Assault gun – 30 plus 6 to 20 Ausf. A/B hybrids built
Prior to and during the Second World War, the Germans developed and introduced into service a series of armored vehicles. While most of these were tanks, there were also a number of modifications designed to fulfill different roles, such as anti-tank or anti-aircraft duties. During the early stages of the war, a new vehicle, known as the Sturmgeschütz III, was slowly being introduced. Its purpose was to provide close fire support to infantry units, a role in which it would perform superbly. While mostly overshadowed by the famous Panther and Tiger tanks, the small and cheap Sturmgeschütz III would become the most widely produced tracked vehicle in the German armored arsenal. Its entry into service in 1940 was rather modest, mostly due to the small numbers of vehicles available at that time, but this was something that would change dramatically in the war’s later years.
Sturmgeschütz III Development History
During the Great War, the Western front was bogged down in trench warfare, where fast movement was limited due to the terrain and fortified defenses. In order to break the stalemate, the Germans began employing the so-called Sturmtruppen (Eng. Stormtroopers). These were infantry units that put great emphasis on speed and sudden attacks in order to overwhelm the enemy’s defensive line. In order to support them, towed artillery was used. The close fire support was a welcome addition during an assault, destroying enemy targets like machine-gun emplacements and fortified positions. However, the use of the artillery in this role was hampered by the crews being exposed to enemy return fire and the guns being too cumbersome to move over the rough terrain.
After the war, German Army military officials were quite aware that failing to provide the infantry with adequate close-range fire support would lead to high losses during attacks on enemy entrenched positions. Mobile artillery was seen as a solution to this problem. In 1927, the German Reichswehrministerium (Ministry of Defense) issued a contract for a self-propelled vehicle armed with a 77 mm gun mounted on an experimental Hanomag WD fully tracked tractor. Work on this vehicle had to be stopped due to a number of reasons, like lack of funds and priority being given to other military projects and reorganization.
Nevertheless, this concept was not completely abandoned, and work on it reemerged in the early 1930s. This was mainly thanks to Erich von Manstein. He argued for the introduction of a highly mobile, well-protected, and well-armed self-propelled artillery gun. Such vehicles were meant to provide infantry with mobile close fire support during combat operations. Thanks to the self-propelled chassis, these could be quickly redeployed to respond to any new threat. Towed artillery, on the other hand, was often vulnerable to enemy return fire and needed time to change positions. This self-propelled artillery gun was to be an organic part of standard infantry divisions, divided into three 6 vehicle strong batteries.
While initially opposed by some elements of the German Army, the project received a green light when it was approved by Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres (German Commander in Chief of the Army), Generaloberst von Fritsch, in 1935. The project was to be carried out under the supervision of Colonel Walter Model. The whole project started at a very slow pace, and it took a year for things to finally get going.
Whose Responsibility Was It?
While the first steps in the creation of such a vehicle were underway, there was a disagreement between the different Army branches, including artillery, infantry, and armor, about this project. While the value of such a vehicle was greatly praised by both infantry and artillery units, military circles that advocated for the use of tanks were less enthusiastic. The main issue that arose was the question of what was the difference between a tank that could fulfill the same role and the proposed self-propelled artillery gun. There was also the question of whether it was worth it to spend the limited production resources on developing both types of vehicles.
In order to find answers to these questions, in early June 1936, an unnamed general in the infantry branch General der Infanterie sent a dispatch to the General Staff of the Army. In it, he noted that, while such a vehicle offered clear advantages over ordinary towed artillery, it was necessary to establish an accurate draft of the requirements for its design and of its tactical usage in combat. Furthermore, he explained at length that it was necessary to make a clear line between the roles that tanks and infantry support guns should fulfill. While their combat role seemed to be quite similar at first glance, they were in fact different.
While the tank force was seen as the main offensive formation, the infantry was meant to follow up and destroy the remaining isolated enemy forces. On the other hand, infantry saw the tanks as support weapons and would request that part of the tanks be left behind to provide close support. This in turn would weaken the tank formations, robbing them of their numbers and firepower. The tanks were an offensive weapon that relied on speed and mobility to attack less defended positions. Fortified targets could not be taken by tanks alone, and they had to be accompanied by infantry. The assault vehicles, on the other hand, thanks to their mobility, armor, and firepower could easily support the infantry. It was not a weapon to be used en masse, but instead, used in smaller numbers as needed.
While other nations, like France, advocated for the use of tanks as primarily infantry support weapons, the Germans also tested this idea. In August 1936, this was discussed by the German General Staff of the Army, but the idea was quickly discarded. They argued that, in order for tanks to fulfill this role, tank armor had to be constantly upgraded to keep up with the development of anti-tank weapons. Adding additional armor would cause the tank to lose its mobility and its tactical offensive advantages.
The generals from the panzer divisions were against the assault gun project. To them, introducing a new vehicle would put enormous stress on the overburdened German production industry. The production of new tanks, like the Panzer III and IV, was limited at best. But, despite their resistance, in the end, it was decided that the artillery branch would be responsible for training and developing tactics for this vehicle.
What followed was a period of design and development requirement negotiation. The requirements were finalized and issued on military document 449/36 dated 15th June 1936. The list of requirements was initially designated schwere Panzerabwehrkanone sPaK (Eng. heavy anti-tank gun). It had to have a small height, no more than a standing soldier. The main armament would consist of a 7.5 cm gun facing forward. It had to have sufficient elevation to reach a 7 km firing distance. Elevation had to be 30° in both directions. In addition, it had to possess enough armor penetration to pierce any known enemy armored vehicle at ranges of up to 500 m.
Surprisingly, initially, it was requested that this vehicle be open-topped. As this was a vehicle that was to provide close fire support, having an open-top would be too dangerous for the crew and this requirement was changed to include a fully enclosed crew compartment. The armor had to be enough to stop 20 mm rounds. Thanks to the weight-saving due to not having a turret, stronger armor plates could be used.
These were all early requirements and some changes would be introduced during initial development. Probably most noticeable were the characteristics of the gun (firing range and traverse), which had to be changed from the initial requirements.
To speed up the development time, a Panzer III chassis was to be used. The Panzer I and II chassis were too small. Why the Panzer IV chassis was not used is not specified in the sources, but there may be a few reasons for this. Roughly at the same time, the Germans had initiated the standardization of tank development. According to plans drawn up by Wa Pruef 6 (the German Army’s design office for armored vehicles and motorized equipment), the Panzer IV, starting from the Ausf. C version was to be built using the new Panzer III Ausf. E chassis, which used torsion bar suspension. Due to problems with the Panzer III development, nothing came from this.
Due to Germany’s general lack of industrial capacity during the 1930s, it would take some time before the first prototypes could be delivered. Daimler-Benz from Berlin-Marienfelde was chosen for designing and building the first prototypes. In 1937, the assembly of a small 0-series based on the Panzer III Ausf. B chassis began. These received a soft-steel superstructure and thus could not be used in combat. Their main purpose was to serve as evaluation, testbed, and training vehicles.
