20 mm L.70 anti-aircraft automatic cannon. It was mounted on a Complesso di Puntamento Libero (English: Independent Aiming Support) produced by Elettro Meccanica Societa Anonima or CEMSA (English: Caproni Electro Mechanical Limited Company) and better known as the Complesso di Puntamento Libero Scotti – CEMSA.

Developed in the late 1920s by Engineer Alfredo Scotti as an aeronautical gun, it was never used for this. In 1932, Scotti sold the patent, which was bought by the Swiss company Oerlikon. Scotti’s design was probably studied by engineer Marc Birkigt before developing the 20 mm Hispano-Suiza H.S. 404.

In 1935, the Regio Esercito made a request for a new multipurpose automatic cannon capable of engaging flying targets. At the same time, it had to be able to deal with light armored vehicles. Scotti and the Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche responded to the request with the Cannone Scotti da 20/70 and the Cannone Breda da 20/65 Mod. 1935. After tests, the Breda gun was chosen, while the Royal Army gave a negative review of Scotti’s gun.

A Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta Fraschini da 20/70 Modello 1939 in firing position on the Greek Lero Island. It was used by sailors of the Italian Regia Marina. Winter 1941. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

In 1938, the Isotta-Fraschini company in Milan bought the patent of the gun and started to update the project. This was presented a year later as the Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1939. The new gun was bought by the Italian Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) and Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy), with a fixed mounting for airfield defense and as an anti-aircraft gun on some Italian warships.

When the war started, the Regio Esercito showed interest in the gun, mainly because Breda could not satisfy the army’s requests and because the Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini gun was less expensive and faster to produce. For the Regio Esercito, the Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1941 was produced with a wheeled carriage. It was also produced under license by the Officine Meccaniche company or OM (English: Mechanical Workshops), which was known as the Scotti-OM 20/70 Mod. 1941.

The gun was gas-operated and had a theoretical rate of fire of about 500 rounds per minute. However, this dropped to 250 rounds per minute in practice. Its maximum firing range was 5,500 meters against ground targets and 2,000 m against flying targets.

Two images showing the Complesso di Puntamento Libero Scotti-CEMSA. All the soldiers are armed with Carcano Mod. 1891/38 carabines. Sources: Istituto Luce

The gun fired the 20 x 138 mm B ‘Long Solothurn’ cartridge. This was the most common 20 mm round, used on 20 mm guns of the Axis forces in Europe, such as the German FlaK 38, Finnish Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle, and Italian automatic cannons.

An Italian soldier loading a 12-rounds clip for a Scotti or a Breda 20 mm automatic cannon. Libyan desert, Spring 1941. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

The gun was fed by eight 20 mm round feed strips or twelve 20 mm round feed strips loaded by a loader. A more practical 41-round drum magazine also existed. The Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 on the CEMSA support was free to rotate 360°, with a maximum elevation of +90°.

Operational Use

The Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ was created on 18th September 1943 as an action squad for anti-partisan duties. On 18th March 1944, it became a legion and was placed under the authority of the Italian Social Republic Ministry of the Interior. It was designated as an Armed Police Force. Questore Francesco Colombo, a fascist infamous for his extremist ideas, was put in charge of the unit.

The two Autocannoni da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE in a street in Milan on 17th December 1943. Source: Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile

The legion had in its ranks the 1º battaglione ‘Aldo Resega’ (English: 1st Battalion), 2º battaglione ‘Piero De Angeli’ (English: 2nd Battalion) and the Battaglione di riserva ‘Luigi Russo’ (English: Reserve Battalion). The names given to the battalions were the names of fascist militants killed by the partisans. Another important unit of the legion was the Compagnia Mezzi Pesanti ‘Pietro Del Buffa’ (English: Heavy Vehicles Company) created on 2nd July 1944. Pietro Del Buffa was a Sergeant of the 601ª Compagnia of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana killed on 28th December 1943 in Turin.

The unit assimilated the Compagnia Motorizzata (English: Motorized Company) and the Plotone Mezzi Pesanti (English: Heavy Vehicles Platoon) and was commanded by Lieutenant Bonacina.

The Compagnia Mezzi Pesanti ‘Pietro Del Buffa’ was composed of:

  • At least two Autocannoni da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE
  • An ALFA Romeo 430RE with a Cannone da 75/13 Modello 1915 on its loading bay
  • A SPA 38R towing a Cannone da 75/27 Mod. 1911

There were also three other companies created in February 1945 and subordinated to the ‘Pietro Del Buffa’, the Compagnia Mortai da 81 mm ‘Enrico Maggi’ (English: 81 mm Mortar Company), the Compagnia Mitragliatrici da 20 mm ‘Attilio Da Broi’ (English: 20 mm machine gun Company), and the Compagnia Artiglieria ‘Giuseppe Lucchesi’ (English: Artillery Company).

The Autocannoni da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE’s crew of seven consisted of a driver, sitting on the right side of the cabin, a vehicle/gun commander sitting on the left side, a gunner, two loaders, and two more soldiers.

In the loading bay, some ammunition wooden crates were placed behind the cab, immediately behind a wooden bench fixed to the floor, where two soldiers were seated. In the middle of the cargo bay was the CEMSA support for the Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini cannon, while on the rear was another wooden bench and more ammunition crates.

The two ALFA Romeo 430 armed with automatic cannons of the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ on parade in Milan on 17th September 1944. Source: Istituto Luce

The company never operated independently, but in support of the infantry units of the ‘Muti’ Legion or of other Italian units operating in the region. On 14th August, part of the company’s armed vehicles was sent to Varzi, near Pavia in Lombardia, where they had to fight the local partisans together with the Compagnia Speciale ‘Baragiotta-Salines’, another Legione ‘Muti’ unit.

On that occasion, the fascist column was ambushed and immobilized by the partisans in the neighborhood of Pietra Gavina. Unable to continue the operation, the two companies returned back to Varzi. On that occasion, the ALFA trucks armed with 20 mm guns were probably used by the unit.

Another important task that the Compagnia Mezzi Pesanti ‘Pietro Del Buffa’ had to complete was escorting convoys that went from Milan to Turin, two of the most important cities for the Italian fascist faction, or vice versa via the A4 Highway, which was a very busy road. These were not only lorries full of soldiers, ammunition or fuel that passed through it every day, but also trucks loaded with spare parts and other material that kept both the war and civilian industries going.

These were also very easy targets for the fast Allied fighters and ground attack planes, which often machine-gunned convoys on the highway without even encountering anti-aircraft fire.

Vehicles, such as the ALFA Romeo 430RE, armed with high-elevation automatic cannons, were meant to provide effective defense against Allied air attacks. Unfortunately, the fate of these interesting anti-aircraft vehicles is unknown. They were probably destroyed or captured by the partisans during the insurrection in Milan in late April 1945.

The license plates of the vehicles are unknown and it is not known if they had the unit’s coat of arms painted, since the frames of a video of the Istituto Luce showing their appearance during a parade in Milan on 17th December 1944 are of very poor quality.

From what is visible, it is possible to deduce that the two ALFA Romeo 430RE were in the typical monochrome camouflage of the Regio Esercito, the Saharan Kaki. Another interesting detail is the triangular placard on the roof of the cab, which was mounted only on medium and heavy civilian trucks and not on military ones. The vehicles also lack acetylene headlights, so it seems logical to assume that the vehicles were ALFA Romeo 430 trucks produced during the war for the civil market and requisitioned by the fascist troops after the Armistice, given the shortage of vehicles at their disposal.

Conclusion

Although very little is known about these vehicles, it can be assumed that their use to support the troops of the Italian Social Republic against partisan units was effective. Until early 1945, the partisans were too disorganized and poorly armed to respond adequately. Nothing is known about their use as self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicles, but they were definitely far preferable to the nothing the Italian units were usually equipped with.

Autocannone da 20/70 su ALFA Romeo 430RE. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.
Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.955 x 2.13 x ~ 2.5 m
Total weight, battle ready 3.8 tonnes
Crew 7 (vehicle commander, driver, gunner and 4 loaders)
Propulsion ALFA Romeo Tipo 430, Diesel, 4-cylinder, 5,816 cm³, 80 hp at 2,000 rpm
Speed 65 km/h
Range 390 km
Armament One Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1939
Armor //
Total production at least two ALFA Romeo 430RE modified

Sources

Italia 43-45. I blindati di circostanza della guerra civile – Paolo Crippa
Ruote in Divisa, Un Secolo di Veicoli Militari Italiani – Brizio Pignacca

Categories
WW2 Italian SPG Prototypes

Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41

Kingdom of Italy/Repubblica Sociale Italiana (1942-1945)
Truck-Mounted Dual Use Artillery – 1 prototype

The Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA ‘Dovunque’ 41 was an Italian anti-aircraft and anti-tank self-propelled truck-mounted gun designed in 1942 on the SPA Dovunque 41 6×6 heavy duty truck chassis. It was meant to succeed the previous Autocannone da 90/53 su Breda 52 in the ranks of the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army).

Although it was a promising project, the Armistice of 8th September 1943 caused the cancellation of the vehicle’s development, which was restarted in 1944 under the control of the new fascist-aligned Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army). They used the single armored prototype produced by Officine Viberti.

The name Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 means truck-mounted 90 mm L. 53 [cannon] on SPA Dovunque 41 [chassis].

The North African Context

During the first stages of the Second World War, the Regio Esercito was involved in a military campaign against the Commonwealth troops in the vast deserts of North Africa. This campaign began on 9th September 1940, when the Italian troops invaded Egypt from Libya, which was an Italian colony.

During these actions, it was clear for the Regio Esercito commanders in Africa that the Army needed long-range and well armed reconnaissance vehicles with great mobility. They also needed support vehicles that would be fast and armed with field guns capable of supporting the Italian assault infantry units. Good mobility would allow them to quickly move from one point to another on the battlefield to stop British assaults and support Italian counterattacks.

For this purpose, some light trucks, captured from the British troops in Cyrenaica during the first days of war, were used. These vehicles were Morris CS8, Ford F15, and Chevrolet, all with a payload capacity of 15 cwt (750 kg). They were captured in large quantities and were put back into service with the Italian coat of arms as supply trucks.

General Gastone Gambara, one of the Italian commanders in North Africa, ordered some workshops to take a number of these British lorries and modify them, mounting artillery pieces on their loading bay. This was how autocannoni came to be.

In Italian, the word autocannone (plural autocannoni) designated a truck of civilian or military production, of any type (light, medium, etc.), modified to permit the transportation of an artillery piece of any type (anti-tank, field gun, anti-aircraft, etc.) permanently fixed on the cargo bay.

An Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 in the African Desert. Although these vehicles were not without flaws, they proved to be really effective in the African Campaign. Source: pinterest.com

The first autocannone produced in significant numbers was the Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8, of which 24 were assembled. This vehicle had an old Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1908/13 mountain gun mounted on its cargo bay and was stretched by 50 cm. The gun carriage was modified removing the spade and the wheels and welding it on a Italian medium tank turret ring that permitted 360° traverse.

While the Morris CS8 was transformed into a support autocannone, the smaller Ford and Chevrolet were converted into anti-aircraft autocannoni, mounting a Cannone da 20/65 Mod. 1935 or Mod. 1939. They were used to defend the Batterie Autocannoni (English: Autocannoni Batteries) or Italian supply convoys from aircraft strikes.

Autocannoni da 75/27 su TL37 lined up, ready to enter action. This type of autocannone proved to be really cramped, but was still used with some success. Source: pinterest.com

In North Africa, other autocannoni were produced with support guns, anti-aircraft, and anti-tank guns on different types of trucks, mainly of Italian production.

Autocannoni da 90/53

The only autocannoni officially produced in significant numbers, 120 in total, during the war, were the Autocannone da 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro and Autocannone da 90/53 su Breda 52. The first was produced by Lancia Veicoli Industriali in Turin and the latter by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche in the Sesto San Giovanni plant (near Milan). They were modified by the Ansaldo company in the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente (near Genoa) and perhaps also by the Officine Viberti company in Turin.

The Autocannone da 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro prototype parked outside the Ansaldo-Fossati Plant in Genoa, 6th February 1941. It has the Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires, open cab, and lower gun shield. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

The Autocannone da 90/53 was a private project of Ansaldo proposed to the Italian Ministry of War on 7th January 1941. On the blueprints sent by Ansaldo, the truck chassis chosen for the project was an Alfa Romeo heavy duty truck, but the Ispettorato Superiore dei Servizi Tecnici (English: Technical Services Inspectorate) requested on 12nd January 1941, less than a week after, to mount it on the Lancia 3Ro heavy-duty truck instead.

The Autocannone da 90/53 su Breda 52 prototype parked outside the Ansaldo-Fossati Plant in Genoa, 11th March 1941. It has the Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’ tires, open cab, and no gun shield. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

Despite the need to modify the project to reinforce the truck chassis, the prototype was ready on 6th February 1941, the firing tests were performed on 10th February 1941, and the first order from the Regio Esercito for the Autocannone da 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro was placed on 10th March 1941.

After some changes, on 18th September 1941, the Regio Esercito order was extended to 30 autocannoni on Lancia 3Ro and 50 on Breda 52 chassis, plus 64 Lancia 3Ro ammunition carriers, 16 command trucks, and 16 recovery trucks.

On 2nd December 1941, the order was finally changed to 30 autocannoni su Lancia 3Ro, by this date all delivered or ready to be delivered to the Regio Esercito, 90 autocannoni su Breda 52 (20 ready to be delivered), a total of 96 heavy duty trucks (Lancia 3Ro and Breda 51) converted to ammunition carriers, 24 recovery trucks, and just 12 command trucks. The last Autocannone da 90/53 su Breda 52 left the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Genoa on 1st May 1943.

These 120 autocannoni, 96 ammunition carriers, 12 command trucks, and 24 recovery trucks were assigned to 12 Groups that used Roman numerals: DI, DII, DIII, DIV, DV, DVII, DVIII, DXI, DLVI, DLVII, XX, and XXI (501st, 502nd, 503rd, 504th, 505th, 507th, 508th, 511th, 556th, 557th, 20th, and 21st), each divided into two batteries with 4 autocannoni da 90/53 each (plus one in reserve for each battery), 4 ammunition carriers with 840 rounds in total, one command truck, two recovery trucks, 10 logistic light and heavy vehicles, and other various equipment. The total personnel complement was 4 officers, 7 NCOs, 105 crew and gunners, and 31 drivers.

The DI, DII, and DIV Groups were sent to North Africa, where they were all lost during the North African Campaign. The remaining groups were used in the defense of southern Italy until the 8th September 1943 armistice.

During service, some defects of the vehicles were found, such as the poor top speed, poor range, and poor off-road capabilities, mainly due to weight increase (11,500 kg for the 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro compared to 5,610 kg of the standard Lancia 3Ro cargo truck variant), but also because neither of the two trucks had all-wheel drive.

In order to withstand the stress of the recoil of the powerful main gun, the Lancia 3Ro and Breda 52 trucks received six manual jacks with three spades each. These needed to be hammered into the ground before opening fire.

Before being ready to open fire, the crew need to stop the vehicle, put the jacks into position, mount the jack pads, hammer three spades for each jack, and open the gun platform. This wasted time and physically strained crews and made it impossible to promptly open fire to counter an unforeseen threat, or likewise, did not allow leaving the firing position quickly in the event of a retreat or counter battery.

Another serious problem was the height of the vehicle’s silhouette. In fact, the designers had preferred to mount a trunnion that allowed the gun to engaged ground and flying targets, but the solution proved to be problematic. The trunnion was high to permit a good maximum gun elevation, but its height meant it was easier to spot the Autocannoni da 90/53 on the vast and flat North African deserts.

An Autocannone da 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro in firing position. Source: pinterest.com

The 12 mm thick gun shield, the only armored part of the vehicle, was adequate for protecting the gunner and crew from small-arms caliber bullets, artillery splinters, or shrapnel, but was too high and only offered protection to the crew on the frontal arc. This meant that the crew was vulnerable from air attacks and to all the types of threats on the ground. The absence of armor also made the vehicle vulnerable to air strikes and enemy infantry ambushes during a march.

Despite these problems, the Autocannoni da 90/53 provided excellent anti-tank performance thanks to the powerful 90 mm gun. During the Allied landing on the shores of Calabria during the first days of September 1943, some Autocannoni da 90/53 su Breda 52 were used in the indirect fire role against Allied vessels.

Another great quality of the autocannoni was the 30-round ready-to-use rack placed between the cab and the gun platform, which permitted the crew to maintain a high rate of fire for a certain period of time.

