Kingdom of Italy/Italian Republic (1944-1950)
Armored Car – Unknown Number Operated
The GM Otter Light Reconnaissance Car Mk.I, also known as the Car, Light Reconnaissance, GM, Mk.I, was a Canadian reconnaissance armored car that was utilized by the Esercito Cobelligerante Italiano (English: Italian Co-Belligerent Army) after 1944 and, subsequently, by the Esercito Italiano (English: Italian Army) in the post-war period.
The vehicle was not highly regarded by its crews, and despite the extensive use of surplus Allied vehicles by the Italian armed forces towards the end of the war, it had limited use within the Esercito Italiano and was retired from service within a few years.
Birth and Use of the GM Otter Mk.I
The GM Otter Light Reconnaissance Car Mk.I was manufactured by the Hamilton Bridge Company in Hamilton, Ontario, in order to fulfill the requirement for a domestically produced reconnaissance vehicle for the Canadian Army.
The vehicle was developed on the chassis of the Chevrolet C15 Canadian Military Pattern truck, which featured a 106 hp General Motors of Canada (G.M.C.) Model 270 petrol engine. Equipped with either a .303 Bren machine gun or a .55 Boys anti-tank rifle in its turret, the vehicle had a crew of three.
A total of 1,761 GM Otter Mk.I were produced by the Hamilton Bridge Company. Of these, 877 were delivered to the First Canadian Army deployed in Europe, while over 100 remained in Canada and were utilized by the 24th Reconnaissance Battalion at Camp Borden and the 31st Reconnaissance Battalion based in British Columbia.
The vehicle did not enjoy a positive reputation, and in Europe, it was employed as a transport vehicle for artillery observation officers, an anti-aircraft escort for columns of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, and for airfield defense by the Royal Air Force Regiment.
Some of the vehicles deployed in Italy were handed over to the Esercito Cobelligerante Italiano, while in the post-war period, they were used by Belgian (to a very limited extent), Canadian, Dutch, Italian, and British troops stationed in Jordan. Canada continued to employ them until the mid-1950s.
Use by Esercito Cobelligerante Italiano
After the Armistice of September 8th, 1943, signed between the Kingdom of Italy and the Allies, numerous Italian units, especially those stationed in Southern Italy, opted to align themselves with the Allied forces, forming the initial core of the Esercito Cobelligerante Italiano.
The first operational unit was the Primo Raggruppamento Motorizzato (English: First Motorized Grouping), established in November 1943.
It participated in the Battle of Montelungo and was later reorganized in March 1944 as the Corpo Italiano di Liberazione (English: Italian Liberation Corps), consisting of two infantry brigades.
In order to replace many Allied units bound for France, Gruppi di Combattimento (English: Combat Groups) were created in summer 1944.
Gruppi di Combattimento
Gruppo di Combattimento ‘Cremona’
25th September 1944
21° Reggimento di Fanteria ‘Cremona’
22° Reggimento di Fanteria ‘Cremona’
7° Reggimento d’Artiglieria ‘Cremona’
Gruppo di Combattimento ‘Friuli’
10th September 1944
87° Reggimento di Fanteria ‘Friuli’
88° Reggimento di Fanteria ‘Friuli’
35° Reggimento d’Artiglieria ‘Friuli’
76° Reggimento di Fanteria ‘Napoli’
114° Reggimento di Fanteria ‘Mantova’
155° Reggimento d’Artiglieria ‘Emilia’
Gruppo di Combattimento ‘Piceno’
10th October 1944
235° Reggimento di Fanteria ‘Piceno’
336° Reggimento di Fanteria ‘Piceno’
152° Reggimento d’Artiglieria ‘Piceno’
The Gruppi di Combattimento did not possess armored vehicles apart from the GM Otter Mk.I, which were utilized as observation vehicles for artillery units or as escorts and command post guardians.
The Gruppo di Combattimento ‘Legnano’ was assigned around seven or eight of these vehicles.
Additionally, one platoon of GM Otter Mk.I was utilized by the Brigata Maiella (English: Brigade), a partisan unit from Abruzzo that continued to fight alongside the Allied forces after the liberation of Abruzzo until May 1945.
In anticipation of deployment to the front, the Brigata Maiella was reinforced from November 1944. A Compagnia Armi Pesanti (English: Heavy Weapons Company) was formed, within which there was a Sezione Carri e Blindo (English: Tanks and Armored Vehicles Section) consisting of four GM Otter Mk.I armored cars and four Bren Carriers.
The 1st May 1945 the Sezione Carri e Blindo liberated Asiago.
The vehicles used by the Brigata Maiella were marked with the unit’s emblem, which consisted of two white mountains on a blue background, accompanied by the inscription ‘Maiella’.
Use in the Esercito Italiano
After the conclusion of the Second World War, the Esercito Italiano of the newly formed Repubblica Italiana (English: Italian Republic) faced significant challenges and relied on a substantial number of vehicles provided by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and other Commonwealth states.
Among these vehicles were the GM Otter Mk.I, although they were not highly regarded by their crews because the engine was underpowered and the driver’s visibility was very low, and consequently, only saw limited use within the Italian armed forces.
The GM Otter Mk.I was certainly employed by the Divisione di Fanteria ‘Legnano’ (English: Infantry Division ‘Legnano’), which was established in October 1945 from the Gruppo di Combattimento ‘Legnano’. By the end of 1945, this division had 9 GM Otter Mk.I armored cars in its inventory.
Additionally, at least two armored cars were used by the Reggimento Artiglieria a Cavallo (English: Horse Artillery Regiment), which was established in Milan in November 1946 and assigned to the Divisione di Fanteria ‘Legnano’, these two armored cars were modified in the rear with the addition of a stowage cage.
Furthermore, by the end of 1945, the Divisione di Fanteria ‘Cremona’ (English: Infantry Division ‘Cremona’) had 21 reconnaissance vehicles in its possession, likely including GM Otter Mk.I.
The last GM Otter Mk.I were decommissioned by the mid-1950s.
Like other Allied vehicles used by the Esercito Italiano in the post-war period, the GM Otter Mk.I was withdrawn after a few years of service. It only saw very limited use and were generally not appreciated. Elsewhere, the GM Otter Mk.I received a similar reputation due to its underpowered engine and a lack of visibility.
Thanks to Arturo Giusti for the help
GM Otter Mk.I technical specifications
3 (driver, commander, gunner)
Length 4.4 m, Width 2.1 m, Height 2.4 m
G.M.C. 270 106 hp @ 3000 rpm
.303 Bren machine gun or .55 Boys anti-tank rifle
Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume III Roma 2007
Kingdom of Italy (1935-1945)
Anti-Aircraft/Anti-Tank Gun – 1,088 Built in 1940, Total Number Unknown
The Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 was the main Italian light anti-aircraft gun during the Second World War. The gun was developed as an anti-aircraft gun but was also used against light armored vehicles, especially if mounted on the numerous Italian autocannoni (truck mounted artillery), both on captured trucks and Italian produced vehicles. It was the main armament of the Carro Armato L6/40 light tank and of many models of the AB armored car series.
The name Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 means 20 mm L.65 Automatic Cannon [produced by] Breda, Model 1935. The gun was used by the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army), Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy), and Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) until 1943, and the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army), Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Air Force), and Marina Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Navy) from 1943 to 1945.
The automatic gun was also used by Commonwealth troops, in particular during the North African campaign, and the German Army after the Italian surrender in 1943. Many guns were also used by Italian and Yugoslav partisans.
After the war, many guns were deployed by the newborn Esercito Italiano (English: Italian Army), by the Italian police, by the Israeli Defense Forces in the first years of Israeli existence, and Finland.
Origin and Development
Starting in the 1920s, the Italian Regio Esercito was looking for a heavy weapon intended for anti-aircraft and anti-tank use. In fact, until the late 1930s, the Italian Army still considered even the 8 mm armor piercing rounds fired by medium machine guns as capable of dealing with enemy armor. The reason for this was because the 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 machine guns with Armor Piercing rounds were capable of piercing 11 mm of vertical armored plate at 100 m. Whilst arguably an adequate performance in the 1920s, it was totally useless in the 1930s, when modern tanks were well protected.
To seek a solution to this problem, in the late 1920s, the Italian Regio Esercito opted to adopt an automatic weapon that had greater caliber in order to improve the anti-tank capabilities.
Various weapons were tested, such as a 12 mm and 14 mm caliber FIAT machine gun (derived from the FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914), a 12.7 mm caliber heavy machine gun developed by Società Anonima Fabbrica Armi Torino or SAFAT (English: Weapons Factory of the Turin Limited Company), a 14 mm Breda heavy machine gun, a 13.2 mm Brixia heavy machine gun, and a 12.7 mm Vickers heavy machine gun, but none were satisfactory.