Initially, this vehicle was designated as schwere Panzerabwehrkanone sPaK. The usage of the prefix Selbstfahrlafette or short Sfl. (Eng. self-propelled chassis) was also common. It was also common to see the use of the Sturmgeschütz designation in German documents. As it was based on the Panzer III chassis, sometimes it would also be referred as Panzer-Selbstfahrlafette III (Eng. tank self-propelled chassis III).
At the end of March 1940, the name was officially changed to Gepanzerten Selbstfahrlafette fur Sturmgeschütz 75 mm Kanone, which could be translated as armored self-propelled chassis for 75 mm armed assault gun. The first series of this vehicle received the Ausfuhrung (Eng. version or series) A designation. In addition, the Sd.Kfz. 142 number was added to the name. It is generally best known under the much shorter StuG III Ausf. A name. This article will use this shorter designation for the sake of simplicity.
Production of the StuG III Ausf. A
While no StuG III was used during the fighting in Poland in September 1939, experience gained there showed that such a vehicle was desirable. One month after this campaign, the Waffenamt (ordnance bureau) issued a production order for 280 vehicles. This included 30 vehicles of the initially marked 0-series (actually the Ausf. A version) and 250 of the second series.
For the production of the StuG III Ausf. A, several companies were included. The production of the guns and its mounting was carried out by Krupp from Essen. Brandenburger Eisenwerke, together with a couple of smaller firms, was responsible for providing the necessary armored parts and components. The guns and armored components, once available, were transported to Daimler-Benz for final assembly. The chassis, taken from the Panzer III Ausf. F series (starting from serial number 90.001), were also to be produced by Daimler-Benz. Interestingly, according to W. J. Spielberger (Panzer III and its Variants), these were actually completed by Alkett in Berlin.
Official orders for 30 StuG IIIs were issued on the 13th of October 1939. These 30 vehicles had to be completed no later than the beginning of April 1940. The first fully completed chassis was delivered during December 1939. During the installation of the gun mounts, it was noted that, due to a miscalculation, these could not be fitted. This miscalculation led to a one-month-long pause in production until this issue was resolved. The whole order for 30 vehicles was completed by April 1940.
While visually quite similar to the early prototypes, the StuG Ausf. A features a number of improvements to the overall design. In addition, the Panzer III Ausf. F-based chassis was not completely identical to the tank version, as there were some minor differences made to its design.
The StuG III Ausf. A hull can be divided into three major sections. These were the forward-mounted transmission, central crew compartment, and rear engine compartment. The front hull was where the transmission and steering systems were placed and it was protected with an angled armor plate. The two square-shaped, two-part hatch brake inspection doors were located on the front hull. In contrast to the tank chassis it was based on, these opened vertically and not horizontally. While the StuG III 0-series had two bolted round-shaped plates added on the front transmission, these were removed on the Ausf. A. There were four towing couplings, with two at the front and two at the rear of the hull.
Suspension and Running Gear
The Panzer III Ausf. F suspension consisted of six pairs of road wheels on each side. These were suspended using a combination of individual swing axles together with torsion bars which were placed in the bottom of the hull. The upper movement of each wheel’s swingarm was limited by contact blocks covered in rubber. Additionally, the first and the last wheels were equipped with a hydraulic shock absorber. At the front, there was a 360 mm wide 21 tooth drive sprocket. On the back of the hull was the idler with an adjustable crank arm. The number of return rollers was three per side. The cast tracks were 380 mm wide.
The early prototype version was built on the Panzer III Ausf. B chassis. The production version was actually built using the much improved Panzer III Ausf. F chassis. This included the usage of a stronger twelve-cylinder, water-cooled Maybach HL 120 TRM engine giving 265 hp (in some sources listed to be 280 or even 300 hp strong) @ 2,600 rpm. The StuG III Ausf. A’s engine was placed at the rear of the hull and was separated from the central crew compartment by a firewall. The firewall had a small door. Its purpose was to provide the crew members with access to the engine if needed.
The engine was held in place by three rubber bushings. With this power unit, the StuG III Ausf. A’s maximum speed was increased to 40 km/h, while the cross-country speed was 20 km/h. The fuel load of 310 liters was stored in two fuel tanks placed below the radiators in the engine compartment. With this fuel load, the StuG III Ausf. A’s operational range was 160 km on roads and 100 km cross-country. To avoid any accidental fires, these fuel tanks were protected by firewalls.
The engine compartment was protected by an enclosed superstructure. On top of this compartment, two two-part hatches were added for access to the engine. Further back, two smaller doors were added to provide the crew access to the fan drives. The air intakes were repositioned to the engine compartment sides and were protected with armor plates.
The StuG III Ausf. A was equipped with a somewhat overly complicated ten-speed and one reverse Maybach Variorex SRG 32 8 145 semi-automatic transmission. The transmission was connected to the engine by a drive shaft that ran through the bottom of the fighting compartment. The steering mechanism used on the Panzer III was bolted to the hull. It was connected to the two final drives, which were themselves bolted to the outside of the hull. In theory, with this transmission, the StuG III Ausf. A could reach speeds of up to 70 km/h. In reality, this caused huge problems and the rubber-rimmed road wheels had to be changed frequently due to being worn out. The transmission itself was overly complicated, difficult to produce, and prone to frequent breakdowns. It would be replaced with a much simpler and more reliable SSG 76 transmission on a later version of the StuG III.
The box-shaped upper superstructure was taken almost directly from the initial StuG 0-series, with some small differences. The front and side armor plates were flat. On the left front, the plate was a driver vision port. The StuG Ausf. A introduced a new improved driver protective visor, the Fahrersehklappe 50, which was 50 mm thick. When the visor was closed, the driver would use a K.F.F.1 binocular periscope to see through two small round ports located just above the visor. In front of it was a bullet splash protector. Left of the driver’s position, there was another vision port. Both of these were further protected with armored glass. What appears to be doors on the StuG III Ausf. A’s sides were actually angled plates that served as spaced armor. On the left superstructure side, a box-shaped armored extension was used to store the radio receiver (Empfanger h). Just behind it was a folded antenna. The rear armor plate was unusually angled, somewhat complicating the overall design.
Probably the most noticeable feature of the StuG III Ausf. A was the large sight tunnel placed above the driver’s position. It led to the gunner’s optics used to aim the gun. In the hope of protecting the optics, zig-zag type deflectors were added. This was slightly redesigned compared to the 0-series. This installation proved to be flawed in design and would later be abandoned. The top of this superstructure was bolted down and could be easily removed to facilitate repair or removal of the gun if needed. There were a few hatches added on the top. Two small hatches were placed above the gunner’s position. One served as an opening for the indirect fire sight. To the rear, there were two larger two-piece hatches used by the crew to enter their positions.
The gun itself was protected by a mantlet. Behind this, a canvas was used to protect the interior of the vehicle from the weather. This was connected to the hull using simple bolts.
The StuG III Ausf. A was well protected for its time. The front and upper hull armor were 50 mm thick and placed at 21° and 52° angles, respectively. The smaller lower hull plate, which was placed at 75°, was 30 mm thick, while the sides and rear were 30 mm thick.