In response to the problems encountered on the autocannoni da 90/53, three different projects were started:

An armored autocannone on a heavily modified Breda 52 chassis that would become the Semovente Ruotato da 90/53 Breda 501. Ansaldo produced only two prototypes before the September 1943 armistice, when the project was abandoned.

The Semovente Ruotato da 90/53 Breda 501 during tests. Source: reddit.com

The Autocannone da 90/53 su Autocarro Semicingolato Breda da 8t, an armored and shorter vehicle, a project initiated by Breda in August 1942. Due to delays in the production of the Breda 61 half-track and the 8th September 1943 armistice, the project was canceled.

The modern reconstructions blueprint of the Autocannone da 90/53 su Semicingolato Breda 61. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

A new 90/53 Autocannone on SPA Dovunque 41 6×6 heavy duty truck developed by Ansaldo. The Officine Viberti company in Turin was designing an armored version before the Armistice.

Design

The SPA Dovunque 41 Truck

The SPA Dovunque 41 heavy duty truck was one of the heaviest trucks of the Regio Esercito. One of its main characteristics was the all-wheel-drive configuration that permitted it to transport materials or tow heavy artillery pieces even on rough terrain.

The development started in 1941 by the Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA, a subsidiary of the famous FIAT. The first prototype was a Trattore Medio (English: Medium Tractor) SPA TM41 with seats for 7 soldiers plus the driver. It could tow the most heavy artillery pieces in the ranks of the Regio Esercito, but was usually assigned to the Cannoni da 90/53 Mod. 1939 batteries.

The SPA Trattore Medio 41 prototype during tests. Source: voenteh.com

After the tests, it was accepted into service on 24th March 1942 and the production began the same year. The prime mover variant was accompanied on the production line by the heavy-duty truck variant in early 1943.

The SPA Dovunque 41 heavy-duty truck. Note the absence of doubled wheels on the rear axles (the tires were Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’) and the presence of a small storage compartment under the cargo bay. Source: wikipedia.com

The trucks were produced in small numbers before 8th September 1943. The production resumed after the Armistice for the German Army, which received 153 vehicles.

There were also plans to produce a lighter variant, called SPA Dovunque 42, which would have entered production in 1944, but because of the Armistice, the project was canceled. After the war, production resumed until 1948, when it was replaced on the production line by the powerful SPA Dovunque 50. The old version remained in service with the Italian Army in the recovery version until the 1970s.

A SPA TM 41 towing a Rimorchio 3 assi Viberti with an M3A3 Stuart after the war. These particular vehicles were sent to Somalia in 1951. In fact, Italy was chosen by UN forces to administer Somalia after the British rule ended, which became the Trust Territory of Somaliland under Italian Administration. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

The SPA TM41 did not have a closed cab, with the driver seated on the right, the engine compartment in the center, and, on the left, the vehicle commander’s seat. Behind them was a 4-seat compartment and a third 2-seat compartment. The passenger compartment did not have a roof but could be covered by a waterproof tarpaulin.

Behind the crew compartment was a small cargo bay for the transportation of artillery rounds. On the rear was a tow hitch and a powerful hydraulic winch operated by the truck’s engine thanks to a Power Take-Off (PTO) system. When necessary, the driver stopped the vehicle, would shift out of gear on the gearbox, engage the handbrake and, via a manual override, connected the engine’s flywheel to a second driveshaft that operated the winch’s gearbox, which regulated the speed of the cable.

The SPA TM40 frame. The power take-off driven winch and its connection to the vehicle’s engine are clearly visible. Source: alamy.com

The heavy truck version had a fully closed steel-cabin with two seats. Behind it was the cargo bay with a payload capacity of 5 tonnes. The chassis weighed 6.5 tonnes, plus 2 tonnes of bodywork. The total ready weight of the vehicle was 14 tonnes, consisting of 500 kg of fuel, cooling liquid, oil, spare wheels, sapper tools, etc. The spare wheels were placed 360 mm over the ground and were left loose and free to rotate in order to help the vehicle overcome obstacles.

In order to improve the already great off-road capabilities of the truck, the two rear axles could be equipped with tracks that could be wrapped over the stock tires. This system was easy to mount on the tires, weighed little and took up little space and made it possible to overcome obstacles or very steep slopes.

A SPA Dovunque 41 equipped with tracks. The tires were Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’. Source: pinterest.com

Engine and Suspension

The SPA Dovunque 41 was powered by a 4-stroke, water-cooled, direct ignition engine equipped with DLL 145 S6-M injectors and a PE 6B 80E L4/11 pump. It was a diesel with 6 cylinders, 9,365 cm³ capacity giving out 110 hp at 1,800 rpm. The transmission had 4 forward and 1 reverse gears and a reductor. The fuel tank capacity was 130 liters.

The oil tank held 20.5 liters, while the cooling water tank had a capacity of 52.5 liters. The electric system had two 12 volts 140 ampere Magneti Marelli batteries. The maximum speed on road was 49 km/h, while the range was 270 km. The clutch was a single dry plate with compressed air servo brakes.

The SPA Dovunque 41 was the first of the ‘Dovunque’ series with the all-wheel drive configuration and was the only heavy duty truck of the Regio Esercito without twin wheels on the two rear axles.

The front suspension consisted of transverse leaf springs coupled with hydraulic shock absorbers. The rear suspension consisted of double overlapping leaf springs.

The SPA Dovunque 41 suspension during the prototype tests. The tires were Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’. Source: offroadvehicle.ru

The tires dimensions were 11.25 x 24” (28.5 cm x 60.96 cm), the same as the armored cars and camionette of the Regio Esercito. Like the armored cars and camionette, it could use a wide variety of tires, such as the Tipo ‘Libia’ and Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ for sandy soils, Tipo ‘Artiglio’ and Tipo ‘Artiglio a Sezione Maggiorata’ for continental terrain and Russian steppes, and Tipo ‘Raiflex’ for continental grounds, all developed and produced by the Pirelli company in Milan.

A SPA Dovunque 41 captured by partisans and used during a partisan parade days after the war, probably in Turin on 6th May 1945. The heavy duty truck was equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires and towed a Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15t. On the sides of the truck were painted slogans, such as “W Stalin” and CLN or Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (English: National Liberation Committee). Source: pinterest.com

Armament

The main armament of the Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 was the Cannone da 90/53 Modello 1939. This was an anti-aircraft 90 mm L.53 gun developed from the Ansaldo-OTO da 90/50 Modello 1939 gun which had been developed exclusively for the anti-aircraft and illuminating role on the Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy) warships. To give an example, the Littorio-class battleships had twelve 90/50 guns in as many independent turrets.

Like the German 8.8 cm FlaK 36 gun, it was also used as an anti-tank gun in the first phases of the war, proving equally adequate in that role. A total of 519 guns were used in North Africa and on the Italian mainland, 121 of them mounted on autocannoni.

The development of this gun started in 1938, when the Italian Army made a request for an anti-aircraft gun that could hit enemy heavy bombers at an altitude of over 10,000 meters. In that period, Ansaldo was developing the Ansaldo-OTO da 90/50 (OTO is ‘Odero Terni Orlando’) for the Regia Marina and decided to create a ground version of the same cannon to speed up development.

The first four cannons were ready on 30th January 1940. In April that same year, they were tested at the Nettuno Shooting Area, where they proved essentially identical to the 90/50 gun tested some months before. The gun was immediately put into production by Ansaldo.

The gun weighed 8,950 kg in the Modello 1939 towable version (6,240 kg the gun, not including the field mount) and had an elevation of -2° to +85° and a traverse of 360°. The rate of fire was 19 rounds per minute, the maximum firing range was 17,400 m against ground targets, and 11,300 m against flying targets.

On board of the Autocannoni da 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro and Autocannoni da 90/53 su Breda 52, the gun trunnion had an electromechanical system which, after entering the altitude at which the enemy aircraft was flying, automatically adjusted the fuse of the 90 mm round. The altitude of the enemy aircraft was measured by a Centrale di Tiro Borletti – Galileo – San Giorgio or Centrale di Tiro Mod. 1940 ‘Gamma’ stereoscopic rangefinders. It is therefore plausible that the Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 also had such a system on board.

The fuze-adjuster electromechanical system on a Autocannone da 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro with a 90 mm round positioned in it. In this image, the open platform, some bushes used by the crew to camouflage this behemoth, the Moschetto Carcano Mod. 91/38 Cavalleria rifle carried by the crew to defend themselves from enemy attacks and, bottom right, 12 of the 18 spades with their flat heads are visible. The photo was probably taken while positioning the autocannone in the firing position. Source: pinterest.com

Ammunition

The Cannone da 90/53 Mod. 1939 fired different types of rounds in 90 x 679 mmR, the same as its naval version.

Ammunition for the Cannone da 90/53 Modello 1939
Type Mass (kg) Quantity of TNT (g) Muzzle velocity (m/s) Fuze Penetration of RHA at 90° (mm)
Name 100 m 500 m 1000 m
Cartoccio Granata Esplosiva* HE – AA 10.1 1,000 850 Mod. 36 // // //
Cartoccio Granata Esplosiva* HE – AA 10.1 1,000 850 Mod. 36R // // //
Cartoccio Granata Esplosiva* HE – AA 10.1 1,000 850 Mod. 41 // // //
Cartoccio Granata Esplosiva* HE – AA 10.1 1,000 850 IO40 // // //
Cartoccio Granata Esplosiva* HE – AA 10.1 1,000 850 R40 // // //
Cartoccio Granata Perforante APCBC 12.1 520 758 Mod. 09 130 121 110
Cartoccio Granata Perforante APCBC 11.1 180 773 Mod. 09 156 146 123
Granata Effetto Pronto HEAT ** ** ** Internal Mod. 41 ~ 110 ~ 110 ~ 110
Granata Effetto Pronto Speciale HEAT ** ** ** IPEM ~ 110 ~ 110 ~ 110
Notes * The same round but with anti-aircraft or percussion fuze.
** Prototypes ready for testing only in mid-1943. According to some sources, they were similar to the German 88 mm Hl.Gr 39.

As with the other autocannoni da 90/53 batteries, the Autocannoni da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 batteries would have had the majority of the ammunition carried in other vehicles.

The Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41

The chassis of the Lancia 3Ro was not sturdy enough to withstand the recoil of the 90 mm gun, while the Breda 52 chassis had some problems while driving off-road, so the new SPA Dovunque 41 was chosen for the role.

The crew would be the same as on other autocannoni da 90/53, consisting of eight soldiers: driver, vehicle commander, gunner, three gun crew, and two ‘specialists’ (that probably were not only used to pass the rounds to the loader but they, for example, adjust the fuze of the rounds and check with the rangefinder the distance of the target), the last six of whom were in another vehicle in the battery.

The new autocannoni would differ from the others by having a new variable height trunnion. During a march and in the anti-tank role, the trunnion would be lowered to keep the vehicle’s shape as low as possible, but allowing limited elevation. In fact, the cab did not obstruct the line of fire because the rigid roof and sides were substituted by removable water-proof tarpaulins and the windshield, that could be lowered downwards, was divided in two parts to permit to the gun barrel to be placed between the driver and vehicle commander’s seats during a march.

The Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 mock-up. Source: Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II

In the anti-aircraft role, the gun trunnion would have been raised to its maximum position, allowing the complete +85° elevation, exactly as on the Autocannone da 90/53 su Autocarro Semicingolato Breda da 8t or on the Semovente ruotato da 90/53 Breda 501.

Behind the cabin were what looked like two shields with the same height as the cabin’s sides. If they were truly protective shields, when opened, they protected the lower portion of the front arch of the entire platform from enemy small-arms bullets. These shields did not interfere with the line of fire of the main gun.

Between these shields was probably an ammunition rack, as on the other autocannoni da 90/53, most likely with the usual 30 ready-to-use 90 mm rounds.

There were four new type hydraulic jacks, probably operated by the same PTO system that worked the winch in the SPA TM41 prime mover version.

The power take-off system’s driveshaft was probably connected to an oil pump that put into operation the hydraulic circuit that controlled the elevation and depression of the jacks.

This meant that the autocannone was not on the SPA Dovunque 41 chassis, but on its prime mover variant, the SPA TM41. The heavy-duty truck was not equipped with the power take-off driven winch.

The SPA Trattore Medio 41, probably a prototype or one of the first produced vehicle chassis with the open cab. Between the rear wheel axles is the hydraulic winch. Source: pinterest.com

The side spare wheels were removed from behind the cab to make room for the frontal lifting jacks. Only one spare wheel was carried at the rear of the vehicle, under the gun platform.

Another order for Autocannoni da 90/53 was scheduled for 19th July 1943. This would consist of 96 on the Breda 52 chassis to replace the losses of other autocannoni in North Africa and 60 on the SPA Dovunque 41 chassis. Those 60 autocannoni would be enough to equip six different Autocannoni da 90/53 Batteries.

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The original SPA Dovunque 41 truck and the Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 modern reconstructions blueprints. Sources: pinterest.com and Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, modified by the author

Armor

The Regio Esercito Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 project was mostly unarmored, but the gun had a 12 mm thick gun shield to protect the crew on the platform. The gun shield would be lower and angled to better deflect small-caliber rounds.

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The original Officine Viberti blueprints of the Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 Blindato. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

The Technical Department of the Officine Viberti in Turin, a company specialized in bodyworks for Lancia and FIAT trucks and in the production (jointly with SPA) of armored cars and Camionette, began working on 30th June 1943 on the development of an armored body for the Autocannone on SPA Dovunque 41 chassis. This would then receive the designation of Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 Blindato (English: Armored) or Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 Semiblindato (English: Semi-Armored).

This variant would be identical to the unarmored one, but with an armored superstructure protecting only the driver and the vehicle’s commander. This structure would have been composed of angled riveted armored plates, probably of a thickness from 6 mm to 8.5 mm, maybe more on the frontal arc. The cab was divided in two compartments, the driver’s one on the right, and the vehicle commander’s one on the left.

In the center, the space left free would house the 90 mm cannon barrel and its travel lock. The two armored compartments would have their own armored doors, divided in two different parts, with the upper ones with a loophole. There was one frontal armored hatch for each compartment, opening downwards to increase visibility while driving. The frontal headlights were armored.

The vehicle is sometimes mentioned as semi-armored because the frontal vertical hood and the radiator grille remained unarmored, probably to keep the weight of the vehicle low.

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Frontal view of the vehicle. On the right image, in red, is the unarmored vertical hood of the vehicle. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano modified by the author

The design of the armored cab of the Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 Semiblindato was completed by the Technical Office of Officine Viberti on 3rd September 1943, five days before the Armistice that led to the cancellation of the order of the 60 autocannoni su SPA Dovunque 41 by the Royal Army.

Because of the height of the armored cab when shooting forwards, the gun trunnion would have been lifted over the roof of the cabin in anti-tank role, but it could also maintain the trunnion at the minimum height if the gun was aimed to the sides or rear.

A modern reconstructions blueprint of the vehicle lifted on the hydraulic jacks. The gun trunnion is in the lower position. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano modified by the author

Service

With the signing of the Armistice with the Allied forces on 3rd September 1943, which entered into force on 8th September 1943, the Regio Esercito turned its guns against the German Army, its former ally.

The Germans, expecting such a move, launched Fall Achse (English: Operation Axis), prepared by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht after late May 1943. From 8th to 19th September 1943, about 20,000 Italian soldiers were killed and the German Army captured over one million soldiers and thousands of guns and armored fighting vehicles.

Some of the Italian soldiers loyal to Benito Mussolini and the Germans surrendered to them and continued to fight against the Allied troops with their Axis allies, while other captured soldiers decided to fight with the Germans.

On 23rd September 1943, Mussolini founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (English: Italian Social Republic) on the Italian territories under German control. The new army of the RSI, the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army), was equipped with few armored fighting vehicles, since the Germans had taken control of the Italian war industry.

One of the largest units of the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano was the Xª Flottiglia MAS, with around 20,000 soldiers in its ranks divided between sailors and naval infantry. For most of the remaining two years of war, these fought as normal infantry units.

FIAT 666 medium truck equipped with a Breda 37 on a tripod in an anti-aircraft configuration behind the cab and a Breda 37 on a standard tripod on the rear, Battaglione ‘Barbarigo’ of the 1° Reggimento Fanteria di Marina ‘Scir’, Xª Flottiglia MAS. Source: zimmerit.com

One of the artillery units of the Xª Flottiglia MAS was the Gruppo Artiglieria da Campagna ‘Colleoni’ (English: Field Artillery Group), created in March 1944 at La Spezia, near Genoa. It was composed of 3 batteries with Obici da 75/13 and 100/17.

In July 1944, it was sent to Piemonte, in the Ivrea region, to fight the partisan units and to maintain efficiently the alpine roads that ran from Italy to France. Thus, in the event of an Allied landing in Liguria, German and Fascist units in Piemonte could retreat further north.