In 1932, the Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche (English: Ernesto Breda Italian Society for Mechanical Constructions), or more simply, Breda, proposed the prototype of a 20 mm automatic gun to the Regio Esercito. This gun was tested until 1935. During the Breda’s gun trials, other 20 mm automatic guns from Lubbe, Madsen, Oerlikon, and Scotti, among others, were tested. The first three guns were not pursued, mainly because the Italian Fascist regime had a policy of Autarky and wanted to equip the armed forces only with guns developed and produced in Italy. The Scotti was abandoned due to its complex mechanisms.
Without competition, the Breda automatic gun came out victorious and was adopted as the Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Modello 1935.
Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 for Regio Esercito
The Breda was a gas-operated automatic gun, with a sliding shutter, fed by 12-round strips (8-rounds strips on vehicles) loaded on the left side. In the field carriage version, the gun was mounted on a 360° rotating platform on a three-tailed carriage. The gunner fired sitting on a seat attached to the rotating platform.
The barrel was fitted at the end with a flame-quenching sleeve, fitted in the center with the gas circle crimped at the height of the vent hole that connected it to the cylinder containing the recuperator spring. At the rear, the barrel was screwed into the carriage that contained the movable assembly on which the breech was placed. The latter was pierced to allow the firing pin to pass through. The barrel had a service life of 7,000 to 8,000 rounds.
When transported, the two rear tails were folded and two wheels were mounted. For equine transport, the gun could be divided into four parts: receiver, barrel and wheels (100 kg), rotating platform and cradle (105 kg), carriage (95 kg), and central tail and ammunition (90 kg).
Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1939 and 1940 for MACA
The Breda was also used by the Milizia Artiglieria Contro Aerei or MACA (English: Anti-Aircraft Artillery Militia), a militia assigned to the anti-aircraft defense of the Italian peninsula. In this case, a stationary version of the gun was developed in 1939, which was then fitted with a seat for the gunner in 1940.
It was mainly used to protect important targets in the main Italian cities, such as factories, military headquarters, etc. Many others were also deployed for the same purpose in the Italian colonies, mainly in Libya, where many were removed from their fixed positions and mounted on vehicles.
Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935, 1939, and 1940 for Regia Marina
The Italian Regia Marina adopted three versions of the Breda, one for capital ships (Modello 1935) and two for ‘minor units’ [Italian term for torpedo boats or similar small, light, and fast boats] (Modello 1939 and Modello 1940).
The ship version went on to replace the antiquated Mitragliera Breda da 13.2 mm Modello 1931 heavy machine guns and consisted of two 20 mm guns mounted on a support positioned on a rotating cradle, with a depression of -10° and an elevation of +100°. The left barrel was positioned on a different axle, a bit higher, so it did not block the feeding port of the right gun.
The Modello 1939 had a limited elevation and depression and therefore was not very successful, while the Modello 1940 was widely used on the Motoscafo Armato Silurante (MAS) (English: Armed Torpedo Boat) and other smaller boats of the Regia Marina.
Two versions were proposed for submarines in 1941, but remained in the prototype stage. One of these, really innovative for its era, could be lowered inside the submarine during undersea operations.
Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 per Truppe Celeri
In 1937, Breda developed a version of the gun intended only for use against land targets, such as fortifications or light armor. This gun was also known by the name Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 per Truppe Celeri (English: 20 mm L.65 Automatic Cannon [produced by] Breda for fast-moving units).
In 1939, the definitive version was developed, which consisted of a wheeled carriage with two openable tails, capable of being towed by vehicles, animals, or by infantry. It could be considered similar to the Solothurn S-18/1000 anti-tank rifle. Its main task was to be towed by armored vehicles or by the Bersaglieri (Italian assault infantry) during assaults, in order to support the attack.
The project was abandoned after seeing the limitations of the gun’s anti-tank use, even if it could be useful in some situations.
Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 version for armored vehicles
In 1936, a version of the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 was developed for use on armored vehicles. This was only a light modification, with the removal of the sights on the barrel and of the muzzle brake.
An unknown number of guns were produced for the L6/40 light reconnaissance tank and for the AB series medium reconnaissance armored cars.
In 1940, the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 used two types of ammunition: the Cartoccio Granata Contro Aereo da 20 Modello 1935 (English: Anti-Aircraft Shell Model 1935) and the Cartoccio Granata Perforante da 20 Modello 1935 (English: Armor-Piercing Shell Model 1935). Both were derived from the 20 x 138 B mm ‘Long Solothurn’, ammunition common to other weapons of the Regio Esercito and Axis armies, such as the Swiss Solothurn S-18/1000, the Finnish Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifles and the German FlaK 30 and FlaK 38 anti-aircraft guns. This permitted the guns to shoot various kinds of ammunition developed by other countries.
The Cartoccio Granata Contro Aereo da 20 Modello 1935 weighed 320 g and had a TNT charge. The Cartoccio Granata Perforante da 20 Modello 1935 weighed 337 g and had a PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate) charge that could penetrate 30 mm of vertical armor at 500 meters. Penetration was reduced to 15 mm with an impact of 60°.
In 1942, a new anti-aircraft round with a steel nose cone was introduced.
Cartoccio granata contro aereo da 20 Mod.35
Cartoccio granata perforante da 20 Mod.35
PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate)
Penetration at 500 meters
Production of the Breda 20/65 cannon began in 1935. At the end of 1938, a total of 276 were in service with the Regio Esercito, and as many as 138 were sent with the Corpo Truppe Volontarie (CTV) (English: Volunteer Troop Corps) to fight alongside Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War.
As of June 1940, the month of Italy’s entry into the Second World War, there were 1,088 Breda Modello 1935 and 116 Modello 1939 in active service. With the entry into the war, the monthly production increased continuously, passing from 160 guns per month in November 1941 to 320 guns in March 1943.
As of September 1942, 2,442 guns were in service in the Regio Esercito, while the MACA had 326 Modello 1939 and 80 Modello 1935.
Due to low production and combat losses, in spring 1943, there were only 1,655 Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935s in service in the Army.
In 1941, the Regio Esercito also adopted the Scotti-Isotta Fraschini da 20/70 Modello 1939, one of Breda’s old competitors from 1932. This gun was chosen by the Army because it was easier to maintain than the Breda, but introduction to the Army was slow. In 1942, there were only 16 active guns in the Regio Esercito. As a result, it was mainly used for the defense of airfields in the Italian peninsula.
In July 1943, there were 330 Scotti-Isotta Fraschinis in service with the Regio Esercito. There were two gun models, the Modello 1939, on a candle carriage used for the defense of airfields, and the Modello 1941 on a wheeled carriage.
A Scotti-Isotta Fraschini da 20/70 quad gun was mounted on a Carro Armato M15/42 medium tank, creating a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun destined to remain a prototype and named M15/42 Carro Contraereo or Quadruplo (English: Anti-Aircraft or Quadruple).
Use as an Anti-Aircraft and Anti-Tank Gun
The Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 originated as an artillery piece for low-altitude anti-aircraft defense and was allocated to infantry divisions, with a battery of six Cannoni da 20/65 for each artillery regiment. The first four batteries were allocated to the 7a Divisione di Fanteria “Leonessa” (English: 7th Infantry Division), 9a Divisione di Fanteria “Pasubio” (English: 9th Infantry Division), 10a Divisione di Fanteria “Piave” (English: 10th Infantry Division), and 11a Divisione di Fanteria “Brennero” (English: 11th Infantry Division) in 1935. After the 1935 summer exercises, new batteries were created for the remaining 26 infantry divisions.
The Breda 20 mm gun’s baptism of fire came during the Spanish Civil War. The Cannone da 20/65 proved themselves and demonstrated they were essential for the defense of trucks and other logistic vehicles when mounted on the FIAT 618 and Ceirano 50 trucks. In Spain, it was also used for the first time against armored vehicles. A report entitled Osservazioni, Considerazioni e Proposte sulle Armi Anticarro dell’Esercito Nazionale (English: Observations, Considerations and Proposals on National Army Anti-Tank Weapons) from 20th January 1938 claimed that the weapon was not very effective against armored vehicles, as it could not make accurate shots beyond 400 m. From that distance, the gunners were exposed to return fire from the 45 mm guns of the Republican T-26 or BT-5 tanks. The report Relazione sulle Armi Anticarro dell’Esercito Nazionale (English: Report on the National Army’s anti-tank weapons) from 24th January 1938 reported the same findings, while the report Materiali Impiegati in O.M.S. [Oltre Mare Spagna] dal Corpo Volontario (English: Materials Deployed in [Overseas Spain] by the Volunteer Corps) from 20th September 1937 reported that the Cannone da 20/65 was only usable against aircraft with a speed of less than 300 km/h, while in the anti-tank role it was effective, but limited by the fragility of its structure.