The front superstructure armor plates were 50 mm thick. Like the hull armor, the superstructure side and rear were also 30 mm thick. The angled space armor was 9 mm thick and placed at a 30° angle. The top armor was 10 mm, while the top of the engine compartment was slightly thicker, at 16 mm. The gun mantlet was 50 mm thick. The StuG Ausf. A III was one of the most well-armored vehicles in the German arsenal at that time.
From August 1938 on, nearly all German Panzers were equipped with a Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung (smoke grenade rack system). This device was placed on the rear of the hull. It contained five grenades which were fired through a wired system by the commander. When activated, the StuG would then drive back under the safety of the smokescreen.
The main armament remained the same as used on the 0-series. It consisted of a 7.5 cm StuK 37 (Sturmkanone – assault cannon) L/24. It was more or less the same gun used on the Panzer IV tanks. The 7.5 cm StuK 37 was a semi-automatic gun, which meant that, after a round was fired, it was automatically ejected, enabling the loader to insert a new round. As it was intended as a close support weapon, it had a rather low muzzle velocity. Despite this, it was a fairly accurate gun, with a 100% hit probability in action at ranges up to 500 m. The accuracy dropped to 73% at 1 km and to 38% at distances of over 1.5 km. While, initially, it was requested that its maximum firing range be 7 km, it could only reach targets at 6 km.
While it was primarily designed to engage fortified positions using a 7.5 cm Gr Patr high-explosive round weighing 5.7 kg (at a 420 m/s velocity), it was also fairly good for engaging enemy armor. This fact is often overshadowed by its close support role (similar to the Panzer IV). Prior to the war, the Germans were clearly aware of the new French tank designs. When developing the 7.5 cm gun, they also introduced armor-piercing ammunition capable of piercing at least 40 mm of armor. The 7.5 cm PzGr patr was a 6.8 kg armor-piercing round with a muzzle velocity of 385 mps, and could pierce around 39 mm of 30° angled armor at distances of 500 m. The ammunition load consisted of 44 rounds stored in front of the loader. The 7.5 NbGr Patr was a smoke-screen round. When fired, it would create a smoke cloud that could cover an area of 15 to 20 m for a period of some 30 seconds. It is important to note that its effectiveness greatly depended on the weather. The secondary armament of the StuG III was unchanged and consisted of two 9 mm MP 38/40 submachine guns.
The 7.5 cm StuK 37 was equipped with a Rundblickfernrohr RblF 32 type panoramic gun sight. The elevation of the gun -10° to +20°, while the traverse was limited to 12° per side. Given the nature and role, it was to fulfill, the limited traverse and lack of turret were not major issues for the StuG III.
The crew of this vehicle consisted of four men, the commander, driver, loader, and gunner. While the loader was positioned to the right of the gun, the remaining crew were placed opposite of him. The driver was positioned in the left front side of the hull. Just behind him was the gunner, and right behind him was the commander.
The commander was not provided with a command cupola. In order to look for possible targets, the commander would use a scissors periscope. It was usually placed in a tube-shaped sunshade cover. With this, he could spot potential targets from inside the vehicle. However, he would often have to partly get out of his position to acquire targets, potentially exposing himself to enemy fire.
StuG III Ausf. A/B hybrids
The production of further StuG III versions was moved to Alkett. Almost from the start, there were delays in production, largely due to the introduction of the new transmission on the Panzer III. As there were no new available chassis, in order to avoid any major delays, some 20 additional StuG III Ausf. A was ordered to be built. Author T. Anderson (Sturmartillerie: Spearhead Of the Infantry) mentioned that there are two production numbers for this hybrid vehicle. While older sources mention a number of 6, a number of 20 seems more likely to be true. This number is supported by German production statistics published in the works of T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.8 Sturmgeschütz). The difference was that these were in essence hybrid vehicles, incorporating a chassis from the Panzer III Ausf. G merged with a superstructure intended for the StuG III Ausf. B version.
The hull front armor plate, which was 30 mm thick, was reinforced with an additional 20 mm of bolted armor plates. On the hull sides, between the front road wheels and return rollers, there were two small escape hatches. In addition, on the front hull armor plate, two enclosed air intake ports were installed.
The initial unit organization for these vehicles was quite simple, as it was limited by the available numbers. Six vehicles were used to form a Sturmartillerie Batterie (Eng. assault gun battery). These were divided into three zuge (Eng. platoons), each equipped with only two vehicles. As more StuG IIIs became available, their unit strength was increased to abteilungen (Eng. battalion) strength of 18 vehicles. These battalions were divided into three batteries, each 6 vehicles strong.
The StuG-equipped units were to be reinforced with armored half-tracks. As the StuG III had a relatively small ammunition load and was on the move constantly, ordinary trucks could not be used as ammunition carriers. Instead, the Sd.Kfz. 252 half-track was to be used. It had an interior storage capacity of 64 rounds. An additional 64 rounds could be carried in an ammunition trailer (Sd.Ah. 32/1). The Sd.Kfz. 253 vehicle was designed to act as a command vehicle and was thus equipped with radio equipment. The larger Sd.Kfz. 251/12 were to be used to transport replacement crews. In total, each StuG battery was supposed to have had 6 Sd.Kfz. 252, 5 Sd.Kfz. 253, and 3 Sd.Kfz 251s. In addition, an Sd.Kfz. 9 was allocated for the recovery of damaged vehicles.
Due to the slow production of this vehicle, not all of these support vehicles were available. The StuG units had to use what was at hand, including Sd.Kfz. 10s or modified Sd.Kfz. 251s (with a closed top) half-tracks and turretless Panzer Is.
The Artillery-Lehr-Regiment (ALR) stationed at Jüterbog was chosen to train the StuG crews. The first five vehicles of the 0-series were used extensively in this role. The whole training process was carried out in secrecy. The StuG crews were all volunteers from artillery regiments. The initial personnel consisted of 90 non-commissioned officers and 250 men.
At the start of 1939, as a Soviet Army Delegation was visiting the Jüterbog artillery center, they noticed the new vehicles and immediately took pictures of them. The German Army officials present felt they had to do something to prevent the pictures from reaching the USSR. They invited the delegation to visit Berlin, where a new (not specified in the source) aircraft type was to be presented. As the Soviet delegation was on their way to see the new aircraft at the Berlin Tempelhof airport, they walked through the corridor where a powerful X-ray gun was secretly placed. The Soviet delegation would be quite surprised when they later opened the films and saw that they were completely destroyed by the X-rays.
Prior to the Western campaign of 1940, the 24 available StuGs were distributed to four batteries: the 640th, 659th, 660th, and 665th. The 640th was combat-ready on the 4th of April, followed by the 659th on 20th April, 660th on 8th May, and the 665th on the 9th of May 1940. These were to be attached to various infantry divisions, depending on the combat needs. Two additional units were formed using the StuG III Ausf.A/B hybrids. These included the 666th and 667th batteries. The remaining StuG III Ausf. As we’re used to creating an SS assault battery for the LSSAH (Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler) division.
When the German attack came on the 10th of May 1940, the 640th Battery was the first to see action. It was attached to the Grossdeutschland Regiment. The 640th would be one of the first StuG batteries to be permanently attached to an infantry unit. After the western campaign, it would become part of the Grossdeutschland Regiment under the new 16th Assault Gun Battery name.