In that period, Lieutenant Malvezzi, an officer of the Gruppo Artiglieria da Campagna ‘Colleoni’, contacted Officine Viberti of Turin. Given the need for armored vehicles to be assigned to the unit to fight the partisans, Viberti probably proposed to Malvezzi to produce the Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 Blindato. The absence of information and pictures do not clarify the situation but probably the Xª MAS‘s officer helped with the development, giving suggestions or providing part of the raw materials to the Officine Viberti technicians.

Nothing is known about the vehicle, except that it was delivered to the Gruppo di Artiglieria da Campagna ‘Colleoni’ in Autumn 1944, just in time, as the Xª Flottiglia MAS was transferred to Veneto in October 1944.

From October to December 1944, the ‘Colleoni’ was employed in anti-partisan operations and then was active against the Slovenian partisans’ IX Korpus, where it was deployed in Gorizia and the Battle of Tarnova in January 1945.

The artillery unit was then sent to the Senio Front and the Autocannone was probably taken with them. In March 1945, the unit was sent to the southern front to fight against the Allies that were advancing.

The only Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 Blindato was probably lost during the fight on the Senio front or against the Allied troops some weeks later.

There are no photos of this vehicle, neither in the Officine Viberti plant nor in the hands of the Xª MAS. Some sources hypothesize that this vehicle could have been camouflaged with the standard Kaki Sahariano, the standard khaki camouflage, but it is also possible that the vehicle could be camouflaged in the three-tone Continentale camouflage typical of Italian vehicles used on the mainland, composed of Kaki Sahariano background with reddish-brown and dark green spots.

Two Carro Armato Medio M15/42 medium tanks. The upper one has Kaki Sahariano camouflage and the lower one the Continentale camouflage. Source: pinterest.com and inmontecchio.com with author’s collage

Conclusion

The Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 would have been an interesting vehicle if put into service for its characteristics. This is due to its special development with experiences from similar vehicles.

Unfortunately, the Italian Armistice of 8th September 1943 canceled the orders for this vehicle, and nothing is known about the only vehicle allegedly produced in 1944. The Gruppo di Artiglieria da Campagna ‘Colleoni’ of the Xª Flottiglia MAS used a single vehicle against Yugoslav partisans.

Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 proposed to the Italian Regio Esercito before the Armistice. Never produced.
Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovinque 41 Blindato produced by Officine Viberti and used by Gruppo Artiglieria da Campagna ‘Colleoni’ of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana. Both illustrations by Pavel ‘Carpaticus’ Alexe funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Size (L-W-H) 6.905 x 2.480 x ~2.8 m
Total weight, battle ready ~ 14 tonnes
Crew 8 soldiers (driver, commander gunner, 3 gun crew, and 2 specialists)
Propulsion 6-cylinders, 9,365 cm³ diesel engine, 110 hp
Speed ~ 40 km/h
Range ~ 200 km
Armament Cannone da 90/53 Modello 1939
Armor not specified
Total production one prototype

Sources

Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Volume Secondo, Tomo II – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
Semicingolati, Motoveicoli e Veicoli Speciali del Regio Esercito Italiano 1919-1943 – Giulio Benussi
Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II – Ralph A. Riccio
associazionedecimaflottigliamas.it

Categories
WW2 Italian Autocannoni

Autocannone 20/65 su Ford, Chevrolet 15 CWT, and Ford F60

Kingdom of Italy 1940 – 1942
Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) – unknown numbers converted

When the Regio Esercito (English: Royal Italian Army) entered the Second World War in 1940, it did not have in its ranks a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG) to equip its units. During the North African Campaign, this problem became evident, and some anti-aircraft vehicles were produced in a rather rudimentary fashion in Libyan workshops to defend Italian supply convoys and armored divisions from air attacks. For this, the Breda 20 mm cannon was mounted on various truck chassis, both Italian and British, the latter captured during the first months of the war. These vehicles were built to partly relieve this problem while waiting for vehicles specially designed for this task.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F15 in the North African desert. All the Italian modifications are clearly visible. A Savoia cross on the hood and a small Kingdom of Italy flag were added to avoid friendly fire. Source: pinterest.com

The North African Context

After the Italian declaration of war against Britain and France on 10th June 1940, the Regio Esercito began some campaigns in Europe against France and Yugoslavia. It was only on 13th September 1940, that the North African Campaign began, when Italian troops commanded by General Rodolfo Graziani crossed the border between Libya, an Italian colony, and Egypt, a British protectorate.

It was immediately clear to the Italian generals that the Regio Esercito needed, as soon as possible, reconnaissance armored cars and armed vehicles to support Italian units.

Despite the participation of the Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK), the Italian Royal Army did not receive adequate quantities of these types of vehicles, and the troops in Africa had to make do with what they had. In mid-1941, the Italian High Command made the decision to take some trucks and tractors and use them as reconnaissance and support vehicles, arming them with various artillery pieces.

Design

The Canadian Military Pattern (CMPs) trucks were a standardized type of truck built by the General Motors, Ford, and Chevrolet branches in Canada for the needs of the Commonwealth Army. The long hundredweight or centum weight (abbreviated to CWT) is a British imperial unit of weight equivalent to 50.8 kg.

The CMP light trucks had a payload equivalent to 760 kg; the CMP medium trucks had a payload of 30 CWT, equivalent to 1,525 kg; and the CMP heavy trucks had a payload of 60 CWT, equivalent to 3,050 kg.

The Ford 15 CWT trucks used the Ford 239 B9-99A Flathead engine, with a capacity of 3,916 cm³ delivering 95 hp at 3,300 rpm. The CMP vehicles built by Chevrolet had the 3,540 cm³, 6-cylinder, in-line OHV 6 (OverHead Valve) engine delivering 85 hp at 3,400 rpm.

The vehicles had a 93 liters fuel capacity that guaranteed a range of around 460 km. Their top speed on-road varied from 64 km/h to up to 80 km/h, depending on the specific vehicle.

The more powerful 3-ton Ford F60 truck entered service in 1941 and was equipped with a more powerful 270 hp GMC V6 petrol engine, with a 112-liter fuel reserve.

The CMPs came with 4×2 configuration, respectively called Ford F15 and Chevrolet C15, and all-wheel drive configuration called Ford F15A and Chevrolet C15A. Apart from this, they were the same and maintained the wheelbase of 2.56 meters. The Ford F60 was always 4×4.

The Ford and Chevrolet trucks had the Canadian standard right-side drive cab design, which evolved over the years of production. The first was designed for Ford by Sid Swallow. These designs were called Number 11, No. 12, and No. 13.

The main difference from the No.11 consisted of the radiator grille in the cab of No. 12. The final No. 13 cabin, an entirely Canadian project used from the end of 1941 until the end of the war, had the two flat panels of the windshield slightly tilted downward to reduce glare from the sun and to avoid strong reflections that would have been observable by airplanes. All the designs of the CMP cabs had a ‘cab forward’ configuration that gave CMP trucks their characteristic ‘crushed muzzle’ profile.

The CMP vehicles had some problems. Due to the rear wheel fairings, the cargo bays were small and cramped. These trucks, together with the Morris CS8, which had the same payload capacity, were the backbone of the supply lines of the British Army for the entirety of the war, together with heavier trucks, such as the Ford F30, Chevrolet C30, Ford F60, and Chevrolet C60.

The No. 11, 12 and 13 cabins were combined with a variety of standard chassis, transmissions, and bodywork. The vehicles built by Chevrolet could be recognized by the mesh of the radiator grille that was diamond-shaped, while those built by Ford had a square mesh.

The dizzying variety of variants included general services, troop carriers, fuel/water tank carriers, recovery vehicles, ambulances, dental clinics, mobile laundries, HQ radio vehicles, workshops, welding stations, transports, artillery tractors, and anti-tank portées.

The Italian troops appreciated the qualities of these light Canadian lorries, their off-road driving performances, and the ease with which they could be modified. In fact, during an official meeting, General Gastone Gambara proposed a vehicle exchange to German General Erwin Rommel. The Germans would swap captured Commonwealth light trucks, with a single Regio Esercito’s FIAT or Lancia heavy truck for every 2 Commonwealth lorries received.

Italian Modifications

The Italian troops captured many of these vehicles, including F15, F15A, C15, and C15A in Cyrenaica in 1940, along with many other vehicles, such as the Morris CS8. Photographic evidence suggests that the majority were F15s though.

Due to the inadequate number of supply trucks in the Italian ranks, all the captured vehicles were quickly put in service with the supply units of the Regio Esercito.

Two Italian soldiers pose in front of a Ford F15 CMP captured from the British. Source: pinterest.com

General Gastone Gambara, commander of the Corpo d’Armata Mobile (CAM) (English: Mobile Army Corp), understood the flaws of the Italian Army. In 1941, he ordered the workshops of the Autofficine del 12° Autoraggruppamento AS (English: Workshops of the 12° Vehicle Regroupment North Africa) to modify some of the British light lorries, arming them with old 65 mm Italian support guns. These would become the Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8.

In Italian, the word ‘Autocannone’ (Autocannoni plural) designated any type of civilian or military truck equipped with a field, anti-tank, anti-aircraft, or support gun mounted on the cargo bay.

In the Italian official nomenclature, these vehicles were referred to as both as ‘Autocannoni’ and ‘Camionette’, even though the camionette were vehicles designed for reconnaissance and not armed support. This article will sometimes use designations such as ‘Autocannone da 20/65 su CMP’. This nomenclature was never officially used by the Italian Royal Army, but, in some photos, it is impossible to distinguish exactly which Canadian Military Pattern variant was used as a base for the vehicle.

Bersaglieri assault infantry troops on board a Ford F15 or F15A, just captured from the British. Source: pinterest.com

This solution proved to be really successful and the Autofficine del 12° Autoraggruppamento AS started to convert other British vehicles, beginning with the 15 CWT Canadian Military Trucks. Due to the small cargo bay it was decided to turn the CMPs into anti-aircraft autocannoni, mounting 20 mm autocannons on their rear platforms.

The cabs were cut off under the windshield, permitting 360° traverse to the main gun. On the loading bay, all the tarpaulin rods and other unnecessary parts were removed.

The cargo bay was modified, adding a support in the center to mount the autocannon’s trunnion, but no seats for the main gun crew were added. Supports for 6 20 liters cans were added: four below the cargo bay, just behind the cab on the right, and one for 2 cans on the loading bay’s rear.

In some cases, these 120 liters of fuel would extend the range of the vehicle to 1,400 km. On other vehicles, the number of fuel cans transported was higher. For example, sometimes, 2 20 liters cans were transported between the driver and commander’s seats, increasing the range even more. However, some of those cans were used for drinkable water, which was more valuable than fuel when operating in the desert. Between the loading bay and the cab, where the spare wheel was previously located, some ammunition boxes were added.

Thanks to the tonnes of British material captured, the tires were not changed and remained the British desert type because there were enough spare wheels. Sapper tools, such as pickaxes and spades, were also added on the loading bay’s rear and two unditching grilles were mounted on the sides.

Even the Germans appreciated the Canadian Military Pattern qualities and, using the Italian workshops, they turned some of the CMPs that they had managed to capture into self-propelled anti-aircraft guns mounting German FlaK 30 or FlaK 38 anti-aircraft automatic cannons on their loading bays.

Deutsches Afrikakorps Ford F15A with a FlaK 38 anti-aircraft autocannon. This vehicle was the German version of the Italian anti-aircraft autocannoni. Source: reddit.com

Ironically, during the North African Campaign, Commonwealth troops managed to capture several Italian 20 mm autocannons, which the Australians mounted on their own CMP light trucks.

From photographic evidence, the vehicles used by the Commonwealth troops were not in any way modified, having the Italian guns simply resting on the cargo bay, making them technically portées.

The number of vehicles converted by the Commonwealth forces in North Africa is not clear, but the guns were placed on Chevrolet C15 and C15A, Ford F15, F15A, and F60 chassis, but may have been more.

The Italians also converted a number of CMPs into anti-aircraft autocannoni, but with twin 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT aeronautical machine guns mounted on a 360° support instead of the 20 mm autocannon.

A Canadian Military Pattern truck used by the Italians as a command vehicle. It is armed with a Bren light machine gun and a Breda-SAFAT medium aeronautical machine gun chambered for the .303 British cartridge. Note the Kingdom of Italy flag on the hood, used to avoid friendly fire. The man on top is giving orders to the Lancia 3Ro heavy trucks visible in the background. Source: Istituto Luce

The crew of the Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford or Chevrolet was composed of four soldiers. The driver was on the right-hand seat of the cab, the vehicle commander on the left side of the cab, and a gunner and a loader were placed on the cargo bay, probably sitting on the wheel fairings.

When the gun was operated, the commander and the driver left the cab. The commander spotted targets while the driver served as a second loader to speed up the gun’s rate of fire.

Not much is known about the total number produced. Nico Sgarlato, in his book ‘I Corazzati di Circostanza Italiani’, says that a total of 30 Autocannoni da 20/65 su Ford, Chevrolet and Morris chassis were converted, plus others produced in 1943 and used in Tunisia. However, this Italian writer does not mention his source and it seems that no other book or source mentions the number of Ford or Chevrolet that were modified.

Armament

The main gun of the autocannone was the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65, mainly the Modello 1939 version, but some vehicles were also equipped with the Modello 1935 version.

The Breda was a gas operated autocannon chambered for the powerful 20 x 138 mm B cartridge, the same as the German FlaK 38 and the Swiss Solothurn S-18/1000 anti-tank rifle.

Its theoretical rate of fire was 500 rounds per minute, but the practical one was about 220 rounds per minute. It had a muzzle velocity of 830 m/s and a practical range of 2,000 meters in the anti-aircraft role and a practical range against ground targets of about 3,000 meters.

The Breda Mod. 35 had a depression of -10° and an elevation of +80°, while the Mod. 39 had an elevation of +90° thanks to its manual aim. It used 12-round feed strips that were loaded manually by the loader.

The Modello 1939 was the fixed gun version, made mainly for the Milizia della Difesa Territoriale (English: Militia for Territorial Defense), essentially the equivalent of the British Home Guard.

The 72 kg autocannon was mounted on a particularly shaped trunnion that offered 360° traverse and simplified the use of the gun. These guns were probably taken from the fixed anti-aircraft positions around the Libyan cities, such as Tobruk or Tripoli.

Gunner of an autocannone on a Canadian Military Pattern chassis aiming his gun against flying targets, while the loader is ready to put a second feed strip in the gun. Source: forum.warhunder.com

The Modello 1935 was the towed variant of the autocannon and was lower than the Modello 1939, equipped with a seat and aiming wheels. It was the most produced variant and was the most used by the Regio Esercito during the war. It was also used also on the cargo bay of medium trucks as anti-aircraft portée, using chassis such as the FIAT 626 and SPA 38R.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su CMP. The main gun is a Cannone da 20/65 Mod. 1935 and not a Mod. 1939. A Savoia cross for aerial identification is painted on the hood. Source: Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery in Action

One problem with the Italian modification was the removal of the water-proof tarpaulins that protected the cargo bay from rain, but more importantly from desert sand and dust. When not in use, the 20 mm Breda’s breech and barrel had to be covered by small waterproof tarpaulins. Otherwise, there was a risk of jamming the weapon with disastrous consequences for the entire battery.

The ammunition was transported in metal boxes placed between the cab and the cargo bay, on the right side. In total, the vehicle carried 240 rounds for the gun, even if it was common practice for crews to transport more ammunition within wooden crates loaded in the cargo bay or wherever there was sufficient space. More ammunition was transported by the battery’s supply trucks and ammunition carriers.

A good photo that shows the CMP’s right side. The four ammunition boxes between the cab and the cargo bay, the unditching grille, the 20 liter jerrycan racks (the jerrycans were not present) and the water-proof tarpaulin on the Cannone da 20/65 Mod. 39 are visible. Source: Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery in Action

Operational Use

Self-propelled anti-aircraft guns were urgently needed in the Italian ranks to protect the ‘Batterie Volanti’ (English: Flying Batteries), composed of Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8 or other Italian autocannoni that operated in the vast desert plains to provide support to the Italian units. These had proven vulnerable to air strikes. To give an example, in November 1941, a Junker Ju. 87 ‘Stuka’, mistaking some Italian autocannoni for British vehicles, attacked them, destroying four Autocannoni da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro and a battery of Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8, killing 7 Italian soldiers.