During the Second World War, the Cannone da 20/65 was widely used carried by SPA Dovunque 35 and SPA-38R trucks, which had 34 boxes of anti-aircraft ammunition and 10 of anti-tank ammunition. Some were carried by captured British trucks. Nonetheless, the number of anti-aircraft batteries was always very low and they could not defend an entire division. This aspect is particularly emphasized in the report Dati d’Esperienza Circa Impiego Divisioni Motorizzate e Corazzate (English: Experience data on the employment of motorized and armored divisions) from 11th August 1941, written by the Command of the 132a Divisione Corazzata “Ariete” (English: 132th Armored Division). Usually, formations attached to divisions consisted of a battery of eight Cannoni da 20/65 along with a 60 cm telemeter.
The Cannone da 20/65 was one of the main guns used by the Batterie Volanti (English: Flying Batteries) born in the summer of 1941 and were composed of Italian or captured trucks on which various artillery pieces were mounted. The Cannoni da 20/65 were installed on Ford 15A trucks and formed two batteries, 12th and 14th, assigned to the Raggruppamento Batterie Volanti da 65/17 (English: 65mm L.17 Flying Batteries Regroupements) part of the Raggruppamento Esplorante del Corpo d’Armata di Manovra or R.E.C.A.M. (English: Exploring Regroupements of the Maneuver Corps) who took part in the first battle of Bir el Gobi in November 1941. In May 1942, the 13a Batteria da 20/65 (English: 13th Battery) was assigned to the 136° Reggimento Artiglieria (English: 136th Artillery Regiment) of the 136th Armored Division fighting during the Tunisian campaign.
Also in Libya, in January 1941, the Comando del Sahara Libico (English: Libyan Sahara Command) ordered captain Francesco Mattioli to form a motorized column to control the area between Cufra and Maaten Bisciara and prevent attacks by the Longe Range Desert Group. The unit, called Colonna Mobile Mattioli (English: Mattioli Mobile Column), consisted of 43 men armed with rifles, a FIAT-SPA A.S. 37, 4 FIAT 634N trucks armed with Cannoni da 20/65 and 4 machine guns of various types. On 28th January, the unit set out on a patrol, operating in close cooperation with Ca.309 ‘Ghibli’ planes of the 29° Squadriglia (English: 29th Squadron). On the 31st, the planes spotted 11 vehicles near Maaten Bisciara, which moved toward the Gebel Sherif depression to escape aerial sighting. The Italian unit arrived in the depression and ran into three ‘T’ Patrol vehicles, which immediately opened fire on the Italian vehicles. The Cannoni da 20/65 quickly destroyed three Chevrolet trucks, while the others retreated. The Italians began to pursue the enemy and, soon after, captured a Ford V8 damaged earlier by a 20 mm round, along with Major Clayton and two New Zealand soldiers. In the clash, the Italians suffered six killed and two wounded, while a FIAT truck was abandoned because it was badly damaged.
The Colonna Mobile Mattioli continued to operate to defend Cufra from the incursions of General Leclerc’s French forces and was destroyed during the capture of Cufra by the French on 1st March. The entire Italian garrison in Cufra was captured, consisting of 12 Italian officers, 47 non-commissioned officers and Italian soldiers, 273 Libyan soldiers, four Cannoni da 20/65, 53 machine guns, eight FIAT-SPA A.S. 37, two FIAT 634 and four FIAT 508.
During the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, the I° Battaglione (English: 1st Battalion) of the 33° Reggimento di Fanteria “Livorno” (English: 33th Infantry Regiment) had a battery of Cannoni da 20/65 mounted on FIAT-SPA CL39 trucks. On July 10th, as the unit was being moved toward Gela, it was attacked by U.S. planes near Butera and the Cannoni da 20/65 shot down two planes.
The Cannone 20/65 was an excellent anti-aircraft weapon against low-flying aircraft even on the Russian front, although, there, it was completely unsuitable against tanks.
Use on Italian Armored Vehicles
Carro Armato L6/40 Light Tank
In December 1937, Ansaldo and FIAT began a study for a new reconnaissance tank, and in 1939, the M6 tank was presented, armed with two 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 medium machine guns in the turret.
The vehicle was rejected, but attracted the attention of General Manera of the Centro Studi Motorizzazione (English: Motorization Study Center), who advised the designers to mount at least one 20 mm gun in a new turret to engage aerial targets too. Ansaldo immediately proposed a new M6 prototype with a 37/26 cannon and an 8 mm caliber machine gun in a single-man turret and another with a 20 mm cannon and a coaxial machine gun in the same turret.
The latter version was chosen and designated the L6 tank, although in 1942, it was renamed L40. The first vehicle was delivered on 22nd May 1941.
The vehicle was fitted with an octagonal turret, positioned to the left of the centerline of the hull. The Breda had a semi-cylindrical gun mantlet and an elevation from -5° to +15°. To the left of the gun was the coaxial 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 machine gun. Aiming was carried out by means of a sight placed to the right of the gun and was fired by using pedals and wires, on the right for the machine gun and on the left for the gun.
The turret could rotate 360° through a handwheel operated by the commander, who sat on a seat. For observation, the commander used a periscope, positioned to the left of the gun.
AB series armored cars
The Autoblinda Modello 1940 (English: Armored Car Model 1940), or simply AB40 armored car, was initially armed with two Breda Modello 38 machine guns in the same turret as the L6 prototype.
After the experience gained during the Spanish Civil War, where, on some occasions, Francoist vehicles armed only with machine guns faced Soviet-built Republican tanks, it was decided to arm the armored cars with a 20 mm Breda gun and a coaxial machine gun.
Beginning with the AB41, the Breda cannon was mounted into the same turret as on the L6/40. Due to the limited interior space, on the rear part of the turret, there was a hatch for the assembly and disassembly of the gun. The gun had an elevation from -10° to +20°. Aiming was done by means of a sight positioned to the right of the weapon, while shooting was done through pedals.
On the AB42 prototype, a new shorter turret was used that retained the rear hatch. The Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 remained the main gun of the AB43, the last vehicle of the AB series, of which about 100 were produced from 1943 until the end of the war.
Carrozzeria Speciale su FIAT-SPA AS43
The Carrozzeria Speciale su FIAT-SPA AS43 was an armored car built on the hull of the Camionetta AS43 by the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic) in small numbers (2 to 6, depending on the source) and deployed only by the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: Republican National Guard). It was produced by Officine Viberti of Turin.
The armament consisted of a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 and a 8 mm coaxial gun, as on the L6/40. In fact, the vehicles shared the same turret. The vehicle had 50 magazines of 20 mm ammunition, 400 rounds in total, and 48 magazines for 8 mm ammunition, for a total of 1,152 rounds. The ammunition was kept in the rear of the hull. Ten 20 mm ammunition boxes were kept at the top, while the 8 mm boxes were kept in the lower part of the hull and to the right left of the driver’s seat.
Use on Italian Non-Armored Vehicles
Autocannoni (English: Truck-Mounted Artillery)
At the end of 1937, the Corpo Truppe Volontarie mounted some Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 on FIAT 618 and Ceirano 50CM trucks for the anti-aircraft defense of motorized columns.
During the Spanish Civil War, this solution was judged satisfactory by the Italian troops due to the protection it offered from aerial attacks, but also for their firepower to support infantry during urban fighting.
At the same time, in Italy, the installation of Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935s on trucks, such as the FIAT-SPA 38R light lorry and SPA Dovunque 35 medium truck, was studied. Officially, the two options were abandoned the same year but, throughout the Second World War, out of their own accord, Italian soldiers in North Africa and in the Soviet Union modified some FIAT-SPA 38Rs and SPA Dovunque 35s to carry 20 mm guns.
The Breda gun was also mounted on captured vehicles, such as the CMP Chevrolet F15 and the Ford F15, and also various other Italian trucks, such as the medium FIAT 626 and the heavy duty Lancia 3Ro, two of the most common trucks of Italian units.
Camionette AS37, AS42, and AS43 (English: Light Desert Truck)
The first camionetta was the Camionetta Desertica AS37, created by modifying FIAT-SPA AS37s in Libya. The cabin was removed from the vehicle, so as to lower its shape, and the Breda gun was installed on a platform that replaced the cargo bay. The Breda gun had a traverse 360°.
The Camionetta Desertica SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’ mounted a Breda gun with an unchanged elevation and traverse. Also its improved version, the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Metropolitana’ or Tipo II, could be armed with a 20 mm Breda gun.
The Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43, developed from the AS37 light desert lorry, was a totally different vehicle, with a more powerful engine and modified bodywork. The Breda gun was mounted in the center of the cargo bay on a universal support for 20 mm and 47/32 guns.
In early 1943, awaiting the entry into service of the Camionetta Desertica AS43, another type of truck was built, often erroneously named Camionetta Desertica Modello 43 (English: Desert Light Truck Model 1943). The windshield and cab’s roof were removed, while the Breda gun was placed on the cargo bay. A small number were built and fought against the Germans in Rome after the Armistice.
Autocannone da 20/65 su Dodge WC-51
This US Dodge WC-51 was used by the Italian Police after the Second World War. The vehicle was painted in amaranth red (a reddish-rose color) and the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 was placed on either a Modello 1939 pedestal or in the classic Modello 1935 pedestal in the cargo bay.