Unfortunately, due to the limited numbers of StuG III Ausf. As used during the Western campaign, not much is documented of their combat use by the Germans. The StuG IIIs from the 640th participated in the defense of German-held positions at Bulson Ridge. On the 14th of May, the French were trying to dislodge elements of the XIX Panzerkorps. The French attacked with FCM 36 tanks, which proved difficult to destroy using 3.7 cm anti-tank guns. The StuG III Ausf. A, together with 88 mm armed 12-tonne half-tracks, helped to turn the tide.
In a report made by private H. Engle from the 660th Battery after this campaign, he noted that:
“.. The French light tanks (R 35) were invulnerable to the 2 cm guns … but lost their turrets after being hit from our ‘Stummel’… We felt safe in our Sturmgeschütz and an after-action check at Givry-en-Argonne showed that our front plate had received 13 hits, but not one penetrated our armor.”
Only one StuG III Ausf. A was reported to be lost, but it was recovered and repaired. The performance of the StuG III in France was a huge success, and the Army officials demanded the production of the newer version be increased.
Following the completion of the Western campaign, the 660th, 666th, and 667th Batteries were used extensively in the preparation for Operation Sealion, which never came. After this, most of the first StuG batteries were transported to Northern Germany, where they were positioned up to early 1942. The fate of the remaining Ausf. As is not clear; it is likely that they were replaced with new models and then allocated for training.
The StuG III Ausf. A, while only being built in small numbers, proved that such a vehicle was quite desirable. It had a rather simple design, a low silhouette, and a powerful gun. What was most important was that it possessed good mobility, being able to quickly reposition to engage new targets. Nevertheless, the Ausf. A was only the first stepping stone. It would be supplemented by the new Ausf. B version, which was basically the same vehicle with some improvements.
Length 5.38 m, Width 2.92 m, Height 1.95 m
4 (Commander, Gunner, Loader, and Driver)
Maybach HL 120 TRM 265 hp giving 265 hp @ 2600 rpm
8×8 Infantry Fighting Vehicle Number built – 1 Prototype
In recent years, the Serbian military industry has managed to develop and produce a series of 8×8 wheeled armored vehicles, including the Lazar series. A recent addition to the 8×8 family has been the Lazanski wheeled Armored Combat Vehicle (ACV), demonstrated for the first time in October 2021 at the Partner-2021 military exhibition in Belgrade.
According to some Serbian media news outlets, such as RTS, the prototype of the Lazanski 8×8 is a further development of the Lazar III project, but actually, it is a completely new vehicle that incorporates much better armor protection combined with stronger offensive armament, capable of engaging both ground and air targets. In addition, the vehicle retains the capability of transporting 10 fully armed soldiers. One of the most interesting features of the new ACV is the Russian remotely controlled ‘Kinzhal’ (Dagger) combat module. At the moment, the vehicle is still in the early phases of development.
The author would especially want to thank Alex Tarasov, for helping with this article.
Given the Lazanski’s recent public display, the precise development history of this vehicle is not yet available to the public. According to the information revealed at the Partner-2021 exhibition, the Lazanski was developed by the well-known Serbian Yugoimport SDPR company, responsible for designing and manufacturing many modern armored vehicles in recent years. Yugoimport was founded back in 1949, with the intention of acquiring necessary military equipment for the JNA (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija, Yugoslav People’s Army) from abroad.
After 1953, Yugoimport expanded the scope of its business to the export of domestic military equipment. One of its most successful exports has been the Lazar series. The Lazar (Series I to III) is an 8×8 wheeled armored vehicle designed to be able to transport 3 crew members and 9 soldiers. These were designed to be highly modular and equipped with different weapon outfits. First presented in 2008, they have seen service with the Serbian armed forces and have seen limited export success with countries such as Pakistan.
Initially, the Lazanski project was named after medieval Serbian Emperor Stefan Dušan Silni. It was renamed Lazanski to honor the late military analyst and diplomat Miroslav Lazanski, who died in August 2021.
While Lazanski’s overall design was made by the Yugoimport engineers, some elements, such as the remote-controlled turret, were imported from Russia. Sources do not mention why the Serbian engineers decided to use this weapon system. However, this is not the first example of military-industrial cooperation between Russia and Serbia. Earlier in 2021, Yugoimport sold a batch of Lazar 3 wheeled ACVs armed with Russian-made BPPU turrets to Turkmenistan.
Given the general close cooperation between the Russian and Serbian arms industry, this also should not come as a surprise, as both sides benefit from this mutually reinforcing collaboration. The Serbian Army could receive a new high-tech weapon system without the need to invest in research and development. At the same time, the Russian side could enter new emerging markets thanks to the Serbian brand-new wheeled platform and the fact that the Serbian arms industry is not under the threat of sanctions.
The price of the Lazanski ACV might be between $2 and $2.5 million, depending on the armament and configuration, according to certain unverified sources. The export prospects are unclear at this point, however, it is possible that Serbia might enter new markets with the help of Rosoboronexport, the sole state intermediary agency for Russia’s exports/imports of defense-related and dual-use products, technologies, and services. However, with the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, it is unclear how this could affect the Lazanki.
Not much is known about the design and performance, as the vehicle is in its early development phase. However, some limited specifications have been revealed at the Partner-2021 exhibition. According to official sources, Serbia expects to finish trials of the platform by the end of 2022. While the Lazanski shares some similarities with the Lazar 3, it also incorporates a number of improvements.
Engine and the Chassis
The Lazanski ACV hull measures 8 m long, 3.2 m wide, and 2.6 m high. Overall height including the turret is 3.6 m. Since the platform could be equipped with modular armor protection, the weight would vary. The lightly armored version weighs 26 tonnes, while the weight of the Lazanski ACV fitted with heavy armor could reach up to 36 tonnes. The ACV does not have amphibious capabilities and features a hydro-pneumatic suspension.
The Lazanski is powered by a 711 hp Caterpillar C13 engine connected to a six-speed Allison 4000SP automatic transmission. The engine itself is placed on the front right side of the vehicle. The design of the running gear also incorporates driving axles produced by the Finnish company SISU, and a transfer gearbox by Katsu.
The Russian military blog bmpd, which is part of the CAST think-tank, points out that the automotive part of the Lazanski is very similar to Finnish Patria AMV XP.
Crew, Hull, and Internal Layout
The Lazanski’s hull is welded, made of armored steel, and has a relatively simple shape featuring flat rear and sides and sloping-down frontal plate. The internal layout is typical for basically all modern armored vehicles of this type, with an engine compartment at the front-right, driver’s compartment at the front-left next to the engine, the combat compartment in the middle, and, finally, the infantry dismount compartment at the back of the vehicle.
The engine is fully enclosed but has a few access hatches with ventilation grilles that the crew can use for maintenance.
Crew members can access their positions through the two hatches on the top of the hull or through the passage between the fighting compartment and the infantry dismount compartment. The crew could use the same passage as an emergency exit, allowing the crew to leave the vehicle through the rear ramp in case the hatches at the front are damaged or under enemy fire. Each crew hatch is provided with three vision blocks. Some elements of the hull are covered by an anti-slip coating. Dismounts are supposed to leave the vehicle by using the rear hydraulic ramp.