Autocannone da 20/65 su CMP armed with a Breda Mod. 1935 in the desert. The commander scans the horizon with binoculars for enemy targets. In the background, two Autocannoni da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro are visible. Source: pinterest.com

The Breda cannon was, in fact, well known to Allied ground attack pilots, who often aborted attacks in order to avoid significant damage to their aircraft, as some US documents confirm.

The Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8 equipped the to the 6ª Batteria Volante plus the 11ª Batteria Volante Indipendente (English: 11th Independent Flying Battery). The Canadian Military Pattern trucks armed with the Breda autocannons were assigned to some of these batteries, providing anti-aircraft defense to the batteries, but also defending them against infantry attacks.

The batteries were equipped with three Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8 and two anti-aircraft vehicles, 20/65 su Ford 15 CWT, or Chevrolet 15 CWT, plus other supply trucks and command cars.

In total, 16 Batterie Volanti were formed by the Italians during the North African Campaign and the anti-aircraft autocannoni equipped the majority of them. Of the hundreds of vehicles that composed these units, 71 were captured British-produced vehicles reused as autocannoni, ammunition carriers, or command trucks.

The , and 3ª Batteria Volante were assigned to the I° Gruppo (English: 1st Group), while the other three, from to the 6ª Batteria Volante, were assigned to the II° Gruppo (English: 2nd Group). These were later renamed XIV° Gruppo and XV° Gruppo (English: 14th and 15th Groups), respectively.

In March 1942, the XIV° Gruppo was completely destroyed by the British, which launched an attack on their positions. The soldiers of the group were killed or taken prisoners.

In the following weeks, the XIV° Gruppo was rebuilt with the soldiers and vehicles of the 3° Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’ (Eng: 3rd Armored Car Group), equipped with AB41 medium reconnaissance armored cars, four Autocannoni da 65/17 su FIAT 634N, an Italian heavy-duty truck, and others on Morris CS8 chassis, with some Ford chassis autocannoni as well.

Column of vehicles in Africa. Opening the convoy is a FIAT 508CM staff car, behind it an Autocannone da 20/65 on Ford F15, 6 AB41 armored cars and an Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8, Siwa Oasis, August 1942. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

In May 1942, the batteries were renamed Batterie Autocannoni. In June 1942, given the arrival of new material from the Italian mainland, the autocannoni production was stopped and the surviving Batterie Autocannoni equipped with 65/17 su Morris CS8 were reorganized.

After June 1942, each Batteria Autocannoni had a command unit, 3 batteries for a total of 12 autocannoni da 65/17, four autocannoni da 20/65 su Ford, Chevrolet or Morris chassis, a staff car, 4 armored trucks, 10 light trucks, 13 motorcycles, 4 machine guns, four 20 mm wheeled anti-aircraft guns, and two RF2 radio stations with a staff of 13 officers, 7 NCOs, 137 artillery crew, and 56 drivers.

An Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 and a Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F15 in the desert. The drivers are in their positions, so either the photo was taken only for propaganda purposes or the vehicles were ready to shoot and then retreat quickly. Source: pinterest.com

From January 1943, the three renamed batteries were assigned to the 136º Reggimento Artiglieria (English: 136th Artillery Regiment) of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ (English: 136th Armored Division) and remained in the division for the rest of the African Campaign, fighting with tenacity during the battles in Tunisia.

Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F60

An Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F60L of an Italian Batteria Volante. Obviously, due to the bigger size of the vehicle, there were advantages, like the possibility to transport more jerrycans or ammunition. Source: Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery in Action

The Italians also captured a number of Ford F60Ls and F60Ss that were reused for different purposes, such as infantry transport, fuel and water transporter, artillery tractors, and ammunition carriers. Thanks to their usefulness and bigger loading bays, only a few were used as autocannoni.

Some of the vehicles that were modified into autocannoni lost most of the cargo bay, of which they retained only part of the floor onto which the usual Breda was mounted.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F60S with the cab left unmodified (apart from the lateral doors) and a Breda Mod. 1935 placed in the remnants of the cargo bay. Source: Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery in Action
A similar vehicle escorting an Axis supply convoy in the North African desert. Source: pinterest.com

The cabin of some models was cut, while others kept the windshield, and others did not receive any modifications. The crew of the gun were seated on a bench fixed behind the cab facing the rear during the march. The back of the bench was a large box where the ammunition of the cannon was stowed. On the vehicle were also hooked two racks for 3 jerrycans each, fixed under the cannon platform. Next to the racks were two more boxes for ammunition or tools.

From the existing photos of these vehicles, it seems that not all were modified in an ‘official’ way by the 12° Autoraggruppamento AS workshops, but that some were modified by the Italian soldiers on the front line.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F60L with a Breda Mod. 1935. The cab was cutt and the cargo bay was modified. Source: reddit.com

Conclusions

The Autocannoni da 20/65 on Canadian lorries were some of the dozens of autocannoni produced by the Regio Esercito workshops in Africa. These vehicles, greatly appreciated for their dual anti-aircraft and infantry support capabilities, were extensively used even if in small numbers. Unfortunately, for the whole duration of the North African Campaign, the Regio Esercito did not receive purposely built self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, and the autocannoni da 20/65 on captured trucks or other chassis were the only serviceable vehicles for this fundamental role.

Illustration by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin

20/65 su Ford F15 Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.18 x 2.13 x ~2 m
Total weight, battle-ready 3.235 tonnes
Crew 4 (driver, vehicle commander, gunner, and loader)
Propulsion Ford 239 V8 Flathead 3,916 cm³, petrol 95 hp
Range 460 km
Maximum speed 70 km/h
Main Armament Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 or 1939
Armor //
Total production Unknown number of vehicles converted

20/65 su Ford F60L Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.21 x 2.23 x ~2 m
Total weight, battle-ready 4.33 tonnes
Crew 4 (driver, vehicle commander, gunner, and loader)
Propulsion V8-cylinder, 3.917 cm³ displacement, carburetor, liquid-cooled with 112 liters tank
Range 250 km
Maximum speed 75 km/h
Main Armament Breda 20/65 Mod. 1939
Armor //
Total production Unknown number of vehicles converted

Sources

Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery in Action – Ralph Riccio and Nicola Pignato
Le artiglierie del Regio Esercito – Filippo Cappellano
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume II Tomo II – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
I corazzati di circostanza italiani – Nico Sgarlato
Le Camionette del Regio Esercito – Enrico Finazzer and Luigi Carretta

Categories
WW2 Italian SPG Prototypes

Autocannone da 90/53 su Autocarro Semicingolato Breda 61

Kingdom of Italy (1943)
Half-tracked Mounted Dual Use Artillery – Paper Project

The Autocannone da 90/53 su Autocarro Semicingolato Breda 61 was an Italian anti-aircraft and anti-tank self-propelled gun designed in 1943 based on the Breda 61 half-track chassis for the needs of the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army).

Although it was a promising project, the delays with the production of the Breda 61 caused the delay of the half-tracked Autocannone. The project was canceled after the Italian Armistice that was signed on 8th September 1943.

Autocannone da 90/53 su Autocarro Semicingolato Breda 61 in Italian literally means Truck(-mounted) 90 mm L. 53 cannon on Breda 61 half-track hull.

Lack of mobile artillery and the need for the ‘Autocannoni’

Already during the early stages of the Second World War, the Regio Esercito’s High Command received complaints about the absence of a mobile support gun to help the Italian troops during assaults to the enemy positions.

During the fighting in the vast deserts of North Africa, an armed vehicle with great mobility could reach the battlefront quickly to counter the enemy attacks and then move to another point of the battlefront to counterattack or for other defensive duties was needed.

Despite the need for such vehicles, development in Italy was very slow and the soldiers in Africa were forced to create such vehicles themselves in military and civil workshops. This is where Autocannoni (singular Autocannone) originated from.

In Italian, the word Autocannone means a truck (in this case, a half-track) of civil or military production, of any type (light, medium etc) modified to permit the transportation on its cargo bay of a permanently fixed artillery piece of any type (anti-tank, field gun, anti-aircraft, etc).

Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 of the 1° Batteria Autocannoni, 136° Reggimento d’Artiglieria Celere of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ in Tunisia, 1943. Source: reddit.com

The first autocannone produced in significant numbers (24 converted) were the Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8. The old Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1908/13 mountain gun, hard to tow on the soft desert terrains, was mounted on a 360° rotating support made from turret rings recovered from destroyed Italian tanks. It was then fixed on the loading bay of the British Morris CS 8 4×2 light utility truck, captured in significant numbers in the first days of war, slightly modified by the Autofficine del 12° Autoraggruppamento AS (English: Workshops of the 12th Motorized Group, AS standing for Africa Settentrionale – North Africa) located in the Village of Giovanni Berta, near the city of El Gubba, North-east Libya.

This workshop and the FIAT ones of Tripoli were responsible for the conversion of the trucks into autocannoni. By 1942, autocannoni with howitzers, anti-aircraft autocannons, naval guns, and standard field artillery pieces were produced.

An Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro, one of the dozens of autocannoni produced by the workshops in North Africa. Source: waralbum.ru

Autocannoni da 90/53

The only officially produced autocannoni were the ones armed with the powerful 90 mm Cannone da 90/53 Mod. 1939 based on the Lancia 3Ro and Breda 52 heavy duty trucks. These trucks were produced by Lancia Veicoli Speciali in Turin and by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche in the Sesto San Giovanni plant (near Milan). They were modified by the Ansaldo-Fossati Plant in Genoa and perhaps also by the Officine Viberti plant in Turin.

These autocannoni were developed for anti-aircraft and anti-tank purposes and 120 were converted, 30 on the Lancia 3Ro chassis, and 90 on the Breda 52 chassis.

The Autocannone da 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro prototype parked outside the Ansaldo-Fossati Plant in Genoa, 6th February 1941. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

These vehicles were assigned to 12 Groups with 2 batteries each, used in North Africa and Southern Italy. Some units were also used in the anti-naval role, shooting in indirect fire against Allied vessels that tried to disembark on the Calabria coasts on 3rd September 1943.

The Autocannone da 90/53 su Breda 52, ready to be delivered to the units, at the Ansaldo-Fossati Plant in Genoa. Source: pinterest.com

These vehicles had some problems caused by the heaviness of the gun and the recoil stress. In order to deal with these, the chassis was reinforced and manual jacks were adopted to lift the vehicles off the ground.

The increase in weight of the vehicle decreased the already moderate speed of these heavy trucks and the manual jacks forced the crew to exert a high physical effort and increased the times to get ready to fire and to leave the fire position, especially in dangerous situations.

Another problem was the height of the vehicle. This was not a factory defect, but a choice of the designers that proved to be problematic. The trunnion was high to permit a great elevation to allow the autocannoni da 90/53 to engage flying targets and ground targets. Its height made it easier to spot by enemy troops on the vast and flat desert terrain.

The 12 mm thick armored shield could protect the crew from small arms, shrapnel, or splinters. However, it protected the crew only on the frontal arc. This meant that the crew was vulnerable from air attacks and all the crew on the ground were vulnerable to all threats.

Despite these problems, the Autocannoni da 90/53 provided excellent anti-tank performance thanks to the powerful 90 mm gun. Another great quality of the autocannoni was the 20-rounds ready-to-use rack placed between the cab and the gun platform, which permitted the crew to maintain a high rate of fire for a certain period of time.

In response to the problems encountered on the autocannoni da 90/53, three different projects were started:

An armored autocannone on a Breda 52 chassis, which would become the Semovente Ruotato da 90/53 Breda 501. Ansaldo produced only two prototypes before the September 1943 Armistice, after which the project was abandoned.

Semovente Ruotato da 90/53 Breda 501. Source: pinterest.com

A new 90/53 Autocannone on SPA Dovunque 41 6×6 heavy duty truck was proposed in two different configurations. The first one, would be essentially a 90/53 su Breda 52 copy, while the second one, called Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 Blindato (English: Armored) had a lower armored cab and a new gun shield. Only a prototype was completed after the Armistice and assigned during the Fall of 1944 to the Reggimento ‘Colleoni’ of the Xª MAS.

A mock-up of the Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41 with pneumatic jacks and a new gun shield. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

An Autocannone da 90/53 su Autocarro Semicingolato Breda da 8t started by Breda in August 1942.

Design

The Breda 61

Before the Second World War, the Italian Army and the Italian industry were not interested in half-tracked vehicles, apart from some interwar projects, such as the Semicingolato Corni (1923). The Italians preferred heavy-duty trucks or medium trucks with all-wheel drive. With the start of the conflict, during the French Campaign, Italian officers were impressed by the mobility of the German half-tracked vehicles, such as the Sd.Kfz. 7 heavy-duty half-track.

The Italian Army High Command put out some requests for the creation of half-tracks in 1941, and the first developments were presented in the same year by the Centro Studi ed Esperienze della Motorizzazione (English: Vehicle Study and Experience Center) in Rome.

These were the Bianchi Mediolanum medium trucks modified with tracks and Alfa Romeo 800RE (‘R.E.’ stands for Regio Esercito) heavy duty truck.

The Alfa Romeo 800 CSEM semicingolato. Source: wikipedia.org

These two vehicles, which were tested by Italian Army specialists, were standard medium trucks with modifications to the rear axles. They did not give the desired results in off-road tests and towing tests and were abandoned.

The Autocarro semicingolato Breda 61 during field tests. Source: lombardiabeniculturali.it

In 1941, the Regio Esercito High Command asked for an Sd.Kfz. 7 from the German Army. The German Army responded positively and, during the same year, a German half-track was tested at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (English: Centre for Motorisation Studies) in Rome, impressing the Italian officers with its towing capabilities and robustness.

Almost immediately, the possibility of producing the half-track under license was requested, but some bureaucratic problems slowed the release of documents and the permission for producing the suspension and tracks came from the German manufacturer Krauss-Maffei only in 1942. The production of the Italian copy of the Sd. Kfz. 7, called Autocarro Semicingolato (English: Half-tracked Truck) Breda 61 (also known as the ‘Breda 8t’ for its weight) and a smaller version produced by FIAT and called FIAT 727 or Maffei-FIAT 727 started very slowly.

The Breda 61 prototype was ready in July 1943 and was sent to the Centro Tecnico della Motorizzazione (English: Vehicle Technical Center) in Rome, where it was accepted into service as a heavy artillery tractor as the Autocarro Semicingolato Breda 61 da 8t (English: Breda 61 Half-track weight 8 tons).

Before 8th September 1943, a total of 36 Breda 61 out of 500 ordered were delivered to the Regio Esercito. These went to equip the anti-aircraft artillery regiment of the 136ª Divisione corazzata ‘Centauro II’ (English: 136th Armored Division) to tow the Cannone da 88/55 (Italian name for the 8.8 cm FlaK 37).

An Autocarro Semicingolato Breda 61 of the 136ª Divisione corazzata ‘Centauro II’ towing a Cannone da 88/55 or FlaK 36 before the Armistice. Source: digilander.libero.it

After the Armistice, the Germans captured some of the vehicles produced and, in January 1944, ordered the Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche to produce another 300 Breda 61s. Until 1944, the Breda Plant in Brescia produced a total of 199 vehicles, for a total of 235 heavy half-tracks produced.

The German Army added them to its nationally produced medium half-tracks in the heavy artillery towing and recovery duties in Northern Italy, the Balkans, and France.

A Luftwaffe column in Northern Italy. From the right, an Autocarretta SPA CL39, two SPA-Viberti AS43 armed with FlaK 38s, an Autocarro Semicingolato Breda 61 towing a Flak 36, a FIAT 665NM Scudato and a truckload of soldiers. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

Engine and suspensions

The engine of the Breda 61 was a Breda Tipo 14, 6-cylinder, 6,191 cm³ unit delivering 140 hp at 2,600 rpm. It was probably a license copy of the Maybach HL62 TUK, which had similar characteristics and powered the Sd. Kfz. 7. The gearbox was of Italian origin and had 4 gears plus reverse (4 + 1) with a reductor. The book ‘Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II’, written by Ralph Riccio, claims that the engine was a 6-cylinder, 7,412 cm³ unit delivering 130 hp at 2,400 rpm, but there is no proof in support of this thesis.

The maximum road speed was 50 km/h and the range with the 203-liter tank was 250 km on road and 160 km off-road.

Thanks to its powerful engine, this 9,750 kg vehicle could transport 1,800 kg in its cargo bay and a payload of 8,000 kg towed. This meant that the Breda 61 could tow essentially any of the heavy artillery pieces used by the Regio Esercito, such as the Obice da 149/40 Mod. 1935 and Obice 210/22 mod. 35.

The Autocarro Semicingolato Breda 61 chassis. Source: lombardiabeniculturali.it

The front wheels were 9.75 x 20”, the same as those of the Lancia Ro, Lancia Ro-Ro, and Lancia 3Ro heavy duty trucks. The steering wheel was mounted on the right side instead of the left side, one of the few differences from the German Sd. Kfz. 7.