Foreign Vehicle Usage
CV 35 with 20 mm Breda Prototype
The forces of Nationalist Spain did not have tanks capable of countering the T-26s that equipped the Republican armored units, so they decided to arm an Italian CV 35 tank with a 20 mm Breda.
The conversion work replaced the two FIAT-Revelli Mod.1935 machine guns with a 20 mm Breda began in summer 1937 at the Fábrica de Armas de Seville (English: Seville Arms Factory). Even before the conversion work was finished, General Franco’s headquarters requested another 40 CV 35s and some Breda guns from the Italians on August 10th. The request was only partially fulfilled, because General Joaquín García Pallasar, an artillery officer and close friend of Franco, suggested that the same modifications should be done on a Panzer I and then compare it with the Italian prototype.
When both prototypes were finished, they were tested in Bilbao and the Panzer I proved to be more efficient due to having a turret. The CV 35 with the 20 mm Breda gun was delivered to the Italian Raggruppamento Carristi (English: Tank Grouping), which tested it and found some flaws, such as that the new weapon leaving too little room for the commander and obstructing the driver’s left view, as well as making the vehicle too heavy, upsetting the balance.
The vehicle, however, influenced the Italians, who used similar solutions in North Africa in 1940, when they mounted some Solothurn S-18/1000 rifles on CV tanks.
It is worth noting that Italian and Spanish sources on the CV 35 with 20 mm Breda disagree about who built it and downplay the involvement of the other side in the whole development and design process.
Panzer I with 20 mm Breda
During the development of the CV 35 with a 20 mm Breda gun, Commander Garcia Pallasar, head of the Artillery Section of the General Staff, suggested the possibility of having a 20 mm gun mounted on a Panzer I, which was requested from a German delegation. The gun was installed by the Fabrica de Armas (English: Army Factory) of Seville.
The Panzer I ‘Breda’ was tested at the end of September in Bilbao, alongside the Italian CV35 armed with the 20 mm Breda and performed slightly better than the small Italian vehicle, thanks largely to the fact it had a turret.
Either 4 or 6 Panzer Is were modified with the Breda gun. German General von Thoma, commander of the Condor Legion’s ground forces, stated that the tank crews refused to go inside the tanks because there was a small uncovered hole in the turret for aiming, which was considered unnecessarily dangerous. Furthermore, in a letter, von Thoma stated that the vehicle’s manufacturers called it a ‘death car’. Because of this letter, modifications to additional Panzer Is were canceled. General Pallasar retorted by asking whether it was appropriate to eliminate the design of the only tank capable of effectively facing enemy tanks or to run the risk of a few men being wounded by a lucky shot through the small hole. Franco’s headquarters responded by suggesting to von Thoma and Pallasar whether it would be possible to fit bulletproof glass in the hole. Pallasar agreed to this and Nationalist Spain bought 4,861.08 Reichsmarks worth of bulletproof glass from Germany. Nevertheless, in the end, no additional Panzer I ‘Bredas’ were modified, in part due to von Thoma’s interference, but more significantly because of the large number of Republican T-26s captured and reused by the Nationalists.
Carro de Combate de Infantería tipo 1937
The Carro de Combate de Infantería tipo 1937 (CCI tipo 1937) was a prototype built at La Naval de Sestao (Bilbao) by the Nationalists of General Franco. The suspension, the tracks, and the location of the two machine guns were copied from or inspired by the Italian CV tanks, while the rear of the vehicle resembled the Trubia-Naval tank. The armament chosen was the 20 mm Breda, as with the CV33 and Panzer I modifications, so as to be able to counter the Soviet-produced T-26 Republican tanks. The gun was installed in a turret similar to that of the Renault FT.
The vehicle fully passed the tests and was intended for production, with a request for 30 vehicles. Nevertheless, as a result of the tank’s weak armor, which could not withstand 7.92 mm hits, the project was canceled and the prototype was converted into an artillery tractor.
The British captured and reused 20 mm Breda guns by mounting them on the Marmon-Herrington armored cars and also on the vehicles of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) (a unit specializing in long-range reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and desert navigation), such as the Chevrolet 30 CWT, naming the Breda Scorpions, because they had a ‘sting in their tail’.
The Breda was much appreciated by the British, because it was a light weapon and took up little space in the vehicle where it was mounted, as well as its capabilities as an anti-aircraft weapon.
China purchased some 20 mm Breda guns to equip the anti-aircraft companies of the 36th, 87th, and 88th infantry divisions.
The 36th Infantry Division used the 20 mm Bredas for air defense at Shijiazhuang. During the war against Japan, the 215th Infantry Regiment was transferred to Shanxi, participating in the defense of the city of Xinxian, shooting down three enemy planes with these guns. The Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 was also used against Japanese armor and enemy infantry.
The 20 mm Breda was much appreciated by the forces of the Commonwealth, which reused them in the most varied ways. After Operation Compass (the complete destruction of the X Armata (English: 10th Army) in North Africa between December 1940 and February 1941), many captured Breda guns were reused by Commonwealth forces, equipping the Australian 2/3 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, arming some vehicles of the Long Range Desert Group, and even arming some Allied ships, namely the Australian destroyer HMAS Vendetta and the Australian cruiser HMAS Perth.
During the 1930s, the Ecuadorian Army purchased some weapons from the Italian Army. Among them were 12 Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65. In 1940, the pieces were allocated to the Bolivar artillery group, stationed in El Oro province.
During the war with Peru in 1941, some of these weapons armed the aviso Atahualpa and the gunboat Calderón, while others remained in the aforementioned province or were destined for the defense of the city of Guayaquil. During the war, the Ecuatorians lost nine guns.
Eighty-eight Modello 1935 Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65s were also sold to Finland and named 20 ItK/35. The gun was appreciated by the Finns, thanks to the compatibility of the ammunition with the 2 cm Flak anti-aircraft guns and the Lathi anti-tank rifle. The gun was the primary armament of four MAS or Motoscafo Armato Silurante (English: Armed Torpedo Motorboat) sold to Finland and later designated as the Jymy-class. These MAS were part of the XI Squadriglia MAS (English: 11th MAS squadron) sent to Lake Ladoga in 1942 by the Regia Marina to support the actions of the Finnish navy. After the war, they were used as training weapons until the 1960s, only to be declared obsolete at the end of the 1980s.
After the Italian Armistice of September 1943, the Germans captured a good number of these weapons, which they named 2 cm Flak 282 (i). They continued production, building 496 guns until January 1945.
After the Second World War, in 1948, the State of Israel was created and quite immediately, its army was called to defend the country from various Arab nations. In this desperate situation, the Israeli soldiers were forced to deploy all kinds of guns, including First World War era guns.
Some guns and vehicles abandoned by the Regio Esercito during the North African campaign were also deployed. Some other guns were bought on the black market or directly in Italy, where some partisans sold Scotti Isotta-Fraschini da 20/70 Modello 1941s and Breda guns. Others were captured from Egyptian forces.
In total, the Israeli Defense Force deployed 28 Scotti Isotta-Fraschini guns and an unknown number of Cannoni-Mitragliera Bredas. At least one was mounted on a modified US-built M3 Half-track equipped with an armored turret to protect the gunner, but unfortunately, its service and fate is unknown.
Some Breda guns were given to the Slovakian Army by the Germans after the September 1943 Italian Armistice. No other information is available on the Slovakian Breda guns.
In March 1940, Sweden bought two torpedo boats from the Kingdom of Italy, Spica and Astore, named in the Swedish Navy as Romulus and Remus. These two ships were each armed with three or five Cannoni-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935s on twin mounts, so six to ten barrels. In the Swedish Navy, the Breda was referred to as 20 mm automatkanon m/38 or 20 mm akan m/38 and used the ammunition purchased for the 20 mm akan m/3, i.e. the 20 mm Flak 38.
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia purchased 120 Breda guns from Italy, which were named 20mm M36. These were operated by Yugoslav units during the Axis invasion of the country in 1941.
After the Italian Armistice, the Allied forces captured many Breda guns in Corsica, Sardinia, and southern Italy, Of these, 210 guns and 230,000 rounds were given to Tito’s Partisans in Yugoslavia. Some were mounted on boats used by the Partisans to attack German shipping along the Croatian coast. These vessels were of two types: the NB, small gunboats armed with cannons of various calibers, and the PC, patrol boats armed with machine guns and light cannons.
The Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 was the main light anti-aircraft gun used by the Italian armed forces from the mid-1930s to the end of World War II.
The gun had its baptism of fire during the Spanish Civil War, where its good antiaircraft qualities but limited antitank ones came to light; although it was not an antitank gun it was, however, very useful for firing on infantry, light vehicles, and armored cars, and for that reason it was used on many Italian vehicles.
The Breda was greatly appreciated by the Allied forces, which captured large quantities of them during the North African campaign and even went so far as to mount them on some Australian ships. It also served in South America and China, albeit in limited numbers.