In order to fully operate the Lazanski, a crew of three is needed. This includes the commander, gunner, and driver. The driver is located on the front left side, with the commander’s and the gunner’s seats placed behind. To the rear is a large infantry dismount compartment where 10 fully armed soldiers can be stationed in shock-mitigating seats. The soldiers’ seats are divided into rows of five seats on each side, which are positioned opposite each other.
In order to provide the crew with an excellent field of view, the Lazanski is equipped with six surveillance infrared cameras which provide a full 360° field of vision. In addition, the driver has two mirrors, one placed on each side of the vehicle.
According to bmpd, the Lazanski is also equipped with several subsystems, such as an air conditioning unit, intercom, NBC protection, a navigation system, and an automated battle management system.
While other Serbian designs, such as the Lazar, have side doors and firing ports for dismounts, the Lazanski does not.
Turret and Armament
The Lazanski is armed with the ‘Kinzhal’ Russian-made remotely operated and controlled combat module.
The ‘Kinzhal’ (Dagger) is a further development of the AU-220M ‘Baikal’ RCWS. Both modules were developed by CRI Burevestnik, which is part of Uralvagonzavod.
The standard armament of the ‘Kinzhal’ consists of a 57 mm 2A91 (BM-57) autocannon with eighty ready-to-fire 57 x 348 mm rounds in the internal storage. The secondary armament consists of the coaxial 7.62 mm PKTM machine gun with 1,000 stored rounds and smoke dischargers. Additionally, ‘Kinzhal’ can be fitted with two 9M120 Ataka-M ATGMs. However, the exhibited prototype had no ATGMs installed.
‘Kinzhal’ includes a sophisticated fire control system (FCS) with day and night capability and a panoramic sight, but the exact specifications are not known. Typical ammunition load for the 2A91 autocannon consists of HE-T (UOR-281U) and AP-T (UBR-281U) rounds. Also, the manufacturer plans to develop a 57 mm programmable HE round and guided round for use against aerial targets, such as helicopters and UAVs.
The 2A91 57 mm autocannon originates from the S-60 autocannon used on the ZSU-57-2. The 2A91 retains the capability to use older rounds.
According to the manufacturer’s information, the turret weighs 3,850 kg, including elements installed inside the hull. Some sources, such as the Russian bmpd, say that the combat station fitted on the prototype exhibited at the Partner-2021 weighs only 3,600 kg.
This difference probably appeared because the turret was installed without some elements, such as Ataka ATGM launchers, or the prototype was equipped with a full-scale mock-up of the ‘Kinzhal’ RCWS.
Since the Lazanski’s design is modular, the vehicle could be quite easily fitted with a wide variety of turrets and weapon stations of either domestic or foreign origin. For example, Serbian news outlets mentioned that the idea to arm Lazanski with a Turkish-made MIZRAK-30 turret is under consideration.
Main specifications for the Kinzhal RCWS. Source: UVZ
57 mm 2A91 (BM-57) autocannon
Rate of fire, rpm
Initial velocity, m/s
Armor piercing at 1,500 m, mm
100-120 at 60 degrees
Ammunition (ready to fire), pcs
-5 to +60
7.62 mm PKTM machine gun
Ammunition (ready to fire), pcs
Rate of fire (PKTM), rpm
Total weight of the RCWS, kg
* Including the elements installed in the hull
Armor and Protection
The hull of the prototype is constructed from steel with additional ceramic armor. According to the manufacturer, the ballistic protection of the frontal arc reaches Level 5 STANAG 4569A, meaning it can withstand 25 mm projectiles from 500 m and 155 mm shell splinters. The ballistic protection of the sides and rear reaches STANAG 4569A Level 3, and is able to withstand 7.62 mm AP bullets from any distance. According to the designers, the effectiveness of this armor was examined and tested in Germany and Israel.
In addition, Yugoimport is developing an appliqué armor kit able to raise the ballistic protection to STANAG 4569A Level 6, which means the ability to withstand 30 mm APDS rounds from 500 m distance.
In terms of blast protection, the Lazanski has a V-shaped bottom and can sustain blasts of up to 10 kg of explosives (STANAG 4569B Level 4a/b).
Additionally, the Lazanski, in the configuration demonstrated at the Partner-2021 exhibition, was provided with several smoke dischargers for self-protection.
Future and Conclusion
The Lazanski is certainly an interesting design coming out of the relatively small Serbian military industry. According to Serbian media and its constructor, the Lazanski is a high-tech modern armored vehicle with huge military potential in domestic use or as an export product. Besides it, the Serbian military industry achieved some export success with the Lazar III and Nora series of self-propelled guns.
Given its experimental nature, it is hard to predict its fate at this point. However, it is possible to make several assumptions.
Firstly, the ACV is not in its final shape, and the development of the Russian Bumerang platform, which was constantly delayed, may offer a cautionary tale on how the development might take more time than is anticipated. Obviously, many changes and improvements are to be expected in the near future. These would probably be mainly focused on increasing its survivability and various additional equipment.
Secondly, given that the platform is designed on a modular basis, we can expect that various variants of the Lazanski will appear. In the future, the Lazanski might start a whole new family of combat and auxiliary armored vehicles, including APCs, ARVs, self-propelled artillery systems, C2, or CBRN variants, but this remains to be seen.
8 x 3.2 m x 2.6 m
Total weight, battle-ready
26 to 36 tonnes
3 (Commander, Gunner, and Driver) plus 10 Soldiers
In an effort to equip its cavalry divisions with armored vehicles, the Yugoslav Royal Army began a series of negotiations with several European nations. While for a variety of reasons almost all would end up unrealized, one would, to some extent, be successful. After a number of examinations and testing of various armored vehicles, finally, in 1936, a deal was made with the Czechoslovakian weapon manufacturer Škoda for the acquisition of 8 Š-I-d tankettes. These were delivered in August 1937 and remained in service up to 1941.
Need for Modernization
During the 1930s, armies in Europe, such as France, for example, were slowly modernizing their cavalry units by attaching various mechanized elements to increase their speed and combat effectiveness. Horses were being replaced with trucks that could transport soldiers, weapons, and supplies. To increase the offensive capabilities of these new mechanized units, armored vehicles, such as tanks and armored cars, were being attached to them.
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia’s neighbors also initiated such reorganizations of their cavalry units to some extent. Not wanting to be left behind in this arms race, the Yugoslavian Royal Army decided to implement a similar reorganization of its own cavalry divisions. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia originally had only two cavalry divisions, one formed after the First World War, and the second in 1921. These would be supplemented by the cavalry brigade which was attached to the Royal King’s Guard unit. In 1930, a bicycle battalion was also attached to each cavalry division. More serious steps in the motorization of these two divisions were initiated by General Milan Nedić in 1934. It was planned to attach a motorized regiment to each division. However, it was necessary to obtain some light tanks or tankettes for these cavalry units.