The suspension was in the form of transverse torsion bars for the front tires and standard torsion bars for the tracks.

There were seven overlapping and interleaved road wheels, based on the German ‘Schachtellaufwerk’ design common with other vehicles.

Due to the increase in weight, the vehicle would have a decreased top speed on the road to about 40 km/h and its range on the road would have decreased to less than 200 km.

A Breda 61 captured by the Italian partisans of the Brigata Partigiana ‘Italia’ in the last days of war in Italy. Above the radiator was written ‘Patrioti’ (English: Patriots) and on the fenders ‘Valeggio’, the name of the city where the partisans were located and where the half-track was captured. Source: wikipedia.com

Armament

The Cannone da 90/53 Modello 1939 was an anti-aircraft 90 mm L.53 gun developed from the Ansaldo-OTO da 90/50 Modello 1939 gun which had been developed for the anti-aircraft role on the warships of the Regia Marina (English: Royal Italian Navy).

Like the German 8.8 cm FlaK gun, the Italian gun was also used as an anti-tank gun in the first phases of the war, proving equally adequate in that role. About 500 guns were used in North Africa and on the Italian mainland, sometimes even as field artillery guns in indirect fire roles.

The development of this gun started in 1938, when the Italian Army made a request for an anti-aircraft gun that could hit enemy bombers flying at altitudes of over 10,000 meters. During that period, Ansaldo was developing the Ansaldo-OTO da 90/50 (OTO is ‘Odero-Terni-Orlando’) for the Regia Marina and decided to create a ground version of the same cannon to speed up the development.

The first four cannons were ready on 30th January 1940. In April of the same year, they were tested at the Nettuno Shooting Area, where they proved essentially identical to the 90/50 gun tested some months before. The gun was immediately put in production by the Ansaldo.

The gun weighed 8,950 kg for the Modello 1939 towed version (6,240 kg for the gun only, not including the field mount). It had an elevation of -2° to +85° and a traverse of 360°. The rate of fire was 19 rounds per minute, while the maximum firing range was 17,400 m against ground targets, and 11,300 m against flying targets.

On the Self Propelled version, there was also a Breda Mod. 1938 machine-gun, a shortened version of the infantry Breda Mod. 1937 chambered for the 8 x 59 mm RB Breda rounds for tank use. It was mounted on an anti-aircraft support on the cabin and used to defend the vehicle from airstrikes and infantry attacks. The machine gun had a theoretical rate of fire of 600 rpm and a practical rate of fire of 350 rpm and was fed by 24-round curved top-mounted magazines.

Ammunition

The Cannone da 90/53 Mod. 1939 fired different types of 90 x 679 mmR rounds, the same as for the naval version.

Ammunition for the Cannone da 90/53 Modello 1939
Type Mass (kg) Quantity of TNT (g) Muzzle velocity (m/s) Fuze Penetration of RHA at 90° (mm)
Name 100 m 500 m 1000 m
Cartoccio Granata Esplosiva* HE – AA 10.1 1,000 850 Mod. 36 // // //
Cartoccio Granata Esplosiva* HE – AA 10.1 1,000 850 Mod. 36R // // //
Cartoccio Granata Esplosiva* HE – AA 10.1 1,000 850 Mod. 41 // // //
Cartoccio Granata Esplosiva* HE – AA 10.1 1,000 850 IO40 // // //
Cartoccio Granata Esplosiva* HE – AA 10.1 1,000 850 R40 // // //
Cartoccio Granata Perforante APCBC 12.1 520 758 Mod. 09 130 121 110
Cartoccio Granata Perforante APCBC 11.1 180 773 Mod. 09 156 146 123
Granata Effetto Pronto HEAT ** ** ** Internal Mod. 41 ~ 110 ~ 110 ~ 110
Granata Effetto Pronto Speciale HEAT ** ** ** IPEM ~ 110 ~ 110 ~ 110
Notes * The same round but with anti-aircraft or percussion fuze.
** Prototypes ready for testing only in mid-1943. According to some sources, they were similar to the German 88 mm Hl.Gr 39.

There is little information about the half-tracked SPG version and none about the number of rounds transported on the Autocannone da 90/53 su Semicingolato Breda 61. The blueprints show some boxes on the rear of the vehicle, which were probably used as ammunition racks for some rounds or as spare equipment boxes.

It is plausible that, as for the other autocannoni, the majority of the ammunition would have been transported in other vehicles. As an example, the batteries of Autocannoni da 90/53 had in their organic strength, apart from the 4 autocannoni and 13 logistic vehicles and other material, one more heavy truck for each autocannone which carried 210 90 mm rounds, for a total of 920 rounds for each battery.

An Autocannone da 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro disabled by its crew in Egypt 1942. The British Soldier is holding a 90 mm High-Explosive round and there is another one on the platform. Source: pinterest.com

The Autocannone da 90/53 su Autocarro Semicingolato Breda da 8t

On the half-tracked self-propelled gun, the chassis would be unchanged, but the rest of the vehicle would be modified.

The engine compartment would receive armor plates of unknown thickness, probably around 6 to 8.5 mm, as on similar Italian vehicles. In front, it would have sloped armored grilles to permit air intake to the radiator.

In order to allow the vehicle to maintain a low profile, the gun would have received a variable height trunnion. For anti-tank use and traveling, it would have been in a lower position and would have allowed a limited elevation. In the case of anti-aircraft fire, the trunnion would have been raised, allowing a higher elevation, exactly as on the Breda 501.

The original blueprint of the Autocannone da 90/53 su Semicingolato Breda 61, found in the Breda Archives in Milan. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

The cab was divided into two armored compartments, one for the vehicle commander and one for the driver. This permitted the 4.73 meters-long barrel to be locked between the two compartments during traveling.

Each compartment would have had a large viewport protected by a hinged armored window on the front to permit the two crew members to drive and check the battlefield. An armored door with another viewhole was on the side.

The gun crew operated on the rear platform with foldable sides. This gave more space to operate the gun during operations.

Blueprint of the Autocannone da 90/53 su Semicingolato Breda 61 ready to shoot at flying targets, with raised trunnion and gun platform sides folded. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano modified by the Author

The gun was placed at the center of this platform on a variable trunnion. It would have received a frontal shield, probably 12 mm thick, to protect the crew from splinters and light weapons.

Thanks to the tracks and the sturdiness of its chassis, this autocannone could withstand the recoil stress of the 90 mm gun without needing jacks to raise it from the ground. This would have decreased the time needed for the crew to prepare the vehicle to open fire or to leave.

The Autocannone da 90/53 su Semicingolato Breda 61 with the gun pointing to the right side, with lowered trunnion in an anti-tank role. In the first photo, the shield is not present. The sides of the gun platform are folded down. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano modified by the Author

The armor would probably be made of armor sheets with variable thickness, from 6 mm on the sides up to 8.5 mm and maybe more on the frontal arc, in order to protect against enemy small arms fire, artillery shrapnel and splinters and high-caliber machine gun bursts from ground attack aircraft.

The gun shield would probably have been composed of 12 mm ​​thick armor sheets. The blueprint shows that the shield was angled to better deflect small-caliber rounds.

The crew was probably composed, as on the other autocannoni da 90/53, of 8 soldiers: driver, vehicle/gun commander, a gunner, three loaders and two specialists.

The driver and vehicle commander sat in the armored cab during travel, while the rest of the crew would probably sit on the gun platform, where some foldable seats were probably placed or traveled on one of the logistic vehicles assigned to the autocannone battery. During firing, crew members from the battery’s logistic vehicles would assist the gun servants, by speeding up reloading and increasing the rate of fire.

If the course of the war had not prevented its development, the Autocannone da 90/53 su Semicingolato Breda 61 would have probably entered service in late 1943 or early 1944, too late to change the fate of the conflict, and most likely in very small numbers. Nevertheless, the vehicle would have undoubtedly provided Italian units with an adequate mobile anti-aircraft and anti-tank defense, very useful, especially in the desperate situation in which the Royal Army was forced on the Italian peninsula.

Autocannone da 90/53 su Semicingolato da 8t ready to shoot to ground targets, with raised trunnion and gun platform sides folded. The machine gun has been removed by the author. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano modified by the Author

Conclusion

Even if was never produced, it is plausible to assume that the Autocannone da 90/53 su Semicingolato Breda da 8t would have answered the needs of the Italian Regio Esercito. It had the same firepower characteristics as the already existing autocannoni da 90/53, but with good off-road mobility, faster to deploy and withdraw, and more protection.

Unfortunately, the Armistice of 8th September 1943 put an end to this promising project. Like many other Italian vehicles, it remained only on a sheet of paper abandoned in an archive for the rest of its existence.

Autocannone da 90/53 su Autocarro Semicingolato da 8t. Illustrations by the Glorious Pavel Carpaticus funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Autocannone da 90/53 su Autocarro Semicingolato da 8t Specification

Dimensions 6.9 x 2.45 x ~2.5 m
Total weight, battle ready not specified
Crew 8 soldiers (driver, commander gunner, 3 servants and 2 specialists)
Propulsion Breda T14 130 hp, 6-cylinders, 6,191 cm³
Range ~170 km
Maximum speed ~40 km/h
Main Armament Cannone da 90/53 Mod. 1939 and a Breda Mod. 38 machine gun
Armor not specified
Total production Only paper project

Sources

Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Volume Secondo, Tomo II – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
Semicingolati, Motoveicoli e Veicoli Speciali del Regio Esercito Italiano 1919-1943 – Giulio Benussi
Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II – Ralph A. Riccio

Categories
WW2 Italian Autocannoni

Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N

Kingdom of Italy (1941 – 1942)
Truck-mounted Artillery – 7 built

The Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N was an Italian truck-mounted anti-aircraft and support self-propelled gun used by the Italian Milizia marittima di artiglieria (English: Maritime Artillery Militia) under Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy) in North Africa against the Commonwealth troops.

It was built by mounting some 102 mm Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy) guns taken from anti-ship batteries on the African coasts on Royal Army heavy duty trucks.

They were divided in two batteries assigned to the 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ (English: 101st Mechanized Division) and the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’ (English: 132nd Armored Division).

Their service was limited but, thanks to their powerful gun, they were used successfully even against British armor. Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N means Truck-mounted 102 mm L.35 gun on FIAT 634N [chassis].

Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N 1st Series opening a column of Italian vehicles. The second one is a FIAT 1100, while the other trucks were FIAT 666NMs. Source: o5m6.de

Context

During the first stages of the Second World War, the Regio Esercito was involved in a military campaign against the Commonwealth troops in the vast deserts of North Africa. This campaign started on 9th September 1940, when Italian troops invaded Egypt from Libya, which was an Italian colony. During this action, it was clear for the Regio Esercito commanders in Africa that the army needed long range and well armed reconnaissance vehicles with great mobility. It also needed support vehicles armed with field guns capable of supporting Italian assault infantry units. These also had to be fast in order to move from one point to another on the battlefield, stopping the British assaults and supporting the Italian counterattacks.

For this purpose, some light trucks captured from the British troops in Cyrenaica during the first days of war were used. These vehicles were Morris CS8, Ford F15 and Chevrolet C15, all with a payload capacity of 15-cwt (750 kg). These trucks were captured in large quantities and were put back into service, with the Italian coat of arms, as supply trucks.

General Gastone Gambara, one of the Italian commanders in North Africa, ordered workshops to take some of these British lorries and modify them, mounting artillery pieces on their loading bay. This is how autocannoni appeared.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F15 in the North African desert. Source: pinterest.com

The word ‘Autocannone’ (Autocannoni plural) designated any truck equipped with a field, anti-tank or support gun permanently mounted on its cargo bay.

The first autocannone produced in significant numbers (24 vehicles) was the Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8. This consisted of an old Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1908/13 mountain gun mounted on the cargo bay of a Morris CS8 that was slightly modified stretching it by 50 cm. The gun carriage was modified, removing the spade and the wheels, and welding it on a Italian medium tank turret ring that allowed 360° traverse.

While the Morris CS8 was transformed into a support autocannone, the smaller Fords and Chevrolets were converted into anti-aircraft autocannoni, mounting a Cannone da 20/65 Mod. 1935 or Mod. 1939. These were used to defend the Batterie Autocannoni (English: Autocannoni Batteries) or the Italian supply convoys from aircraft strikes.

Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ in Tunisia, 1943. Source: reddit.com

In North Africa, other autocannoni were produced with support, anti-aircraft or anti-tank guns on different types of trucks, mainly of Italian production.

Design

The FIAT 634N Truck

In 1930, FIAT developed two heavy trucks, the 632N and the 634N. The letter N stood for ‘Nafta’, or diesel in Italian. These were the first two heavy duty diesel trucks made in Italy.

FIAT 634N brochure presented in Britain. Source: FIAT archive

The 634N truck was officially presented to the public in April 1931, during the Milan trade fair. The 634N was the largest truck produced in Italy at the time, with a maximum allowed weight of 12.5 tonnes. It was nicknamed ‘Elefante’ (English: Elephant) for its robustness, power, and load capacity. Its production, in three versions, ran from 1931 to 1939.

FIAT 634N from the 1st production series, probably on a Northern Italian road. Source: italie1935-45.com

After chassis number 1614, the wheel rims were replaced with ones with six spokes, made of cast steel. After strengthening the rear axle, the chassis, and the leaf springs, the vehicle could carry more weight, from 6,140 kg to 7,640 kg, thus reaching a maximum total weight of 14 tonnes, with an empty weight of 6,360 kg. These modifications gave birth to the FIAT 634N 2nd series or N1, which also had the front fenders connected to the bumper. The FIAT 634N1 was produced from 1933 to 1939.

FIAT 634N1 on FIAT Lingotto plant’s roof. Source: italie1935-45.com

In 1933, the FIAT 634N2 version was born, with a modified cab meant to increase aerodynamics, a drop-shaped radiator grille, angled windscreen, and more rounded shapes. The load capacity and speed remained unchanged compared to the N1 version. The FIAT 634N 2nd series or N2 was produced from 1933 to 1939.

FIAT 634N2 outside the FIAT Lingotto plant in Turin. Source: italie1935-45.com

This was the first truck in Europe to be equipped with bunks for the crew. The back of the seat could be raised to form two bunks and, on request, there was a modification available to provide a third bunk, lifting the roof of the cabin.

As an example, the second company to provide a berth in the cabin was Renault with its three-axle Renault AFKD, with a load capacity of 10 tonnes. This entered service only in 1936. The third was Lancia Veicoli Industriali with the Lancia 3Ro in 1938.

The wooden cargo bay was 4.435 meters long and 2.28 meters wide. The foldable sides were 0.65 meters high, with a maximum load allowed by law of 7.640 kg, while the maximum transportable weight did not exceed 10 tonnes. The lateral and rear sides were foldable.

On the N1 and N2 versions, it was possible to tow a two-axle trailer for the transport of materials, reaching a maximum weight allowed by law of the truck + trailer of 24 tonnes. During the war, the FIAT 634N successfully towed tanks of the ‘M’ series and self-propelled vehicles on the same chassis in the Rimorchi Unificati Viberti da 15t (English: 15 tonnes Viberti Unified Trailer).

Photos taken during the war, however, show very well that the truck could load much more. Some photos show the FIAT 634N towing trailers of 3,750 kg, with tanks of 13 tonnes or more in them, and in other materials the cargo bay. This would have brought the total weight of the truck + trailer to much more than 24 tonnes.

A FIAT 634N with an L6/40 light tank on the cargo bay towing a Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15t with another L6/40 light tank. In this case, the total weight of the tanks alone was 13.79 tonnes. Source: pinterest.com

Most of the trucks received a cab from FIAT, but Officine Viberti of Turin and Orlandi of Brescia also built bodies for some chassis. The military version was called FIAT 634NM (Nafta, Militare – Diesel, Military), but its characteristics were almost identical to the civilian versions, with the main difference being a more rustic cab.

FIAT 634N2 with a Officine Viberti innovative cabin. Source: italie1935-45.com

During the Second World War, due to the Royal Army’s need for logistic vehicles, a total of 45,000 civilian vehicles in Italy were requisitioned, overhauled, repainted, re-plated, and put back into service as military vehicles. This meant that not all of the FIAT 634s in the Italian military were NM versions, but there were also civilian ones.

The big difference between the civilian and military versions was the windows. In the military version, the truck had fixed windows, different headlights and lacked the triangular placard on the roof of the cab used in the civilian models to indicate the presence of a towing trailer.