The gun was also used by Yugoslav partisans, who mounted it on armed boats patrolling the coast and ended its service in the Israeli army in the late 1940s. All this success was because of its lightness and ease of transport, although it was particularly fragile.
Thanks to Arturo Giusti for information on the Israeli use of this gun
Specifications of Breda 20/65 cannon
Rate of fire
20 x 138 mm R Long Solothurn
-10° to +80°
Horizontal shooting sector
360° on tails carriage, 20° on the right and 28° on the left on wheeled carriage
Weight on tails carriage
Weight on wheeled carriage
F.Cappellano and N.Pignato Andare contro i carri armati – l’evoluzione della difesa controcarro nell’esercito italiano dal 1918 al 1945 Gaspari Editore 2007
E.Finazzer Guida alle artiglierie italiane nella 2a Guerra Mondiale – Regio Esercito Italiano, Repubblica Sociale Italiana e Esercito Cobelligerante Italia Storica 2020 http://www.italie1935-45.com/regio-esercito/materiels/item/257-canon-mitrailleur-breda-de-20-65-mod35
N.Pignato and F.Cappellano Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume I Roma 2002
N.Pignato and F.Cappellano Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume II Roma 2002
N.Pignato and F.Cappellano Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume III Roma 2007
Kingdom of Italy (1919-1943)
Medium Tank – ~152 Built
The FIAT 3000, with its two versions, the Modello 1921 (English: Model 1921) and Modello 1930 (English: Model 1930), was an Italian light tank built as an indigenous version of the French Renault FT. Initially referred to as the Carro d’Assalto (English: Assault Tank), it operated with the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) for almost twenty years, making it the backbone of the Italian armored units until the late 1930s and permitting the Italian crews to be familiarized with armored vehicles.
Origin and Development
The first Italian armored vehicles
Before the First World War, the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) already had some experience with armored vehicles, being one of the first armies to employ armored cars in active service. The FIAT Arsenale armored car was deployed during the Italian-Turkish War fought between 1911 and 1912, with great results.
After the campaign, the Italian Army started its own development of armored vehicles, but the design process was really slow. By 1914, when the First World War started, the work had resulted in nothing more than paper projects.
Fabbrica Italiana Automobili di Torino or FIAT (English: Italian Automobile Factory of Turin) began the development of a heavy tank in that period . Due to the Italian engineer’s lack of knowledge about tanks or armored fighting vehicles in general, its development was really slow and the first prototype was ready only in 1917. This vehicle was the FIAT 2000.
The Italian Renault FTs
With progress on a homegrown Italian tank going slowly, the Regio Esercito asked its neighbor and World War One ally, France, to supply Italy with some tanks. Four Renault FTs were subsequently delivered between March 1917 and May 1918. Two of these were fitted with the Girod turret and two with the Omnibus turret. The two Girod turreted vehicles differed in that one was armed with a 37 mm Puteaux cannon and the other one was armed with a Hotchkiss Modèle 1914 medium machine gun, although this was later replaced by a S.I.A. Modello 1918. The two tanks fitted with Omnibus turrets were both armed with Hotchkiss Modèle 1914 medium machine guns, replaced by the FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914 medium machine guns later.
These four tanks were tested intensively. One was dismantled and analyzed in order to produce an Italian variant under license.
After the war, in 1919, two of the Renault FTs were sent to Libya, another one was used for training, and the one disassembled by Ansaldo was partially reassembled and converted into a self-propelled gun called Semovente da 105/14. This vehicle was destined for the Batteria Autonoma Carri d’Assalto (English: Autonomous Battery Assault Tank) based in Turin, then it was transferred to Nettuno (near Rome) and took part in a parade at the Stadium in Rome on 2nd April 1919.
In addition to the 4 Renault FTs, France provided a Schneider CA for training as well, but did not give permission to produce them under license and did not sell others to the Kingdom of Italy. The single vehicle remained in a Regio Esercito training school in Bologna until 1937, after which its fate is unknown.
The birth of the FIAT 3000
After the tests of the FTs, the Regio Esercito decided on 2nd August 1918 to produce the tank model under license in Italy. This was entrusted to a consortium formed by Ansaldo, Armstrong Vickers, Breda, FIAT and Terni companies in their plants in the Italian peninsula.
After the end of the First World War, an order for 1,400 Renault FTs, which were to be built under license by Ansaldo of Genoa, was canceled. In April 1919, 100 tanks were ordered from FIAT of Turin. These vehicles were to be built under French license, but had been modified by the Ufficio Carri d’Assalto (English: Assault Tank Office) and by the Commissariato Armi e Munizioni Ansaldo (English: Ansaldo Arms and Ammunition Commissioner). The new model cost 120,000 Lire per vehicle and differed from the French model in terms of armament and engine. The prototype was built in June 1919 and completed by June of the following year. The first tests began in August 1920, but were soon suspended, probably for bureaucratic reasons and due to the end of the war, which slowed down production.
In November 1921, the tests resumed and lasted until 1923, when they were finally successful and the new model was officially adopted as the Carro d’Assalto FIAT 3000 (English: Assault Tank FIAT 3000). The test commission, albeit satisfied with the vehicle, thought that it needed a more powerful armament and requested the installation of a cannon in the turret.
The prototype was very similar to the Renault FT, although its armament differed, consisting of two Italian-built S.I.A. 6.5 mm machine guns, and the Italian-built engine was more powerful and mounted transversely, also having an easier-to-maintain transmission.
The first training of the crews with the new tanks took place in 1923 in the city of Belluno in northern Italy. The serial version differed from the prototype by the absence of the two front access doors copied from the original Renault FT. Shortly after, the vehicle was again modified. The tracks were improved, lengthened a bit and new wheels were adopted.
Between 1928 and 1929, a new model was developed, called FIAT 3000 B, then renamed FIAT 3000 Modello 1930 (English: FIAT 3000 Model 1930). It was equipped with a more powerful engine and a cannon in the turret instead of the two machine guns. This new vehicle was first tested during maneuvers in Val Varaita (Piedmont, Italy) in 1929.
The vehicle changed its name several times, a fact which also underscores the changing pace of Italian military thought and tacit acceptance that these vehicles were rapidly becoming obsolescent. Initially, the tank was known as the Carro d’Assalto FIAT 3000 (English: Assault Tank FIAT 3000). ‘A’ for the version armed with machine guns or ‘B’ for the version armed with cannon.
In the same period, they were also called Carro d’Assalto FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 and Modello 1930 (English: Assault Tank FIAT 3000 Model 1921 and Model 1930).
After 24th January 1938, the model armed with machine guns was renamed to Carro Armato Modello 1921, shortened to M.21 (English: Tank Model 1921), while the one armed with a cannon was renamed to Carro Armato Modello 1930, shortened to M.30 (English: Tank Model 1930).
Finally, after Italy entered the Second World War, tanks under 7 tonnes were considered ‘light’ tanks and, therefore, the FIAT 3000 became Carro Armato L.5/21 and Carro Armato L.5/30, depending on the Modello. This meant Carro Armato Leggero (English: Light Armored Vehicle) 5 tonnellate (English: 5 tonnes) Modello 1921 (English: Model 1921) and Carro Armato Leggero, 5 (tonnellate) Modello 1930 (English: Light Tank, 5 Tonnes Model 1930).
The FIAT 3000, therefore, is perhaps the only tank in history to occupy each of the three general tank classes, ranging from heavy (assault), to medium, to light during its service.
The hull was divided into two compartments divided by a bulkhead. The frontal one was the combat compartment and the rear one was the engine compartment. Drivers sat in the front part of the combat compartment and, to their rear, sat the commanders. In the engine compartment were the engine, the radiator, the cooling fan, the fuel tanks, and the bilge pump used to remove the water that entered the vehicle after fording.
In the rear part of the hull was the ‘tail’ built out of iron bars, which angled upwards. It had the purpose of extending the length of the vehicle for the crossing of trenches or ditches, preventing the tank from overturning or getting stuck.
The turret was able to rotate 360°. The weapons were installed in the front part, while in the rear was an opening that could be closed with two doors. This allowed crews to enter and exit the tank and easy removal of the weapons for maintenance. In the upper part of the turret was the commander’s openable cupola with three slits, meant to allow the commander to inspect the battlefield. On the top of the hatch was a hole that allowed the usage of flags used by the unit commanders to give orders. This was used due to the absence of radio equipment.
SIA Modello 1918
The armament was placed in the turret. On the FIAT 3000 Modello 1921, it consisted of two Società Italiana Aviazione Modello 1918 (English: Italian Aviation Company Model 1918) 6.5 mm light machine guns, more simply called SIA Mod. 18. This machine gun was developed by Regio Esercito Colonel Abiel Bethel Revelli (1864 – 1929), one of the most brilliant gun designers in Italy, between 1910 and the mid-1920s.
Colonel Revelli’s most famous projects were the FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914 medium machine gun, the Villar Perosa Modello 1915 submachine gun, and the SIA Modello 1918. The SIA machine guns were paired and placed on a support in the turret. Between the two machine guns was a slit used for aiming.