The Yugoslav Royal Army had fewer than 60 Renault FTs and its modified M-28 counterpart available in its inventory. Given the obsolescence and poor speed of available FT tanks, another vehicle was necessary to fulfill this role. This was not as easy a task as it seems at first glance. Europe at that time was getting deeper into a political fracture between the Western Allies and Germany. Countries that had a good relationship with Yugoslavia, such as France, wanted to dispose of their older surplus models first, keeping the new models for themselves in case of war with Germany. These older designs were not appealing to the Yugoslavian Royal Army officials, so they turned to other potential candidates. These included Poland, Czechoslovakia, and even the Soviet Union.
Search For A Proper Solution
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Poland had relatively good military cooperation, with the acquisition of different military equipment and weapons. In 1932, Poland and the Yugoslavian Royal Army signed an agreement for the purchase of some 14 Polish Renault FT tanks. A year later, one TK-3 tankette was tested to see if it satisfied the Royal Yugoslav Army’s requirements. While not much is known about these trials, it appears it was not successful, as no contract was ever signed.
Similarly, Czechoslovakia also had good cooperation with the Yugoslavian Royal Army. Both countries were members of the so-called ‘Little Entente’, the alliance formed in 1920-21 between Yugoslavia, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia possessed two well known military weapon manufacturers, Škoda (Pilsen) and Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk, ČKD (Prague). Škoda officials presented their new OA vz.27 armored car to the Yugoslavian delegation during 1930. While the Yugoslavian delegation was interested in this vehicle, due to its high price, nothing came from this. In 1933, both companies presented their new tankette designs to Royal Yugoslav Army officials. Škoda was the first to deliver its vehicle, which arrived in Yugoslavia in July 1933. A month later, the ČKD vz.33 tankette also arrived. After a series of tests and evaluations, both tankettes performed poorly. While the MU-4 had constant engine problems, the Yugoslav Royal Army showed interest in it, and asked Škoda officials to, if possible, improve its overall performance for new testing. The ČKD vz.33 tankette, on the other hand, was immediately rejected.
The Škoda engineers implemented some improvements on the MU-4, mostly regarding its weak engine, which was replaced with a stronger one. Once this and other minor modifications were done, it was once again tested by the Royal Yugoslav Army in late October 1934. While performing much better, and despite the initial negotiation for 40 such vehicles, nothing came from this.
Much later, in May of 1940, a Yugoslav Trade Delegation negotiated with the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, for the acquisition of military equipment. A total of 300 tanks were requested. While the Soviets initially agreed to this, not a single tank was ever given to Yugoslavia. The Soviets simply did not trust the Yugoslavian authorities and constantly postponed the delivery of the promised vehicles.
The Š-I-d Prototype
The early Škoda armored designs were mostly armed with machine guns. In 1935, its design teams began working on a new design. This time, however, the new vehicle was to be armed with one machine gun and a 37 mm gun. The prototype of this new tankette, which was designated Š-I-d, was completed by mid-1935.
The Š-I-d suspension consisted of two pairs of road wheels suspended using leaf springs. Three return rollers, a front-drive sprocket, and a rear positioned idler completed the running gear. The crews and the armament were placed in a box-shaped superstructure that had a command cupola on it. The armament consisted of a centrally mounted 37 mm A-3 gun, provided with 25 rounds of ammunition. On the front side of the front superstructure, a single 7.9 mm ZB. vz. 26 machine gun was placed with 2,600 rounds of ammunition. The frontal armored plates, which were fixed using bolts, were 20 mm thick. The sides were 10 mm, the rear 8 mm, and the bottom only 5 mm thick. This vehicle was powered by a 60 hp @ 2500 rpm Škoda engine. With this engine and a weight of 4.5 tonnes, the maximum speed was 41 km/h.
A Deal is Made
The same year as this vehicle was completed, 1935, it was presented Yugoslavian Royal Army. The Š-I-d was a great improvement over the previous Škoda works, and the Yugoslavian Royal Army showed great interest in it. After evaluation and testing, some changes were requested before an agreement was to be signed. These mainly included increasing the frontal armor protection from 20 to 30 mm. Strangely enough, the later delivered vehicles had a frontal armor that was slightly increased to 22 mm. Why this was not implemented or why the Yugoslav Royal Army accepted this is not clear. Regardless, the Ministry of the Army and Navy of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Škoda finally signed a contract on 30th June 1936. According to this contract, 8 such improved tankettes were bought at a total price of nearly 6 million Czechoslovak Crowns. These were to be completed and transported to Yugoslavia within the next 11 months. Due to delays in production, these were finally delivered in two batches, with the first one arriving on 14th August and the second on 25th August 1937.
While the 8 improved Š-I-d were delivered to Yugoslavia, the prototype remained at Škoda. It would remain there until April 1940, when a German SS delegation bought it. It was delivered to Germany in July 1940, and from that point on, its ultimate fate is unknown, but it was likely scrapped.
The Š-I-d designation is actually an abbreviation. “Š” stands for the first letter of the manufacturer, Škoda. “I”, the Roman numeral for ‘1’, represents the vehicle category, in this case, a tankette (category II was for light tanks and category III was for medium tanks). The “d” stands for “dělový”, which was a gun-armed version designation. The improved Š-I-d was accepted into service under the designation “Брза борна кола T-32” (Eng. Fast fighting vehicle). What precisely the letter ‘T’ or the number 32 meant is not mentioned in the sources. The Royal Yugoslav Army at that time did not use the term tank. Among the soldiers that were operating these vehicles, these were known as Škoda Šid, likely imitating the name of a Serbian town named Šid.
There are some disagreements between different authors about the correct designation for this vehicle. For example, D. Babac (Elitni Vidovi Jugoslovenske Vojske u Aprilskom Ratu) mentions this vehicle’s designation as S id. B. D. Dimitrijević (Borna Kola Jugoslovenske Vojske 1918-1941) describes the prototype being named as Š-1-d, while the production vehicles were named Š1D. To further complicate the matter, H. L. Doyle and C. K. Kliment (Czechoslovak armored fighting vehicles 1918-1945) mention this vehicle as T-3D. To avoid any further confusion, this article from this point on will refer to the vehicle as the T-32.
The hull of this vehicle was divided into three sections, the front part, where the transmission was positioned, the center crew compartment, and the rear positioned engine compartment. The hull was slightly shorter in contrast to the prototype, having a length of 3.58 m compared to 3.7 m. The width was almost the same, being 1.95 m, while the prototype was 2 m wide.
In comparison to the prototype, the T-32 had a slightly modified suspension. It consisted, per side, of two pairs of road wheels, suspended by leaf-spring units, and one additional road wheel suspended on a vertical spring. There was one large front drive sprocket, rear positioned idler, and four small return rollers.
The T-32 was powered by a (sources do not give us a precise type or name) Škoda 60 hp (44.2 kW) @2,500 rpm petrol engine. With a weight of 4.8 tonnes, or 5.8 tonnes, depending on the source, the maximum speed was 41 km/h. The T-32 had a fuel load of 115 liters, which provided it with an operational range of 260 km.
The engine compartment was completely covered and protected with armored plates. On the sides of the engine compartment were two exhaust pipes. On top of the engine compartment, a large box with an unknown purpose was positioned.