Several variants were produced on this truck chassis. There were tanker versions for fuel or water, produced by Officine Viberti and SIAV, a mobile workshop composed of three different FIAT 634Ns which carried the necessary equipment to set up a fully equipped field workshop, at least two versions for the firefighters, a horse carrier version for the army, a sand truck with tipping platform, a gas version and three different Autocannoni.

These were the 102/35 su FIAT 634N and the 76/30 su FIAT 634N, with 6 produced by the FIAT workshops in Libya during the North African Campaign. In the Africa Orientale Italiana or AOI (English: Italian East Africa), some Autocannoni da 65/17 su FIAT 634N were produced in unknown numbers by Officine Monti in Gondar together with the Autoblinda Monti-FIAT on the same chassis.

A FIAT 634N1 fuel tanker used in the East African Colonies. It has Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires for sandy soils and two 200-liter barrels on the tank’s top to increase the fuel load. Above the windshield, the word ‘TURIN’ (Torino in Piedmontese dialect) means that the driver was probably from Turin. It was common practice for the owners to write phrases or words on their trucks to wish them luck or to remind the owners of their home. Source: collezione Aymeric Lopez

The military version could carry up to 7,640 kg of equipment, although the maximum transportable weight came to almost 10 tonnes of ammunition, provisions, or almost 40 fully equipped men.

The cargo bay could comfortably carry an Italian light tank, such as the L3 or L6/40, or the Semovente L40 da 47/32 self-propelled gun. The Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15t could carru any tank of the ‘M’ series (M13/40, M14/41 or M15/42) and all self-propelled guns on their chassis.

Engine and suspension

The FIAT 634N was powered by a FIAT Tipo 355 diesel engine with six cylinders in line. It had a capacity of 8312 cm³, delivering 75 hp at 1700 rpm. This was developed independently by the company thanks to the experience gained with marine engines.

From the 1086 model onward, the engine was replaced by the FIAT Tipo 355C, with a capacity of 8355 cm³. The power was increased to 80 hp at 1700 rpm thanks to an increased bore and stroke.

FIAT Tipo 355C engine and the FIAT 634N’s gearbox. Source: FIAT archives

The fuel distribution to the cylinders was ensured by overhead valves. These were fed by an injection pump located on the right of the engine. As on many other Italian trucks of the time, the 20-liter reserve fuel tank was mounted behind the dashboard and fed the engine by gravity. In case of a fuel pump failure or problems with the main tank, the truck could still drive a few kilometers before stopping.

A pump connected to the 150-liters main tank fed the reserve tank. The main tank was mounted on the right side of the chassis. Two small electric motors were used to start the Diesel engine. The 170 liters of fuel guaranteed a range of 400 km, while the maximum speed was about 40 km/h on road.

The FIAT 634N chassis. Note the 150-liter main fuel tank on the right. Source: italie1935-45.com

A dry multi-disc clutch was attached to the gearbox, with four-speed plus reverse gears. The suspension consisted of semi-elliptical leaf springs on the front and rear axles. Drum brakes were pedal-operated through three vacuum boosters.

Armament

The Cannone Schneider-Ansaldo da 102/35 Modello 1914 was an Italian 102 mm L.35 naval cannon developed from the British QF 4-inch naval gun Mk V. It was used on many types of Italian military ships and submarines in the anti-aircraft and anti-ship roles. It was also used as an anti-ship coastal gun. It was also produced for the Regio Esercito as the main gun of the Autocannone da 102/35 su SPA 9000, one of the first autocannoni ever, used by the Italians during the First World War.

A Cannone Schneider-Ansaldo da 102/35 Modello 1914 on the Italian submarine Narvalo or Delfino of the Squalo-class produced in 1930. Source: Rivista Marittima

While the performance of the cannon was not mediocre, it was not sufficient either. Thus, already during the First World War, it was joined by the more powerful Cannone Schneider-Ansaldo da 102/45 Modello 1917 and then substituted after the war by the Cannone Schneider-Canet-Armstrong da 120/45 Mod. 1918.

After the war, the gun was no longer produced but was used in other Italian warships such as the submarines of the ‘Argonauta’ series of the 600 class entered in service in 1932 and ‘Miraglia’ seaplane carriers entered in service in 1927. It remained on board the ships and submarines produced between 1914 and 1917.

When the Kingdom of Italy entered the Second World War in 1940, 110 102 mm guns were in service, equipping the anti-aircraft batteries of the Royal Army, the Milizia per la DIfesa ContrAerea Territoriale or DICAT (English: Militia for Territorial Anti-Aircraft Defense), the MILizia Marittima di ARTiglieria or MILMART (English: Maritime Artillery Militia) and of the Guardia alla Frontiera or GaF (English: Army Border Guard). In 1940, among the armed trains of the Regia Marina, the TA 102/1/T (Treno Armato – Armored Train) was mobilized, with two ‘P.R.Z.’-type railway wagons, each armed with three Cannone da 102/35 Mod. 1914 mm guns on Vickers-Terni mod.1925 mountings.

Coastal Battery armed with a Cannone Schneider-Ansaldo da 102/35 Modello 1914 on O.T.O. Mod. 1933 mounting during training, Italy, during the war. Source: pinterest.com

The gun had a caliber of 101.6 mm and the barrel was 3.733 meters in height. On the autocannone FIAT 634N, different types of trunnions were used, including the Ansaldo Mod. 1925, the O.T.O. Mod. 1933 and the Vickers-Terni Mod. 1925 even if photographic evidence shows only the last two variants.
The Vickers-Terni Mod. 1925 trunnion had an elevation of +90° and a depression of -5°. The O.T.O. Mod. 1933 had an elevation of +80° and a depression of -10° while the Ansaldo Mod. 1925 had an elevation of +85° and a depression of -5°. All the trunnions had a traverse of 360°.

The firing rate was 20 rounds per minute thanks to the vertical sliding breech block. When it was necessary to fire for a long period of time, the rate of fire was dropped to 1 round every minute or even 1 round every 4 minutes, in order not to overheat the barrel and not to tire the servants.

The vehicle had two ammunition racks on the vehicle’s rear, for a total of 36 rounds carried. The 102 x 649mm R rounds had a fixed charge with a total weight of about 25 kg. It is almost sure there were more types of ammunition but, unfortunately, there is no information available.

Cannone Schneider-Ansaldo da 102/35 Modello 1914 rounds
Name Type Weight
Cartoccio Granata Dirompente High-Explosive 13,427 kg
Cartoccio Granata Dirompente * High-Explosive 13,750 kg or 13,650 kg
Navy Shrapnel ** Shrapnel 15 kg
Notes * For anti-naval role but commonly use also by the autocannoni
** No longer in production but still used

Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N

The FIAT workshops of Tripoli, one of the biggest workshops in North Africa, modified two FIAT 634Ns between February and March 1941, adding two 102 mm guns taken from the Tobruk coastal batteries. In August, another vehicle was modified. The gun was taken from the batteries of Benghazi.

The other four vehicles were modified between April and July 1941 with cannons arriving from Benghazi and all were ready for October 1941. The trucks were modified by removing the cab roof, sides and the windshield in order to allow the cannon 360° traverse. The chassis remained unchanged.

In case of rain, the crew could protect themselves with a water-proof tarpaulin that could be opened and closed like on cabriolet cars. This tarpaulin was mounted on rods on the cab’s rear and did not obstruct the cannon’s arc of fire. The wooden cargo bay was completely removed and substituted by a steel platform on which the gun trunnion was placed.

Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N of the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’, destroyed by the British during Operation Crusader in December 1941. The British soldier is holding a 102 mm round. Source: o5m6.de

The sides of the new platform could be lowered outward by 90° to give more working space on the platform to the gun servants when firing. On the rear, two metal racks with 18 rounds were mounted to the platform. On the racks was fixed a wooden bench where the servants and the gunner could sit during transport.

Due to the heavy stress generated by the gun’s recoil, the vehicle was equipped with four trails with manual jacks. These trails were attached to the chassis during the march. When the vehicle was placed in firing position, these were opened by 90°, a jack pad was mounted below and then the soldiers could lower the jack with a manual crank.

Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N of the 1st series with the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’. It was destroyed by the British during Operation Crusader in December 1941. It had the OTO Mod. 1933 trunnion. The open ammunition racks and the bench are visible. Source: wikipedia.com

Operational use

With the seven Autocannoni da 102/35 su FIAT 634N, the and 6ª Batteria (English: 1st and 6th Batteries) were created with crew members taken from the IIª Legione MILMART (English: 2nd MILMART Legion) and from the Vª Legione MILMART. On 1st June 1941 the Iª Gruppo Autonomo Africa Settentrionale (English: 1st North African Autonomous Group) was transformed in the Xª Legione MILMART and assigned to both the batteries.

Each battery was equipped with a Centrale di Tiro Mod. 1940 ‘Gamma’ or the improved variant, the G1. These were stereoscopic rangefinders mounted on FIAT 626 chassis (some sources claim that these trucks were armored, but nothing certain is known). Two FIAT 666NMs were also modified by the FIAT workshops in Tripoli and used as ammunition carriers. There were probably 2 for each battery section, for a total of 4 for each battery. Along with them were other logistics and close defense vehicles, but nothing is known about these.

The two batteries were first assigned to the Corpo d’Armata di Manovra or CAM (English: Mobile Army Corps) in the Marmarica region commanded by General Gastone Gambara on 20th October 1941.

The 1ª Batteria, with three autocannoni da 105/35, and the Sezione B (English: B Section) of 6ª Batteria, with two autocannoni da 102/35, were assigned on 26th October 1941 to the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’. Sezione A of 6ª Batteria, with two autocannoni da 102/35, was assigned on the same day to the 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’.

The batteries were also equipped with a total of six Autocannoni da 76/30 su FIAT 634N armed with a Cannone da 76/30 Mod. 1914 R.M..

Royal Air Force officer posing in front of a Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N of the 1st series of the 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ in North Africa in 1942. Note the Willys Jeep in the background. This gun was equipped with a Vickers-Terni Mod. 1925 trunnion. Source: forum.warthunder.com

The autocannoni of the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’ were first used in an anti-aircraft role. They gave good results, although some had problems with the elevation mechanisms and stability problems.

Their first battle they took part in was the Battle of Bir el Gobi on 19th November 1941, where they were an unwelcome surprise to the British. The autocannoni were positioned in the second line and were used to engage some tanks of the 22nd British Armoured Brigade at long-range, knocking out or destroying fifteen Crusader tanks. On this occasion, the 102/35 guns engaged the enemy armored vehicles at a range of over 1000 meters with precision thanks to the rangefinders.

On that day, of 136 tanks of the 22nd British Armoured Brigade, 25 were lost (some sources claim 42, others 57), while the Italians lost 34 tanks. 12 others were damaged and 12 artillery pieces were also lost. The autocannoni of the Ariete division were lost during the skirmishes and fights that occurred between 21st November 1941 and 2nd December 1941. The first autocannone was lost on 25th November while another was abandoned, unusable at Dir el Abid on an unspecified date. The last one of the 1st Battery and the second of the Second Section of the 2nd Battery destroyed by air attack on 4th December 1941.

The autocannoni of the Sezione A of 6ª Batteria of the 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ were used in Tripolitania and took part in the offensive of May 1942 to recapture Tobruk.
The surviving vehicles were captured by the British troops at Tobruk in November 1942.

Royal Air Force officer posing in front of the same Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N of the 1st series assigned to the 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ in North Africa in 1942. Source: forum.warthunder.com

Conclusion

The Autocannone da 102/35 di FIAT 634N was one of the improvised vehicles produced by the Regio Esercito in North Africa, where the absence of adequate vehicles was problematic. Despite only seven being produced, the design proved to be viable, with excellent firepower capable of putting any British tank in North Africa in 1941 and early 1942 out of action.

Despite the few vehicles converted, the 102 mm autocannons did, on one occasion, change the fate of a battle in favor of the Italians.

Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N. Illustration done by the excellent Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.
Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N in firing position. Illustration done by the excellent Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.
Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N specifications
Dimensions (L-W-H) 7.35 x 2.4 x ~3 m
Crew 6 (driver, commander, gunner and 3 servants)
Propulsion Tipo 355 diesel, 6-cylinders, 8,310 cm³, 75 hp at 1,700 rpm
Speed 30 km/h
Range 300 km
Armament Cannone Schneider-Ansaldo da 102/35 Mod. 1914
Number Built 7 modified

Sources

Gli Autoveicoli tattici e logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943, Tomo II – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
Gli Autoveicoli del Regio Esercito nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery – Ralph Riccio and Nicola Pignato
I Corazzati di Circostanza Italiani – Nico Sgarlato

Categories
WW2 Partisan Armor

Semovente L40 da 47/32 in Partisan service

Yugoslavian Partisans (1943 – 1945)
Self-Propelled Gun – Unknown number operated

The Semovente L40 da 47/32 was an Italian light Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) developed as an infantry support vehicle. Entering service in 1942, it proved to be immediately obsolete. Given the general lack of armored vehicles, the Regio Esercito (Eng: Italian Royal Army) was forced to use them up to the Italian armistice. After that, the surviving vehicles were captured by the Germans and, in smaller numbers, by their Croatian allies. On some occasions, the Yugoslav Communist Partisans managed to capture some of these and put them to use against their former owners.

A Semovente L40 being towed by a German half-track operated by elements of the Partisan 2nd Tank Brigade at the end of the war, 1945. Source: Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

The Semovente L40 da 47/32

The development of a new light infantry support gun that could support the assault of the Bersaglieri units (Italian Light Assault Troops) started in the late 1930s. The first prototype would be built and tested during 1941. The new vehicle, named Semovente Leggero Modello 1940 da 47/32, or Semovente L40 da 47/32, was based on a modified L6/40 light tank chassis. The modification included the installation of a box shaped superstructure armed with a Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun on top of the L6/40’s unchanged chassis. By May 1943, some 282 were produced, with an additional 120 being produced by the Germans after the armistice, in 1943. The vehicle would see action on many fronts, from the Mediterranean to Russia, but was considered obsolete by the time it was introduced into service.

The Italian Semovente L40 da 47/32. Source: Wiki

Axis invasion of the Balkans

After the fruitless invasion of Greece by Italian forces, Benito Mussolini was forced to ask for help from his German ally. Adolf Hitler agreed to provide assistance, fearing a possible Allied attack through the Balkans would reach Romania and its vital oil fields. On the path of German advance towards Greece stood Yugoslavia, whose government initially agreed to join the Axis side. This agreement was short-lived, as the Yugoslavian government was overthrown by an anti-Axis pro-Allied military coup at the end of March 1941. Hitler immediately gave an order for the preparation of the Invasion of Yugoslavia. The war that began on 6th April 1941 was a short one and ended with a Yugoslavian defeat and the division of its territory between the Axis powers.

Map of the partition of Yugoslavia after the invasion. Slovenia was divided between Germany, Italy, and Hungary. The Croatian puppet state was given most of western Yugoslavia, including Bosnia. Macedonia was divided between Italy, which also took Montenegro, and Bulgaria. Northern Serbia was partitioned between Hungary and Romania. What was left of Serbia was placed under German occupation. Source: Wiki

Italian occupation force

After the collapse of Yugoslavia, the Italian High Command allocated some 24 Divisions to occupation duties. At first, this occupation ran without any problems. However, the Communist and Chetnik uprisings in Serbia and later in other parts of Yugoslavia would cause chaos among the Axis forces. While these initial uprising attempts would be put down, the resistance would only increase in the coming years. During 1942 and 1943, the Italians were hard-pressed to stop the Yugoslavian Partisan activities in their occupation zones. While the Italians maintained large numbers of soldiers, these were actually divided into smaller groups for the defense of vital points, such as railways, supply bases, airports, cities, etcetera, greatly diminishing their combat abilities. The Partisans simply bypassed larger units and instead attacked smaller isolated positions. Then, the Partisans would simply wait for the relief columns before attacking them, causing huge losses. To help battling the Partisans, the Italians used a number of armored vehicles, ranging from simple armored trucks to light tanks.

During 1943, the self-propelled Semovente L40 da 47/32 also appeared in smaller numbers in this war theater. While it did see some service against the Yugoslav Partisans, the Italian surrender to the Allies in September 1943 brought an end to their use, at least by their original owners. The Italian exit from the war caused a race by the remaining Axis and Partisan forces to capture and disarm as many Italian divisions as possible. From September 1943 onwards, the Semovente L40 would see service with the Slovensko Domobranstvo and Croatian forces. On the other side, the Communist Partisans managed to also capture a number of Semovente L40 vehicles and use them against the Axis forces in occupied Yugoslavia.