The weapons had an elevation of +24° and a depression of -17°. Their support also had an additional limited traverse of 20° to either side within the turret.
FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935
After April 1936, the FIAT 3000 Mod. 21 was rearmed with two FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935 8 mm caliber machine guns instead of the SIA ones. This offered heavier supporting fire and better armor-piercing capabilities. In fact, the 8 x 59 mm Armor Piercing round could penetrate 11 mm of armored steel at 100 m.
Comparison between S.I.A Mod. 1918 and FIAT-Revelli 1914/1935
6.5 x 52 mm
8 x 59 mm
Penetration of 11 mm of armored steel at 100 m
Rate of fire
500 – 700 rounds/min
FIAT Modello 1929 per Aviazione
Some FIAT 3000s were armed after 1937 with two 6.5 mm caliber FIAT Modello 1929 per Aviazione machine guns that were fed by 40-round magazines. Being aircraft machine guns they were deprived of the synchronizer to fire through the propeller.
The weapons had an elevation of +28° and a depression of -18°.
Vickers-Terni da 37/40
The FIAT 3000 Modello 1930 was armed with a Cannone Vickers-Terni da 37/40 cannon with a semi-automatic breech. This cannon was developed in 1918, deriving from a Hotchkiss model used in the anti-aircraft role on ships and at airfields. Another Italian tank equipped with this gun was the Carro Armato M11/39 medium tank developed in the late 1930s.
The gun was in the turret, moved to the right with respect to the center axis of the vehicle in order to leave more space for the commander/gunner, who sat on the left.
Aiming was carried out using a sight and two cranks: one for elevation and the other for traverse. The elevation of the gun was +20°, the depression -10°, while the second crank permitted rotation of the turret.
In the 1930s, some FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 tanks were rearmed with .303 Lewis medium machine guns that were more reliable than the SIA Modello 1918 and gave the tank a higher rate of fire thanks to the larger 47 or 97-round magazines.
The ammunition was kept in racks in the two lateral walls of the combat compartment.
The FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 could carry 96 40-round magazines (3,840 cartridges in all) for the SIA and FIAT 1929 light machine guns and 72 80-round magazines (5,760 rounds) for the FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935 medium machine guns.
The Modello 1930 had racks for a total of 68 37 mm rounds. The 37 mm gun’s armor-piercing ammunition could penetrate 20 mm of armored steel at 1,500 m. The vehicle carried both piercing and semi-piercing shells but it is not known in what quantity
Engine and Suspension
The tank was powered by a 6.236-liter FIAT Tipo 304 for Carro Armato 3000 four-cylinder inline petrol engine. In the Modello 1921, it had a power of 50 hp at 1,500 rpm, while in the Modello 1930, it was boosted to 63 hp at 1,700 rpm.
The gearbox had three forward and one reverse gears. The fuel tank of the FIAT Modello 1921 had a capacity of 90 liters of fuel, plus 5 liters in the reserve fuel tank, while the Modello 1930 had a capacity of 85 liters plus 4.5 liters in reserve.
The maximum speed of the vehicle was between 21 km/h on road for the Modello 1921 and 22 km/h on road for the Modello 1930. Off-road, the maximum speed was 8-12 km/h. The range was 95 km on the road for the Modello 1921 and 88 km on the road for the Modello 1930.
The running gear included two sprockets located at the rear and two large diameter idler wheels placed at the front. The longitudinal metal spars rested on eight road wheels paired on four bogies. These were connected by terminal pins to leaf springs for suspension. On top of the longitudinal spars, there were five return rollers supported by a stringer that was supported by a vertical spring which kept the track in constant tension. The tracks were composed of 52 links per side.
The hull of the FIAT 3000 was protected by steel armor plating bolted to an internal steel frame structure. The front of the tank was protected by well-angled 16 mm armored plates. The sides and rear of the hull were protected by 8 mm thick armored plates, all vertical. As with the hull, the front of the turret was 16 mm thick, while the remaining sides were 8 mm thick. The turret roof was 8 mm thick, while the hull roof and floor were 6 mm thick.
According to the Italian manuals, the armor provided protection from machine-gun fire and shrapnel; it could withstand the impact of 8 mm APX French and 7.92 mm German armor-piercing shells up to 50 meters.
The FIAT 3000 had a crew of two: commander, who also operated the armament, and driver. As with the Renault FT which the FIAT 3000 was based on, commanders were overburdened with multiple tasks, limiting how well they could perform.
Communications and Radio System
The tanks communicated using colored signal flags, these consisted of two flags, one red and one white placed 15 cm from the outsides of a 65 cm long pole. The flags came out of a special hole placed at the top of the turret.
Only the company or battalion command tanks were equipped with Magneti Marelli RF CR radios. The radio was used for communications between tanks and other armored vehicles. It had a frequency between 27.2 and 33.4 MHz.
The FIAT 3000s equipped with this radio had an unusual antenna on the turret, which allowed it to turn 360°. However, the range of communications was limited to a few kilometers, which allowed communication between vehicles, but was insufficient for collaboration with artillery and infantry, a key component of modern warfare.
For transport, the tank could be transported on a trailer designed in 1921 by the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin), adopted in 1923 as the Carrello per Trasporto Carro d’Assalto (English: Flatbed Trailer for the Transport of the Assault Tank). It consisted of a chassis, two support surfaces for tracks, two wheels, and a drawbar. The flatbed trailer weighed 1,200 kg and was towed by a truck, initially a FIAT 18 BLR and then a Lancia RO NM.
Each tank could be identified by the use of special symbols. This system began in 1925 and consisted of simple geometric shapes, including circles, triangles, and rectangles, that distinguished command tanks from others. The color of the shape designated what platoon the tanks belonged to.
In 1938, with Circular No. 4,400, the symbols changed permanently. They consisted of differently colored rectangles, indicating the various companies, with various vertical or oblique lines indicating the various platoons. A solid rectangle without lines indicated the command tank.
The FIAT 3000 remained in service in the Royal Italian Army for about 20 years, from 1923 to 1943. They became the first tanks with which the Italian Army was equipped and allowed officers to learn and develop the doctrine of tank use that would still be used by the Royal Army during World War II.
The first FIAT 3000s equipped the Compagnia Autonoma Carri Armati (English: Autonomous Tank Company) based in Rome. In the following years, this unit grew and increased its staff, becoming the Reparto Carri Armati (English: Tank Unit) made up of a command group and two Gruppi Carri Armati (English: Tank Groups), each composed of three squadrons, for a total of 24 tanks for each Reparto. In 1926, the unit became a Centro di Formazione Carri Armati (English: Tank Training Center) composed of the command unit, the logistic unit, the Gruppi d’Istruzione (English: Training Groups), and tank units.
Pacification of Libya (1920 – 1930)
After the end of the Italo-Turkish War in Libya in 1912, the local Senussi population revolted against Italian rule and occupied all Libyan territory except the coastal cities, which remained in Italian hands.
After the end of World War I, the Kingdom of Italy decided to regain the territory lost since 1914. The so-called Pacification of Libya or Second Italo-Senussi War began in 1922 and ended 10 years later with the Italian occupation of all Libyan regions.
During 1926, the FIAT 3000 received its baptism of fire. A Compagnia Carri (English: Tank Company) was part of the rapid column of Colonel Ronchetti which occupied Giarabub on 7th February 1926.
The Birth of Reggimento Carri Armati
In 1927, the Center was transformed into the Reggimento Carri Armati (English: Tank Regiment), consisting of a command unit and five battalions of two companies each. Each company was equipped with 8 to 16 tanks plus the company commander’s command tank .
In 1931, the new training regulations stated that the FIATs would neutralize the enemy defenses by leveling the material obstacles and the centers of resistance. Machine gun tanks had to fire at enemy personnel and neutralize machine gun nests or anti-tank positions, while cannon tanks had to counter enemy tanks and bunkers. The number of tanks armed with cannon and machine gun per unit is unknown.
The Reorganization into Four Battalions
In 1933, according to the Royal Italian Army General Staff’s Circular N° 1,399 of 7th March 1932 , four FIAT 3000 battalions were foreseen for the mobilization: the II° Battaglione (English: 2nd Battalion) with two companies with seven tanks each, the III° Battaglione, IV° Battaglione, and V° Battaglione (English: 3rd, 4th and 5th Battalions) with three companies with 10 tanks each and four tanks armed with cannon that were kept in reserve. However, the FIAT 3000 was showing its age and was clearly seen by many as effectively obsolete. Italian FIAT 3000s did not participate in the Ethiopian campaign or in the Spanish Civil War.
The Brigata Corazzata
With the establishment of the Brigata Corazzata (English: Armored Brigades) in 1937, two regiments were born. These were the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment), which commanded the 1st and 2nd Battalions, and the 32° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 32nd st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment), which commanded the 3rd and 4th Battalions.