The superstructure consisted of a simple rectangular armored shape. It was not completely flat, as its sides were slightly angled, though the precise angle is not mentioned in the sources. The front plate had an opening in the center, where the main gun was placed. Left of it was a small observation port. To the right was the much larger driver visor port. If these were additionally protected with armored glass is not mentioned in the sources. There was an additional visor port placed to the right of the driver. The rear plate was used to store two spare road wheels. Additional working tools could be attached to the superstructure sides.
The superstructure top plate was mostly flat, with a small portion of it being slightly curved toward the front of the vehicle. On the left, a large round-shaped command cupola was positioned, with a much simpler hatch for the driver next to it. The commander’s cupola was provided with four large observation ports, each placed to cover one side of the vehicle. On top of the cupola, a cylinder-shaped object probably served as a flag port that was used by the commander to communicate with other vehicles.
The T-32’s armor consisted of armored plates that were held in place using bolts. The front armor was 22 mm thick. The side armor was 12 mm and the rear was 8 mm thick. The vehicle’s bottom was only 5 mm thick. This vehicle was very lightly protected. Its best protection was its small overall size. These armor values are taken from N. Đokić and B. Nadoveza (Nabavka Naoružanja Iz Inostranstva Za Potrebe Vojske I Mornarice Kraljevine SHS-Jugoslavije). On the other hand, D. Denda mentions that the maximum armor thickness was 30 mm.
For its small size, the T-32 was remarkably well-armed. Its main armament consists of a Škoda 37 mm ÚVJ gun (sometimes called Škoda 37 mm A3). Part of the gun and its upper recoil cylinder were protected with a steel jacket. The elevation of this gun was -10° to +25°, while the traverse was 15° in both directions. It was a modern gun at that time and could penetrate some 30 mm of armor at 500 meters. The composition of the ammunition load varies between the sources, with authors disagreeing between 25 to 42 rounds.
Secondary armament included a ZB vz.30 J machine gun. It was positioned in a small ball mount on the right side of the vehicle’s superstructure. The elevation for the ZB vz.30 J machine gun was -10° to +20°, while the traverse was 15° in both directions. The ammunition load consisted of 1,000 rounds.
The T-32 had a crew of two, including the commander and the driver. The commander was positioned on the left side of the vehicle. Besides commanding, the commander was also responsible for operating the main gun, including finding targets, loading the gun, and firing it. The driver, who was positioned on the right side, operated the machine gun. Due to the small size of the vehicle, no more crew members could be placed inside it. This arrangement greatly diminished the effectiveness of the crew, as they were simply overburdened with the different tasks that they had to perform.
Service Before the War
Once in Yugoslavia, these 8 vehicles were used to form the Eskadron brzih bornih kola (Eng. fast combat vehicle squadron). This was divided into two platoons, each with four vehicles, supplemented by two armored cars, and two improvised armored trucks. The squadron was stationed at the Cavalry School in Zemun, near Belgrade.
While more modern than other armored vehicles that were in Yugoslavian Royal Army service, the T-32’s performance was somewhat disappointing. While it possessed good firepower, its weakest part was the poor suspension design, which made it prone to frequent breakdowns. This, in turn, meant that only a few vehicles were operational at any given time, while the remaining ones had to be sent to an army workshop for repair. In the Yugoslav Royal service, the T-32s were painted in a three-tone camouflage of brown, green, and ochre.
In the lead-up to the war with the Axis powers that began in April 1941, the T-32s were extensively used in various military exercises and occasionally on parades. The T-32s were involved in military exercises at Ada Ciganlija, near Belgrade, in 1940. These exercises were actually the first-ever recorded color documentary videos made in Yugoslavia.
In March 1941, the government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was negotiating with the Germans to join the Axis powers. A group of pro-Western Yugoslav Air Force officers, under the leadership of General Dušan Simović, staged a coup on 27th March 1941 in order to prevent this from happening. They were supported by the R35 tanks, which were deployed at key locations in the capital Belgrade. The T-32s were not initially involved but would participate in the parade in honor of the success of the coup later that day.
Tactics of Employment
Despite the appearance of an anti-tank or an assault vehicle, like, for example, the German StuG III series, according to the Royal Yugoslav Army, the T-32 was meant to fulfill the role of a support weapon. It was intended to perform a few different tasks. Reconnaissance of enemy flank positions and attacks on enemy flanks and vital points, but only in cooperation with other units. Frontal direct attacks were to be avoided as much as possible. These were only permitted when the enemy was caught off guard and if sufficient artillery support was available.
The T-32 could act as a vanguard, when a platoon would be divided into two groups of two vehicles. The first group would advance, while the second would remain in reserve. In rearguard operations, the T-32 was to attack enemy flanks and thus slow down their movements.
Thus, the T-32 was not intended as a vehicle that would lead an attack, but instead as a support element for other units. To maximize its effectiveness, the crew were to use its low silhouette, good speed, and firepower, and if possible, with a factor of a surprise to their advantage.
Some sources, such as L. Ness (World War II Tanks And Fighting Vehicles) wrongly identify it as an anti-tank vehicle. Despite having a gun with good anti-tank performance against lighter armored targets, the Yugoslav Royal Army never intended it to solely fulfill this role.
The Improved Š-I-J
After initial experiences with the T-32, the Yugoslav military leadership asked Škoda to develop better armored and armed vehicles with a more reliable suspension. In 1939, Škoda presented an improved tankette designated Š-I-J (‘J’ for Jugoslavsky/Yugoslavia) to the Royal Yugoslav Army. While visually quite similar to the T-32, it incorporated a number of improvements, mainly regarding armament and suspension. The Yugoslav Royal Army was pleased with this new model and was interested in purchasing 108 such vehicles, however, nothing came of this in the end.
Just prior to the Axis attack on Yugoslavia on 6th April 1941, the squadron of fast combat vehicles, with all 8 T-32s, was based in Zemun. This unit was also supplemented with an old First World War-era armored car and two indigenously armored trucks. The primary mission of this unit was to protect the capital Belgrade from any possible enemy attack from the north or an airborne assault. The commander of the unit at that time was Cavalry Major Dušan G. Radović.
While the Axis attack was anticipated, the Yugoslav military planners failed to estimate its sheer size and speed of advance. Almost from the start, the Yugoslav Royal Army was in complete disarray and chaos, with the majority of units failing to fully mobilize their manpower. The squadron of fast combat vehicles did not participate in the war up to 10th April. Given the Axis attack from Bulgaria in the east, this unit received an order to move and protect the Belgrade-Niš area. As it moved toward the city of Niš, it was meant to establish a new base of operations there and go under the control of the command of that area. Due to the general chaos, as the unit was leaving Belgrade, it was ordered by the Commander of the Srem Division to proceed toward the Mladenovac-Aranđelovac area and finally to the city of Topola. At least one T-32 had to be abandoned in Belgrade due to a mechanical breakdown. This particular vehicle was captured by the advancing Germans. Interestingly enough, the T-32s were, due to an unknown reason, not supplied with anti-tank rounds at this point, only with high-explosive rounds.