In Communist Partisan Hands

After September 1943, despite German attempts to prevent Italian weapons and vehicles falling into the hands of the Partisans, many of them did. In part thanks to their quick response, the Partisans managed to acquire a number of Italian armored vehicles. Which exact vehicles and models were captured is generally not known precisely. There is a good chance that at least a few Semoventi L40 da 47/32 were also captured or handed over by Italian soldiers who joined the Yugoslav resistance or bartered for their freedom with their vehicles and weapons. While these vehicles were used against the Axis forces, due to German counterattacks, all were either lost to enemy fire or destroyed by the Partisans to prevent them falling back into enemy hands.

For the remainder of the war, on some occasions, Semovente da 47/32 would fall in hands of the Partisans. One such occasion was with the 1st Tank Brigade during the liberation of Mostar in mid-March 1945. At least one Semovente da 47/32 was captured, but unfortunately, the use of captured armored vehicles by this unit is not well documented and little is known. Another problem is that the Partisans referred to all armored vehicles (tanks, armored cars, and even self-propelled guns) simply as tanks. In some cases, the estimated tonnage of the particular tank would be added.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 armed with a FIAT-Revelli Mod. 14/35 behind a column of M3 tanks belonging to the Partisan 1st Tank Brigade. Source: B. B. Dumitrijević and D. Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

It quickly became apparent to the Partisan High Command that their soldiers simply lacked the experience and proper training to efficiently operate the captured armored vehicles. For this reason, a tank training school was to be formed in Serbia (the exact location is unknown) during fall 1944. To efficiently train future tank and anti-tank crews, different types of vehicles from different origins were allocated to this school. Among these, a few Semoventi da 47/32 were also present.

Another Semovente da 47/32 was captured at the start of 1945 in Northern Yugoslavia. Note the machine gun that appears to be a German 7.92 mm MG 34. Source: B. B. Dimitrijević and D.Savić (Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu,, Institut za savremenu istoriju

From 8th to 15th May 1945, the Partisans managed to capture a large number of different military equipment from the retreating Axis forces, including tanks and anti-tank vehicles. Sadly, due to poor Partisan document records, it is almost impossible to determine which types were actually captured. To make matters worse, some Partisan units that did manage to capture enemy armored vehicles did not bother to inform the Supreme Partisan Command about them or even list them in any document. These vehicles were often used until they broke down or ran out of fuel, after which they were simply blown up. Another problem was the lack of Partisan knowledge of their real names. Sometimes, names like Tiger of Panther were used to describe vehicles that were completely different from the real thing. Interestingly, the Partisans referred to the L6 (and possibly the Semovente L40 da 47/32) vehicles either as Fiat, ‘small’ or ‘large’ tanks.

Camouflage and Markings

The Yugoslav Partisans which captured some L40s did not repaint them, keeping the Italian or German camouflage patterns. They added, when possible, Yugoslavian flags or red stars on the sides of the superstructures to avoid friendly fire.

Two Semoventi L40 da 47/32 (the first vehicle is actually a command version based on it) that were captured by the Partisans. The large Yugoslav flag with a red star painted on the sides. Behind them, several other captured vehicles could be seen including an AB 41 armored car, L6/40 light tank. Source: http://beutepanzer.ru/

After The War

After the war, the new Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija (Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA or YPA) still had a number of Semovente L40 da 47/32 anti-tank vehicles. Their use was at best limited due to a lack of spare parts and insufficient armor protection and firepower. Sadly, none of the Yugoslavian Semovente L40 da 47/32 have survived to this day.

Conclusion

The Semovente L40 da 47/32 in Yugoslavia saw service in smaller numbers with nearly all warring parties. The Yugoslav Partisans managed to capture some of these vehicles and put them to use after 1943. The Semovente L40 da 47/32 combat operations in Partisan hands are hard to document. Those that were used surely provided additional firepower, something that the Partisans desperately needed during the war. Due to a general lack of spare parts and ammunition, some would be also used for crew training. Those that survived the war would be operated by the JNA for a short time.

The Semovente L40 in a classic Italian camouflage but sporting the large Partisan flag on the side. Illustration by David Bocquelet, modified by Pavel ‘Carpaticus’ Alexe
L40 da 47/32 specifications
Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.82 x 1.92 x 1.63 m
Total weight, battle-ready 6.5 t
Crew  3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader)
Propulsion Fiat SPA, 6 cyl. gasoline, 68 hp
Speed 42 km/h, 25/20 km/h (cross-country)
Range 200 km
Armament One Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun and one machine gun
Armor 30 mm front, 15 mm sides and rear, and 10 mm floor

 

Sources

Categories
WW2 German Medium Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen M15/42 738(i)

german tanks of ww2 Germany (1943 – 1945)
Medium Tank – over 100 operated

During the Second World War, the Germans operated great numbers of enemy combat vehicles that they had managed to capture. These were mostly French and Russian tanks. These were usually pressed into service in their original role or modified for other roles. For example, many were converted as ammunition transport vehicles or as self-propelled anti-tank guns. From their former ally Italy, the Germans also managed to capture a relatively huge stockpile of various war materials. This also included a number of tank designs, including the M15/42 medium tank. While this tank was already obsolete before its introduction, the German nevertheless put them to use against the Yugoslav Partisans. There, they would be used up to the war’s end.

The Pz.Kpfw. M15/42 738(i). Source/beutepanzer.ru

M15/42 tank

Due to the increasing obsolescence of the M13 Series (including the M14/41) and the slow development of the heavy tank program, the Italians were forced to introduce the M15/42 medium tank as a stopgap solution. The M15/42 was mostly based on the M14/41 tank, but with a number of improvements. Most noticeable was the introduction of a new 190 hp FIAT-SPA 15TB (‘B’ stands for Benzina – Petrol) engine and a new transmission. With the installation of the new engine, the tank hull was lengthened by some 15 cm compared to the M.13 Series tanks. The standard 8 mm Breda anti-aircraft machine gun was removed and the access hatch was repositioned to the right side. A new 4.7 cm main gun with a longer barrel was installed, producing a more effective anti-tank gun, albeit still inadequate by that point in the war. The armor protection on the tank was also slightly increased, but this too was still inadequate to keep up with newer and better Allied tanks. The Royal Army placed an order for some 280 M15/42s in October 1942. However, due to attempts to produce more Semovente self-propelled vehicles, this production order was never fully achieved. While some of them were issued to Italian troops, their operational service life with them was limited.

The Italian M15/42 Source: Wiki

The M15/42 had introduced some improvements, but it was generally outdated by the time it was put into service. Nevertheless, it would remain in service up to the end of the war, mostly with its new German owners, although some would also serve with Italian Fascist troops of the Italian Social Republic (RSI – Republicca Sociale Italiana).

In German service, the M15/42 was known as the Beutepanzer M15 738(i) or Pz.Kpfw. M15/42 738(i). For the sake of simplicity, this article will use the original M15/42 designation.

In German hands

In September 1943, due to the Allied invasion and internal pressure, Italy sought to negotiate peace with the Western Allied powers. The Germans were expecting this and sought to occupy as much of Italy as possible. With the occupation of most of Italy, the Germans came into possession of a number of armored vehicles, but also arms and weapon production facilities, with many vehicles that were awaiting assembly, from their former Ally.

The Germans managed to acquire, either by capturing or producing, over 100 M15/42 tanks. The Italian equipment, including tanks, was mainly used to replace the older French captured vehicles which were operated in the Balkans fighting the Partisan forces there. Note that the number of M15/42 tanks is difficult to pinpoint precisely, as sources have different numbers. The units that used them in Yugoslavia also had other M-series tanks in their inventory, which may sometimes lead to confusion. Another quite common issue with determining the precise type of tanks was the poor knowledge of the Partisans in identifying the enemy armor. Being that the Italian M-series tanks were quite similar to each other, distinguishing them was not always an easy task.

Combat use

One of the first units to be equipped with the M15/42 tanks was Panzer Abteilung 202. This particular unit was formed in early 1941, mostly equipped with French captured tanks. In September 1941, it was relocated to the Balkans to fight the Partisans there. By early 1944, it was reinforced with Italian armored vehicles in order to replenish the older and worn-out French tanks. Elements of Panzer Abteilung 202 were used to defend the vital Belgrade-Zagreb railway line during mid-1944.

One of the first combat uses of the M15/42 in German service was to protect the important transport railways. Source: beutepanzer.ru

On September 10th, 1944, this unit was transported to Belgrade. Some elements of Panzer Abteilung 202 were dispatched to the city of Valjevo, which was surrounded by the Partisans. They, together with other support units, managed to free the surrounded Germans. Two M15/42 tanks were damaged in the process, but recovered. Due to significant Partisan pressure, the Germans retreated to the north. On September 20th, some 15 tanks engaged with the Partisans near Šabac and Obrenovac, west of Belgrade. During the following skirmishes, one tank was destroyed and a second was damaged but later recovered by the Germans. The Germans managed to repel the Partisan attempts to liberate Šabac, as these were ill-prepared to engage tanks. Nevertheless, the Germans eventually abandoned Šabac in late October, moving with a group of 15 to 20 tanks north, toward Srem.

Other elements from Panzer Abteilung 202 were also engaged with Partisans forces in the area of Srem (north of Belgrade). At the start of October, at least three tanks of Panzer Abteilung 202 were attempting to repel the Partisans around Grabovci. The Partisans, using an anti-tank rifle, managed to destroy one of the three tanks. Two more tanks were lost in a Partisan ambush on October 11th.

Two M15/42 tanks destroyed by the Partisans in Srem during October 1944. Source; Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

Despite its obsolescence, the M15/42 could be used with some success against the Partisans, which often lacked proper anti-tank weapons. The situation for the Germans, who were holding the Yugoslavian capital Belgrade and eastern parts of the country, became desperate once the Soviet forces advanced to help the Partisans. During the Battle for Belgrade, which lasted from October 12th to 20th, 1944, Panzer Abteilung 202’s M15/42 tanks performed poorly against the Soviet T-34s (both 76 and 85 mm armed versions) and other armored vehicles. The M15/42’s armor was also noted to be unable to stop any Soviet anti-tank fire, including the anti-tank rifles. Many were lost during this battle, either destroyed in action or simply left behind. There was an accident when a Soviet T-34 rammed an M15/42 and completely turned it on its side.

A group of abandoned M15/42s near Belgrade. Source: h Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu
An M15/42 destroyed during the battle for Belgrade. Source: http://beutepanzer.ru/

From late October 1944 onwards, Panzer Abteilung 202 would be involved in the German defensive on the so called Syrmian Front in the northern part of Yugoslavia. By the end of 1944, Panzer Abteilung 202 had some 30 M15/42 tanks, of which only 18 were fully operational. Due to attrition, the number of available tanks was further diminished to 13 operational and 12 in repair. The effectiveness of these vehicles was greatly reduced due to heavy wear down and the increasing presence of Partisan anti-tank guns of various calibers. The lack of fuel and spare parts often meant that the M15/42s were of limited use and only on short distances. At the end of the war, what was left of the equipment of Panzer Abteilung 202, which was attempting to evacuate from Yugoslavia, was captured by the Partisans in Slovenia.

An M15/42 captured in Slovenia by the Partisans. Source: O Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was another unit stationed in Yugoslavia from 1941 on. It was heavily involved in fighting the Partisan forces there. At the beginning of March 1944, Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was in the process of reorganization and the older French tanks were slowly being replaced with Italian built vehicles. During this time, the first M15/42 tanks began to arrive. By April 1944, there were some 42 Italian built M15/42 tanks in use by this unit. An additional M15/42 tanks built by the Germans would be allocated to Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12. During the summer of 1944, Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was moved to Serbia to reinforce the desperate attempts to keep the transit roads to Greece open. These roads and rails were vital for the evacuation of German forces stationed in Greece. Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 would not be used as a single unit, but instead would be divided into smaller groups and allocated to various German units stationed in Serbia at that time.

At the start of July 1944, the number of M15/42 tanks in this unit was increased to 59 vehicles, but only a third were fully operational. In October and November 1944, the unit saw extensive action against the Partisans, losing many vehicles in the process. For example, during the German defence of Niš, elements of Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 were present. The Germans were eventually forced to retreat, losing a number of tanks in the process, including at least one M15/42 which was captured by the Partisans. Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 had some 33 M15/42 tanks reported in October, which were reduced to 15 vehicles by the end of the following month. Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 would remain in Yugoslavia up to the start of 1945, when it was recalled to Germany. What was left of their equipment was given to Panzer Abteilung 202.

At least one M15/42 was captured in the city of Niš. Interestingly, it is missing the 47 mm main gun. It was either lost in combat or, more likely, sabotaged by the Germans. Source: beutepanzer.ru/

The M15/42 tanks employed by the Germans in Yugoslavia were plagued by a lack of spare parts, ammunition, and fuel. Many tanks were not used in combat, as they needed constant maintenance and repairs, and, too often, they would be simply cannibalized for spare parts. The vehicles used in Yugoslavia often received a large storage box placed behind the turret. In addition, spare track links would often be placed around the vehicle to act as limited extra protection.

The M15/42s in Yugoslavia often received a larger storage box located behind the turret. Source: Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu
Spare track links were often added by the crews to act as easily available spare parts and also to provide minimal (if any) increase in protection. Source: beutepanzer.ru

SS Panzer Abteilung 105, which was part of V-SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgskorps, also operated the M15/42 tank in small numbers. It was involved in fighting Bosnian Partisans during 1944. In May 1944, it participated in the German Operation Rösselsprung (Eng. Knight’s Move), an attempt to liquidate the Partisan leaders, including Josip Broz Tito, at Drvar. To help achieve this, smaller parts of Panzer Abteilung 202 were also present. There is a possibility that some M15/42 tanks were used during this operation. At the end of 1944, when the unit was recalled to Germany, it had 5 M15/42 tanks in its inventory. While the unit fought the Soviets in the defence of Franfrukt, it is unknown if, by this time, it still possessed any M15/42 tanks.

Photographs of M15/42s allegedly during the German Operation Rösselsprung. Source: forum.axishistory.com

The 12. verstärkte Polizei-Panzer-Kompanie, which was meant to be moved to Yugoslavia, had 14 tanks. At the end of 1944, it had some 8 M15/42 tanks, with only one operational. This police unit would be repositioned to Hungary from early 1945 onwards. It would be lost, with its equipment, during the siege of Budapest, fighting against the Soviets.

A destroyed M15/42 tank during the siege of Budapest. Source: beutepanzer.ru

M15/42 with a Panzer 38(t) turret

The M15/42 was also used as a field modification by replacing its original turret with one taken from a Panzer 38(t). This vehicle is quite a mystery regarding who made it and why. What is known is that it was built during 1944 or in early 1945. On one of few existing photographs of it, during what appears to be some kind of parade, it has the marking of the German puppet state of Croatia (large capital U, which was used for Ustaše Croatian units). The problem is that the Croat forces, while infrequently supplied by the Germans and Italians (and even Hungarians) with armored vehicles, never operated any M-series or Panzer 38(t) tanks. The Croatian Army possessed some limited industry, as they managed to locally build a small number of armored trucks. The relatively easy task of placing a new turret on a damaged M15/42 could be achieved. Another issue with this theory is the fact that the vehicle would be captured by the Yugoslav Partisans at the end of the war on a train together with other German-operated armored vehicles. There is a chance that the Germans may have supplied the Croats with these vehicles, but this seems unlikely. The Germans barely had spare parts and ammunition for the M15/42 for themselves, let alone sharing these with the Croats.

The modified M15/42 with a Panzer 38(t) turret. Note the large ‘U’ capital letter on the front part of the superstructure, which indicates that this vehicle was used by the Croats. Source: forum.warthunder.com

More likely, the creators of this modification were the Germans. Firstly, they used both M15/42 and Panzer 38(t) tanks. The M15/42 was used in its original configuration. The Panzer 38(t) tank, on the other hand, was mainly attached to armored trains by the Germans and rarely used outside of that. Two units that may have built this vehicle were either Panzer Abteilung 202 or Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12. While, due to lack of information, it is almost impossible to determine the creator, it is likely that it was made or at least operated by Panzer Abteilung 202. The reason for this is that the captured train transporting these vehicles also transported a number of vehicles belonging to this unit. Of course, this by itself is not a direct proof of it, as a number of other vehicles not belonging to the Panzer Abteilung 202 area were present on this train.

The M15 with the Panzer 38(t) turret could be seen in the middle, between the two StuG IIIs. This modified vehicle would be captured together with other German vehicles by the advancing Yugoslav Partisans at the end of the war. The fate of this vehicle after that is sadly unknown. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Yugoslav Partisan service

The Yugoslav Communist resistance movement managed to capture a number of M15/42 tanks. Some of these were probably used in combat, while smaller numbers were even used as training vehicles. The M15/42s were also used in military victory parades, like the one held in Kragujevac in May 1945. Following the end of the war, the M15/42s, together with other captured vehicles, were employed by the new Yugoslavian People’s Army. Their use would be quite limited due to the general lack of spare parts and ammunition. Nearly all would be scrapped a few years later, with one vehicle being preserved at the Belgrade Military Museum.