Six FIAT 3000s, armed with 7.7 mm caliber Lewis medium machine guns, were present at Macallé (in present-day Eritrea) in 1937 for the defense of the airfield in the same city.
With the appearance of the new ‘Breakthrough Tank’, the M11/39, in 1939, the FIAT 3000s were relegated to equipping second-line units. Out of 127 vehicles, 90 were still used in the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ and 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete (English: 131st and 132nd Armored Divisions), in the Battaglione Scuola (English: School Battalion) of Bologna and the Compagnia Motorizzata (English: Motorized Company) in Zara in Croatia. In September 1939, it was decided to use 50 FIAT 3000s to compose the Border Tank Companies.
Invasion and Anti-Partisan War in Yugoslavia (1941-1943)
In 1939, the 1ª Compagnia Carrista di Frontiera (English: 1st Border Tank Company) was transferred to Shkoder in Albania, During the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, the unit was aggregated into the III° Battaglione Guardia alla Frontiera (English: 3rd Border Guard Battalion) and transferred between Tarabosh and Bojana to defend anti-tank positions located at Kurt Alai.
The Company repulsed a Yugoslav attack on 11th April, remaining in Kurt Alai until the 15th. Then, it advanced together with other Italian units in Montenegro and then returned to Scutari and remained there with garrison duties.
In July 1941, the unit was deployed in Montenegro in support of the 18ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Messina’ (English: 18th Infantry Division), where it intervened to support the Italian anti-guerrilla actions. On 13th July, it began the transfer to Podgorica together with the II° Battaglione (English: 2nd Battalion) of the Guardia di Finanza (English: Finance Guard). Due to the lack of flatbed trailers needed to transport the eight FIAT 3000s, the unit had to proceed on tracks and reached its destination, covering 70 km in over 18 hours. Immediately afterward, the unit was ordered to proceed towards Cettinge, the then capital of Montenegro, but the order was canceled due to the poor state of the tanks of the company. These remained stationed in Podgorica until the armistice.
The Compagnia Meccanizzata di Zara (English: Mechanized Company of Zadar) had L tanks, Lancia 1ZM armored cars, and some FIAT 3000s was stationed in Zadar, on the Adriatic coast in modern day Croatia. In April 1941, this unit, together with the XI Battaglione Bersaglieri (English: 11th Bersaglieri Battalion), occupied Benkovac, Knin, Šibenik, and Split.
The Italian occupation forces in Yugoslavia were quite surprised by the sudden Partisan uprising. On 13th July 1941, in Montenegro, the Partisans launched an attack on the Italian forces. In order to supress this resistance movement in Montenegro, the Italian 14° Corpo (English: 14th Corps) was mobilized. The Italians could only deploy limited armored support for their operation.
One armored unit, a company of aging FIAT 3000 tanks, was present in the area and quickly deployed. These were likely used against the Partisans starting from 15th July. On 17th July, the Partisans managed to destroy an Italian tank, likely a FIAT 3000. Use of these tanks after this incident is not clear.
Allied Invasion of Sicily (July 1943)
The last use of Italian FIAT 3000s was in July 1943, against the Allied forces during the invasion of Sicily. Two companies, consisting of 9 tanks each, had been assigned to the 6° Armata (English: 6th Army). The 1ª Compagnia (English: 1st Company) was stationed in Scordia, while the 2ª Compagnia (English: 2nd Company) was in Licata.
The 1a Compagnia was used by the XII Corpo d’Armata (English: 13th Corps) to create machine gun nests, burying the tanks, for the 207a Divisione Costiera (English: 207th Coastal Division)
The 2a Compagnia, under the command of Reserve Captain Angelotti Francesco, was part of the Gruppo Mobile H (English: Mobile Group “H”) assigned to XVI Corpo d’Armata (English: 16th Corps). The mobile group was stationed in Caltagirone and had to defend the San Pietro airfield. On 10th July 1943, the unit was used to eliminate the paratroopers of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment around the airfield. The tanks, due to their extreme slowness, were transported near to the airfield on the trucks of the 23° Autogruppo (English: 23rd Transport Group). At 12:35 am, the US 3rd Paratrooper Battalion, commanded by First Lieutenant Peter J. Eaton, clashed with an Italian infantry column supported by some FIAT 3000s. The Americans forced the enemy unit to retreat, eliminating a FIAT 3000 with the fire of two 47/32 Italian guns that had been previously captured.
At 7:30 pm, the commander of the San Pietro airfield declared that 50 paratroopers were captured in the fighting near the airfield thanks to the support of two FIAT 3000.
On 12th July, the 9th Italian Rifle Company, supported by a machine gun squad and two FIAT 3000s, were transferred to Ficuzza. There, they clashed with American paratroopers until 5 pm, capturing 4 and killing 6. On 13th July, in order to defend the airfield from the attack of the 180th US Infantry Regiment, the commander of Mobile Group H, Lieutenant Colonel Luigi Cixi, ordered the FIAT 3000s to position themselves on the perimeter of the airfield. The American attack started at 10 pm. The Italian units resisted for an hour but then had to retreat and the 2a Compagnia lost 5 FIAT tanks.
Six of the nine FIAT 3000s had been lost, but the fate of the remaining three is unknown, and they were probably abandoned or destroyed by enemy fire.
The Italians there were essentially trying to repulse an invasion involving modern tanks, such as Shermans, with a tank barely different from those used on the battlefields of WW1 a generation earlier. It did not go well.
Fanteria Carrista di Frontiera
The Guardia alla Frontiera or GaF (English: Border Guards), the unit responsible for the defense of the Italian borders, was equipped with armored vehicles to counter the action of any enemy ‘Alpine’ tanks. Their counterpart was the French ‘Armee Des Alpes’ (English: Army of the Alps), which had some units equipped with Renault FTs. The Italian companies were formed on 31st January 1940.
These were organized into a command squad and three tank platoons with a total of 4 officers, 5 NCOs, 36 tank crewmembers, 10 tanks, two heavy trucks, two flatbed trailers, a light truck, and two two-seater motorcycles.
Five Compagnie Carristi di Frontiera (English: Border Tank Companies) were created. There is some information available about the 1ª Compagnia Carri (English: 1st Tank Company).
In June 1942, the company became part of the III° Battaglione Carri L (English: 3rd Light Tank Battalion) of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) assigned to the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’.
The 2ª Compagnia Carri (English: 2nd Tank Company) was located in Borgo San Dalmazzo at the beginning of 1940, assigned to the II° Corpo (English: 2nd Corps). There, it operated during the campaign of the Western Alps (June 1940) against France. After the campaign, it was transferred to the eastern border with Yugoslavia, where it was assigned to the XXII° Guardia alla Frontiera Sector assigned to the 13ª Divisione Fanteria ‘Re’ (English: 13th Infantry Division).
The 3ª Compagnia Carri (English: 3rd Tank Company) was created in Caserta in March 1940 and placed under the command of Lieutenant Pasquale Mele. It was destined for the Italian islands in the Aegean. The unit consisted of a Command Platoon (with a FIAT 3000 command tank, a FIAT 3000 Modello 1930 armed with a 37/40 cannon, a repair and recovery team), the 1° Plotone Carri L (English: 1st Light Tank Platoon) with FIAT 3000 Modello 1930s in Calitea, the 2° Plotone Carri L with FIAT 3000 Modello 1930s in Chioccola, and 3° Plotone Misto Carri (English: 3rd Mixed Tank Platoon) with FIAT 3000 Modello 1921s and FIAT 3000 Modello 1930s. The Command Platoon consisted of four officers, 3 NCOs, and 25 tank crewmembers.
The unit was then equipped with a staff car, two motorcycles, and a flatbed trailer. To transport the tanks, five light and two heavy trucks belonging to the 50° Autoreparto Misto dell’Egeo (English: 50th Mixed Motorized Unit of the Aegean Sea) were made available to the company.
In July 1942, Lieutenant Mele was replaced by Lieutenant Giovanni Furetti. The unit (also called the 1st Tank Company L5) had 10 to 12 operational FIAT 3000s. Over time, some of the old FIAT 3000s, due to the lack of spare parts, became unusable.
The 4ª Compagnia Carri (English: 4th Tank Company) was located in the Cesana Torinese area at the beginning of 1940, assigned to the VII° GaF sector of the IV° Corpo (English: 4th Corps). After Italy entered the war on 10th June 1940, the first action of the Royal Army was the campaign of the Alps against French forces, which lasted from 21st to 25th June. During this campaign, some FIAT 3000 Modello 1921s of the company supported the action of a Carabinieri platoon against French troops during the occupation of Mont Genèvre. After the campaign in the Alps, the 4th Company was transferred to the Yugoslav border and placed under the control of the XXII° GaF sector, assigned to the 13ª Divisione fanteria ‘Re’.