A Partisan captured M15/42 during a military parade at Kragujevac in May 1945. Source: Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu
Yugoslav Partisans next to an abandoned M15/42. Source: beutepanzer.ru
The preserved M15/42 in the Belgrade Military Museum. Source: www.vitalykuzmin.net

Conclusion

By the time the M15/42 was developed and put into production, it was already an obsolete design. It had poor armor protection and insufficient firepower as a medium tank by late-war standards. For fighting the Partisans, which lacked tanks or even anti-tank guns, this was a good opportunity to use an otherwise useless vehicle and free up more important vehicles. The Germans were in desperate need to find a tank that was available in some numbers that could be used to replace the older and generally worn out French equipment. Unfortunately for them, the M15/42’s overall performance was poor, as the majority were mostly stored awaiting repairs. In addition, once the Soviet Army reached Yugoslavia, they had little chance against more modern armor. But, despite these drawbacks, the M15/42 was certainly a welcome addition for the desperate Germans, who, by this time, did not have the luxury of being too picky. Given the fact that nothing else was available, the M15/42 saw use until the end of the war.

PzkpfwM1542-Fremdengerat738i.png
Panzerkampfwagen M15/42 738(i), Gothic Line, winter 1944-45.
M15/42
Panzerkampfwagen M15/42 738(i) in Croatia, summer 1944.
M15/42 with a Panzer 38(t) turret. Illustrations by David Bocquelet

Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 5.06 x 2.28 x 2.37 m
Total weight, battle-ready 15.5 tonnes
Crew 4 (Commander/Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Driver)
Propulsion FIAT-SPA T15B, petrol, water-cooled 11,980 cm³, 190 hp at 2400 rpm with 407 liters
Speed 38 km/h
Range 220 km
Primary Armament Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 38 with 111 rounds
Secondary Armament 3 or 4 Breda Mod. 1938 with 2,592 rounds
 Armor 42 mm to 20 mm
Production >167

 

Source:

Categories
WW2 Italian SPG Prototypes

Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo

Italy Kingdom Of Italy (1943)
Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun – 1 or 2 built prototypes

During the Second World War, the Regio Esercito (Italian Royal Army) lacked an anti-aircraft vehicle that could protect its armored formations from enemy air attack. Sometime in 1942-43, the Italian Royal Army began development of an anti-aircraft vehicle based on the new M15/42 tank chassis. As its development began too late, only one or two prototypes would be built. Sadly, due to insufficient sources being available, very little is known about this vehicle.

The Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo. Note that the sides of the turret are missing. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Development

During the fighting in North Africa, the Italian ground armored forces were often subject to Allied fighter and fighter-bomber attacks. The Italian Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) lacked modern fighter designs and was thus unable to provide sufficient aerial protection. One solution was to mount anti-aircraft guns on a mobile chassis. There were some attempts to mount 20 mm anti-aircraft guns on available trucks. These proved to be insufficient due to many factors like poor mobility, weak firepower, and no armor protection for the men or vehicle.

One of the first attempts to use a truck chassis (the SPA Dovunque 35) for the role of a mobile anti-aircraft vehicle. Such vehicles were usually armed with a Breda 20 mm gun. Source: Pinteres

Due to the ineffectiveness of these truck-based vehicles, the Royal Army moved on to the idea of using a tank chassis for this role. With only limited time and resources, it was decided against developing a brand new chassis and to instead use the available tank production capacities. As the M15/42 was entering production during 1942, it was decided to use it for this modification. During early 1943, one prototype was completed and presented to the Royal Army. The only visible change in contrast to the original M15/42 was the introduction of a new polygonal turret equipped with four 20 mm Scotti cannons. According to D.Nešić, (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija), this vehicle was built using the command version of the M15/42, which lacked the hull machine guns and had an extra radio set.

M15/42 tank

Due to the increasing obsolescence of the M13 Series (including the M14/41) and the slow development of the heavy tank program, the Italians were forced to introduce the M15/42 medium tank as a stopgap solution. The M15/42 was mostly based on the M14/41 tank, but with a number of improvements. Most noticeable was the introduction of a new 190 hp FIAT-SPA 15TB (‘B’ stands for Benzina – Petrol) engine and a new transmission. With the installation of the new engine, the tank hull was lengthened compared to the M.13 Series tanks by some 15 cm. The standard 8 mm Breda anti-aircraft machine gun was removed and the access hatch door was repositioned to the right side. The removal of the anti-aircraft machine gun on the turret may appear odd given Allied air superiority of the time and the threat it posed, but a single 8 mm Breda machine gun was almost completely ineffective in the anti-aircraft role and was seen as a waste of resources and weight. Most noticeable for the M15/42 was the installation of a new 4.7 cm main gun with a longer barrel, producing a more effective anti-tank gun, albeit still inadequate by this point in the war. The armor protection on the tank was also slightly increased, but this too was still inadequate to keep up with newer and better Allied tanks.

The most modern Italian tank available in 1942 was the M15/42. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

The Royal Army placed an order for some 280 M15/42s in October 1942. However, due to attempts to produce more Semovente self-propelled vehicles, the order for 280 was reduced to 220 tanks. These were built by June 1943 and an additional 28 tanks would be built under German command after the September Armistice was signed with the Allies. The M15/42 had introduced some improvements, but these tanks were generally outdated by the time they were put into service. Nevertheless, they would remain in service up to the end of the war, mostly with their new Germans owners (known as PzKpfw M15/42 738(i)), although some would also serve with Italian Fascist troops of the Italian Social Republic (RSI – Republicca Sociale Italiana).

Just like the earlier M13 Series tanks, a command tank variant (carro centro radio/ radio tank) of the M15/42 was developed. On these vehicles, the turret was removed and some were rearmed with 13 mm heavy machine guns instead of the two 8 mm machine guns and extra radio equipment was added. By the time of the September Armistice, some 45 M15/42 CC vehicles were built. An additional 40 vehicles were built after September 1943 under German control. There were also a few different Semoventi vehicles based on the M15/42 built.

The command version based on the M15/42 (like all Italian command tanks) lacked the turret and had the two radio antennas on the rear of the casemate. Source: pinterest

Designation

Various sources give many different names for this vehicle, including: Semovente (self-propelled) M15/42 Antiaereo (anti-aircraft), Carro Armato Medio Antiaereo (anti-aircraft medium tank), M15/42 Antiaereo or Contraereo (M15/42 anti-aircraft), M15/42 “Quadruplo” (M15/42 Quad), Semovente Antiaereo M42 (self-propelled anti-aircraft gun M42), Semovente da 20/70 quadruplo, among others.

In Italian service

Not much is known of this vehicle’s development history. What is known is that the first prototype was completed sometime in early 1943. It was presented to the Italian Army at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (Study Center of Motorization). If the Army showed any interest in it is unfortunately not known. In March 1943, the prototype was stationed in Cecchignola (Rome) and given to the VIII Reggimento Autieri (8th Driver Regiment), possibly to be used for evaluation.

Illustration of the M15/42 Antiaereo. Source: pinterest

Some sources (mostly on the internet) suggest that this vehicle was shipped to Tunisia for field combat tests and that it would remain there until the Axis surrender in May 1943. This seems highly unlikely, mainly due to the lack of evidence and photographs of it in the theater. If it was captured, its unusual construction would have certainly sparked some interest among the Allies and they would have certainly taken photographs or mentioned it in their documents. The more realistic fate of the M15 anti-aircraft vehicle (or vehicles) was that, after the Italian capitulation in September 1943, it was seized by the German forces.

Technical characteristics

Being an obscure vehicle and rarely mentioned in sources in more detail, the precise technical characteristics are hard to come by. What is known with certainty is that it was based on a slightly modified M15/42 tank or the command version of the same vehicle. Most parts of the tank, including the suspension and hull, were unchanged. The only visible change to the hull was the removal of the two machine guns which were replaced with an armored cover. If the armor thickness was changed there is no information about it, but it seems likely that it remained the same in order to save development time.

The most obvious change was the introduction of a new turret equipped with four 2 cm Scotti cannons. The new turret had a polygonal shape and was made using a frame on which (unusual for the Italians) armor plates were welded.

The two obvious changes to the M15/42 tank were the introduction of a new turret and the removal of the two hull positioned machine guns. Source: https://forum.warthunder.com/index.php?/topic/390776-semovente-contraerei-2070-quadruplo-m1542-aaa/

For the main weapon, four Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/70 autocannons (generally known as Scotti, after their designer, Alfredo Scotti) were chosen. This type of gun was intended to be cheaper and easier to build compared to the Breda Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 modello 35. But, despite its simplicity, a higher rate of fire, and being lighter, its performance was not much better than its counterpart. In all, some 300 were built either as static emplacements or with a twin-wheel carriage. The Germans also managed to capture a number of these guns, where they were known as 2-cm Scotti(i). The Scotti had a 250 rpm rate of fire with a maximum range of 2,100-3,500 m (depending on the source). It had a barrel length of 1,540 mm and the muzzle velocity was 830 m/s. Elevation was -10° to +85°, with a rotation of 360°.

The Scotti during the African campaign. While it could be fed by using a drum magazine, it was usually fed by a 12 round strip. Source: Wiki

The Scotti anti-aircraft guns that survived the war would be used by the new Italian Army for some years on. These would mostly be used to equip navy ships. An unknown number of quadruple-gun systems would also be built after the war, with some even supplied to Israel in the late forties.

One Scotti quad system is preserved in the Santa Barbara barracks of Sabaudia. Source: warthunder.com

Prior to their installation into the new turret, the four Scotti cannons had to be modified and a specially designed mount had to be developed. The most obvious change to the cannons was the feed mechanism. This type of cannon had two feed options, by a clip or by drum magazine. Both of these were unusable due to the cramped space of the turret, and for this reason, a new type of fed system had to be adopted. The manufacturer of this cannon, Isotta Fraschini, developed a new ammunition supply system that consisted of a metal belt feed with disintegrating mesh which allegedly also increased the rate of fire up to 600 rpm per gun. The elevation of the new turret installation was -5° to + 90° with a full traverse of 360°. How the main armament was mounted inside the turret is, due to a lack of information, unknown. The armor thickness is also unknown, but would most likely have been very light, in order to provide protection at least from small-caliber weapons while keeping weight down.

Interestingly, in some photographs, the front part of the new turret is lacking armor plating. The reason why is not known. It could potentially be that it was not yet completed or due to some problems with the main weapon mount that required more working space.

The M15/42 Antiaereo’s four cannons placed at a high elevation. Thanks to its good elevation, it could cover a wide arc of fire, Source: Pinteres
Interior illustration of the M15/42 Antiaereo turret and main weapon. Source: warthunder.com

According to the few sources available, the crew consisted of three crew members. While they are not listed, an educated guess can be made. At least one crew member had to be the driver. The second crew member would be the commander who was probably also the gunner and his position would likely be behind the main gun installation. The last crew member was probably a radio operator (if a radio was ever to be used on this vehicle) or a loader.

The mobility of the M15/42 Antiaereo was probably similar to that of the original tank configuration. The new turret and weapons would have probably been similar to the weight of the previous turret and gun, giving a total weight in the vicinity of 15.5 tonnes. The speed and the operational range were probably also similar. Some of the dimensions, such as the length of 5.06 m and width of 2.28 m, were almost assuredly the same but the vehicle may have been somewhat higher than 2.4 m.

How many were built

The precise number of built vehicles is unfortunately not known. What is known with certainty is that at least one prototype was built and tested. According to the few available photos, there is a possibility that at least one more vehicle was built. This vehicle has German markings, camouflage paint, and lacks the frontal turret armor. Of course, there is the possibility that this was simply the first vehicle just slightly modified by the Germans. Author D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija) quotes that a few were built but does not mention how many precisely.

In German hands

The Germans managed to capture the M15/42 Antiaereo prototype during their occupation of Rome. Interestingly, in one photo, this vehicle is lacking some front turret armor plates, despite having pictures of it with them. This may be additional proof that at least another vehicle was built beside the one prototype.

What the Germans did with it is not completely clear. According to a few sources, it appears that the prototype was transported back to Germany for evaluation. It also allegedly saw service against the Soviet Forces in 1945 in the Teupitz area (Germany). At that time, it was supposedly attached to the 5th SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgskorps (Mountain Armored Corps).

The prototype in the barracks of the VIII° Reggimento Autieri, at Cecchignola (Rome) which was seized by the Germans. The vehicle has camouflage paint on it, but it is not clear who applied it. Also, note the German Balkenkreuz on the turret side. Source: beutepanzer.com

The Germans did use large quantities of Italian captured weapons and thus had available spare parts and ammunition, making it plausible that this information has some merit. By 1945, the Germans were trying desperately to stop the Soviet offensive, and in their desperation they used any available weapons that they had on hand, perhaps including the M15/42 Antiaereo prototype. Of course, on the other hand, due to insufficient sources, the information about its use by the Germans could easily be incorrect or even fake.

After seizing a number of Italian production factories, the Germans produced small numbers of some Italian equipment, mostly self-propelled Semovente vehicles. Why the Germans did not bother producing more Antiaereo, even as they were themselves in great need of such a vehicle, is unknown.

Influence

It is relatively common to find claims that, after the M15/42 Antiaereo, was seized by the Germans, it influenced their development of anti-aircraft tanks like the Flakpanzer IV (2cm Flak 38 Vierling) ‘Wirbelwind’. Does this assumption have any merit? First, it must be taken into account the fact that this vehicle was completed in the first months of 1943 and captured by the Germans later that year, after the Italian capitulation. This meant that it would have been shipped out to Germany after September 1943.

The issue is that the German had already begun (in early 1943) to develop their own anti-aircraft tank based on the Panzer IV. This vehicle had a completely different design, simply installing the 2 cm Flakvierling anti-aircraft system on a Panzer IV chassis, protected by large metal plates that could be folded down during combat situations. As the 2 cm caliber was deemed weak by the Germans, it would be later replaced with the 3.7 cm gun and put into production as Flakpanzer IV (3.7cm Flak 43) “Möbelwagen”. Also, even earlier in the war, the Germans had tested the anti-aircraft tank concept on the Panzer I and later Panzer 38(t) chassis.

While not the first Flakpanzer, this Flakpanzer IV armed with four 2 cm cannons was the first serious attempt made by the Germans to develop an anti-aircraft vehicle based on a tank chassis. This vehicle (and the later Möbelwagen) was obviously not inspired by the Italian vehicle. Source: Panzernet

Conclusion

The Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo was certainly an interesting vehicle that was developed for the Italian army. It also represents a modern concept of an anti-aircraft vehicle based on the tank chassis. The installation of its main weapon in a fully enclosed turret had important benefits, as it would provide sufficient protection for the crew. In practice, this was not easy to achieve and often came at the cost of reduced visibility, and not many anti-aircraft vehicles were built during the war that used an enclosed turret.

The Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo, showing the new turret placed on the body of an M15/42. It would have been a potent SPAAG for its time, but very cramped. Illustration by Andrei Octo10 Kirushkin

Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo

Dimensions 5.06 x 2.28 x 2.4 m
Total weight, battle ready ~15 tonnes
Crew 3 (Commander/Gunner,Loader and Driver)
Propulsion 190 hp FIAT-SPA 15TB
Speed 38 km/h road, 20 km/h off-road
Operational ranger 200 km road, 130 km off-road
Armament 4x20mm Scotti-Isotta Fraschini M41 20/70 cannons
Armor 6-50 mm
Total production 1 to 2 prototypes
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Source:

D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija, Beograd

F. Cappellano and P. P. Battistelli (2012) Italian Medium Tanks 1939-45, New Vanguard

D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.

Pafi, Falessi e Fiore Corazzati Italiani Storia dei mezzi corazzati

N. Pignato, F. Cappellano. Gli Autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume secondo

L. Ceva and A. Curami (1989) La meccanizzazione dell’esercito italiano dalle origini al 1943, Volume 2″ from Stato maggiore dell’Esercito, Ufficio storico,

V. Meleca, Semovente M 15/42 “Contraereo”.

N. Pignato, (2004) Italian Armored vehicles of World War Two, Squadron Signal publication.

A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books

C. Bishop (1998) The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, Barnes Book.

R. Riccio and N. Pignato (2010) Italian Truck-mounted Artillery in Action. Squadron Signal publication

N.Pignato (1978) Le armi della fanteria italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale, RIVALBA,