The last company was the 5ª Compagnia Carri (English: 5th Tank Company). At the beginning of 1940, it was located in Ventimiglia, assigned to the I° Guardia alla Frontiera Sector. No actions of this unit are known during the campaign of the Alps. It was then transferred to the border with Yugoslavia, becoming first a part of the 15ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Bergamo’ (English: 15th Infantry Division) and then, on 5th September 1940, it was assigned to the XXVII° GaF Sector, reporting directly to the V° Corpo (English: 5th Corps).
With the end of hostilities with Yugoslavia, the three companies placed in the Italian Peninsula (2nd, 4th, and 5th Companies) were dissolved. The FIAT 3000s still operational were divided into two companies of nine tanks located in Sicily, with the XII° Corpo and XIV° Corpo (English: 12th and 14th Corps). Both were lost during operations in Sicily in July 1943.
The 25th May 1925 report of the Ufficio Comando Reparto Carri Armati (English: Tank Department Headquarters Office) highlighted the main defects of the FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 and also the design of a new tank that was to replace it, called Tipo 2 (English: Type 2). The design of this new vehicle had already been shown to the Army Chief of Staff on 12th January 1925. The design called for a larger vehicle than the FIAT 3000, armed with a rapid-fire 37 mm cannon, with 270 rounds, and a FIAT 1924 machine gun, with 4,500 rounds, in the turret. Armor was also increased, raised to 20 mm in areas most susceptible to enemy hits. The gasoline engine had to have an output of at least 75 hp.
In the end, this project was never developed, partly because studies had begun on the modification of the FIAT 3000 armed with a 37 mm Vickers-Terni cannon, which entered service in 1930.
In 1929, as the FIAT 3000 was now an obsolete tank, Ansaldo decided to design a new turretless carro d’assalto (English: assault tank). Two draftsmen were sent to Foster & C in Lincoln, Great Britain, who under the guidance of Project Office Chief W. Rigby created a drawing that was later used in Italy for the construction of a 1:10 model. One example was built by Ansaldo in 1932 and named Carro Armato Ansaldo da 9 T. (English: 9-ton Ansaldo Tank), was armed with a 65 mm cannon and three 6.5 mm machine guns. The engine was an Ansaldo 6-cylinder with a power output of 80-88 hp that allowed a top speed of 22.5 km/h on roads.
The tank was tested at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (CSM) (English: Center for Motor Vehicle Studies) in December 1934 and then displayed for propaganda purposes at the 1935 Fiera Campionaria di Milano (English: Milan Trade Fair). After that, the vehicle was modified again, the suspension was changed, and, perhaps, the engine was changed, adopting that of the FIAT 634N truck. It was tested again at CSM. only for the project to be abandoned in 1937.
In 1936, the carri d’assalto (English: assault tanks) changed their name to carri di rottura (English: breakthrough tanks). In 1937, still without a replacement for the FIAT 3000, the carro di rottura 8T (English: 8T breakthrough tank) (also called 10T from the weight of the vehicle) was born. The vehicle had a 110 hp SPA 8T diesel engine, was armed with two machine guns in the turret and a 37 mm Vickers-Terni cannon in the casemate. The vehicle could reach a maximum road speed of 33 km/h and had a range of 120 km. It was later modified, installing new Breda Model 1938 machine guns in a new rounded turret and was presented to Mussolini on 12th May 1938 during his visit to Genoa.
The new tank later took the name M11/39. The first of 100 serial production tanks left the Ansaldo factory in July 1939 The M11/39, which finally offered a replacement for the FIAT 3000, saw use in North Africa and Italian East Africa (24 units) while only one platoon was left in Italy. This vehicle was the basis for the subsequent M13, M14, and M15 tanks.
Although it was more advanced than the Renault FT from which it derived in a number of ways, the FIAT 3000 was not as successful in the export market. The reason for this is partly because it became obsolete very quickly and had low production numbers compared to the Renault FT, which was available in much larger numbers from earlier on.
About twenty FIAT 3000s were sold or transferred to other countries. The vehicles purchased were used for testing but did not meet the requirements of the army for which the vehicle was intended.
Two Modello 1921s were sold to Albania in the late 1920s; these two tanks were among the earliest produced. They were both later recovered during the 1939 Italian occupation of Albania and redeployed by the Italian troops in the Balkans.
A FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 was delivered to Argentina, armed with a FIAT Modello 1924 medium machine gun. The tank was paraded in Buenos Aires during Argentina’s national holiday on 25th May 1924.
Denmark bought a FIAT 3000 in June 1928 for testing. It was rearmed with two Madsen machine guns. The army did not know how to use it and mechanical problems occurred, so much so that it was used as a target during exercises
Three tanks were donated to Ethiopia, a FIAT Modello 1921 in 1927 and two Modello 1930s in the early 1930s. They were later recovered in 1936, with the invasion of Ethiopia.
According to N. Pignato, Greece bought a FIAT 3000. Sadly, there is no other information available on the Greek FIAT 3000.
In 1931, Hungary bought five FIAT 3000 from Italy. These tanks formed a Könnyűharckocsi század (English: Tank Company) composed of two platoons, together with German-origin LK II tanks.
The Japanese bought a FIAT 3000 for testing. This tank participated in the Sino-Japanese War, being used for training in Tianjin in 1935.
Latvia bought six FIAT tanks, two Modello 1930 and four Modello 1921, which equipped two platoons of the 1st Tank Company, located in Riga, part of the Autotank Regiment. At least two of these were armed with French 37 mm Puteaux SA 18 guns while the others had MG 08 machine guns. Their fate is unknown, but they were probably sold to Hungary or scrapped in the mid-1930s.
In 1927, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) bought three FIATs, numbers 107, 108, and 109. These arrived in Moscow in March 1928.
The vehicles arrived in Russia unarmed and were then equipped with Hotchkiss 37 mm guns. A Modello 1921 was bought by the Polish Communist Party and donated to the USSR. This vehicle, named ‘Feliks Dzerzhinskiy’, took part in the parade in Moscow’s Red Square on 7th November 1928. Two tanks were sent to the Armored Commander Courses Academy in 1929.
FIAT 3000 Nebbiogeno
Over the years, other versions were tested, such as the smoke screen generator tested in 1925 during a major training exercise that involved many Italian units. It was equipped with two cylindrical tanks containing sulfuric acid, into which the exhaust gasses generated by the engine were conveyed. The sulfuric acid and the CO2 from the engine reacted, forming a dense white smoke screen.
Later, during Chemical Army Day in Rome (1935), some FIAT 3000 Modello 1921s were modified with two smoke screen diffusers placed in the rear part of the hull.
Neither variant was ever built in series.
Flamethrower FIAT 3000
The flamethrower version of the vehicle was studied in 1932 by Major Rodolfo Foronato and Captain Enrico Riccardi, of the Reggimento Carri Armati di Bologna (English: Tank Regiment of Bologna). A FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 was modified because, as the study of the two officers showed, the modification did not involve transformations of the hull or armament (usable independently from the flamethrower) of the FIAT. A tank for the flammable liquid was placed behind the engine compartment, instead of the iron tail. From the turret, a long barrel protruded from which the flammable liquid was sprayed at high-pressure.
The flammable liquid tank had a capacity of 270 liters while the flamethrower had an average autonomy of 6 hours and a range of 100 m.
The FIAT 4000 was designed in the late 1920s for the transport of medium-caliber artillery, but remained at the design stage. The vehicle would have weighed 3 tonnes and would have used the same engine as the FIAT 3000
At its inception, the FIAT 3000 was a good vehicle, appreciated for its climbing skills, the particularly powerful engine, which allowed it a high speed for the time, and a respectable armor. Precisely, this convinced the Italian military leaders to study a version armed with a cannon, not realizing that, at the end of the 1920s, it was already an obsolete vehicle.
In the 1930s and 1940s, its obsolescence made itself felt in the few clashes it took part in and the few remaining vehicles were used in the second line or as trainers until 1943.
A big thank to Arturo Giusti and Marko Pantelic for the support and help with sources
Specifications FIAT Modello 1921 (Modello 1930)
4.17 (4.29) x 1.64 (1.70) x 2.19 (2.20) m
5.5 (5.9) tonnes
2 (commander and driver)
FIAT 304 petrol 50 hp (63 hp)
Maximum road speed
21 (22) km/h
95 (88) km
2 x 6.5 mm SIA Modello 1918 or 2 x 8 mm FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935 (1x Cannone Vickers-Terni da 37/40 Modello 1918)
Hull: 16 mm front, sides and rear. 8 mm roof and tail. 6 mm floor.
Turret: 16 mm front and sides. 8 mm roof.
100 Modello 1921 and 52 Modello 1930
N. Pignato e F. Cappellano “Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Volume I” Roma 2002
Ministero della Guerra “I carri armati nel combattimento” Roma 1931
M. Ascoli “La difesa delle coste italiane. Le strutture e le unità costiere preposte alla difesa delle coste italiane dall’Unità d’Italia al termine della prima parte del secondo conflitto (settembre 1943)” Bacchilega Editore 2020
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