The unit arrived at Topola during the night of 10th April. There, it was placed under the command of the VI Army. On the following day, the unit set up defensive positions around the road that led from Mladenovac to Topola. The same day, at around 10 PM, two T-32s were ordered to carry out a reconnaissance mission toward the city of Kragujevac. The communication lines with this city were lost and the current position of the enemy advance was not clear. Unfortunately for them, the Germans were already in Kragujevac and dispatched a small group of several tanks toward Topola. While on the way to their objective, one T-32 had a mechanical breakdown and had to be abandoned. The second vehicle, commanded by Lieutenant Ljubomir Mihajlović, continued on its own. It unexpectedly got in the path of the advancing German tanks. Both sides were probably surprised for a few minutes before the German tanks opened fire. Lacking anti-tank rounds, Lieut. Ljubomir Mihajlović could do little to oppose the enemy tanks and ordered the driver to pull back to safety. On the way back, this vehicle too had to be abandoned to a mechanical breakdown.
At 1 PM, the Germans attacked the Yugoslav Topola defense positions. By this point, at least 5 T-32s were still operational. In a counter-attack attempt, the T-32s managed to temporarily stop the German advance. The unit commander’s vehicle alone managed to destroy three German tanks, including a command vehicle. Unfortunately, he was killed while trying to escape his burning vehicle, which was hit by return enemy fire. After three and a half hours of fighting, the Yugoslav positions were finally overrun. The fate of the defending T-32s is not clear. Some may have escaped the destruction of the Yugoslav forces in Topola and moved to Mladenovac, where they were finally lost.
In German Hands
The Germans managed to capture at least some of these vehicles in various conditions. In their service, the T-32 was renamed to Pz. Kpfw. 732 (j). The precise fate of these after this point is not known. What is sure is that not all available vehicles were used by the Germans during the occupation of Yugoslavia. It is very likely that all the captured tankettes were eventually sent for scrap metal at some point during the Second World War. None of the T-32s survived the war and their final fate remains unknown to this day.
Compared with the tankettes from other states, on paper, the T-32 was a major step forward. This tankette had a low silhouette, was fast, well-armed, and armored. However, the T-32 suffered from problems with its suspension, which was structurally very weak and prone to failures. As a result, most of the T-32 vehicles spent months in the Army’s repair workshops. The two-man crew was simply overburdened with the tasks that they had to perform. Lastly, and probably their most major issue, was their small production run of only 8 vehicles. This greatly diminished their combat use and made the acquisition of spare parts difficult given the fact that by 1938, Škoda was in German hands. Nevertheless, the T-32 provided the Yugoslav Royal Army with a more modern vehicle than its armored pool of existing vehicles, albeit in limited numbers only.
Imperium of Man (41st and 42nd Millennium) Type: Heavy Tank
“In the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium, there is only war.” This is the starting slogan of Game Workshop’s Warhammer 40K Sci-Fi universe, where mankind is besieged by many threats in the form of alien and traitor attacks. In order to defend its vast domain, the Imperium of Man employs armies equipped with highly advanced and slightly less so (but present in almost unlimited numbers) vehicles. One of these is the huge Macharius heavy tank.
The Warhammer 40K universe
The Warhammer 40K universe is set at the end of the 41st and the start of the 42nd millennia in the future. While many different factions (T’au, Necrons, Eldar, Orks, to name some) are part of the large universe, the main protagonist is the Imperium of Man. This is a vast galaxy-spanning human civilization besieged by many external and internal threats (aliens, heretics, demons, to name a few). The Imperium of Man is led by the immortal God-Emperor, who has remained immobile for over 10,000 years on the golden throne on Terra (Earth). The Emperor is worshiped as a God who protects his people from many threats.
The Imperium is a totalitarian regime in which untold billions of Imperium citizens live under harsh conditions, surrounded by oppression from their planetary lords, technology stagnation, fear of the Xenos (aliens), with only the faith in the God-Emperor that keeps them going forward. In order to defend Humanity, the Imperium calls to service fast armies of supersoldiers (Adeptus Astartes/Space Marines), Armies of the Tech Priesthood of Mars, and from its many Forge Worlds (controlled by the Adeptus Mechanicus), the ever-vigilant Inquisition, and many other military organizations. Lastly, but probably the most important and the one that always responds first, are the countless billions of soldiers of the Imperial Guard (Astra Militarum). These ordinary humans have to fight the horrors of the Universe with nothing more than a Lasgun (basically an AK 47 of the future) and faith in the God-Emperor. They are supported by countless armored vehicles, including tanks, such as the immense Macharius Heavy tank.
Warhammer 40K is the property of Games Workshop company (also its sister company, the Forge World, which sells the Macharius scale models), together with other franchises like Warhammer Fantasy or the Age of Sigmar. Games Workshop is well known for selling their Warhammer 40K models, along with different types of accessories necessary for painting and assembly of these models. It also possessed a vast library (Black Library) that includes a series of rules and storybooks that describe many different stories of this – to some – fascinating science fiction universe. This company traces its origins back to 1975 in London when a small workshop for building and selling wooden game boards was opened. During the early 1980s, the first series of board games, that would eventually evolve into the Warhammer (both fantasy and Sci-fi universes), appeared. Over the years, these would evolve into one of the largest and best-known board games in the world.
History of the Macharius Heavy Tank
Given the nature of the Warhammer 40K setting, spanning a history of over 40 millennia old, things are often described as being lost or forgotten. Such is the case of the Macharius tank, which is described as having been used in the distant human past, but due to huge cataclysmic events, simply forgotten. Its design and construction methods were understandably lost in the vast and sometimes abandoned archives of many distant forge worlds (worlds involved in the production of various types of equipment, spaceships, military vehicles, and weapons) spread across the known Universe. On one such forge world, named Lucius, in search of old technologies long since lost, Magos (basically meaning engineer) Nalax came across fragments of a heavy tank. After years and years of painstaking research, he finally gathered all available information, which allowed him to finally reconstruct the long-forgotten heavy tank. He then went to the main forge world of Mars to petition the High Fabricator-General (essentially the highest authority of all forge worlds) for this new design to be formally accepted. Unfortunately for Magos Nalax, he never lived to see the final verdict of his petition, as the whole acceptance process took over 200 years. After years of testing and tedious discussions, this tank was finally approved for production and received the name Macharius in honor of one of the greatest generals of the Imperial Guard, Lord Commander Solar Macharius.
At the same time when the production of the Macharius was approved, forge world Lucius received the STC (Standard Template Construct, which refers to a computer possessing the necessary schematics on how to build certain technologies, ranging from simple tools to spaceships) for the production of the massive Baneblade super-heavy tank. It appears that the work of the Magos Nalax would be forgotten. But due to the huge demand for weapons of war and the slow production of the Baneblade, it was decided that the Macharius would be put into service. The Macharius was initially supplied to the newly created Death Korps of Krieg regiments, which specialized in siege and attrition warfare. It was later supplied to various units spread across the Galaxy as well.
The real-life design inspiration of the Macharius (and most other Imperial Guard vehicles) mostly consists of World War One and World War Two vehicles. With the hull and suspension units being taken from the First and the armament and turret design from the Second World War.
The Macharius hull can be divided into several different components. These are the rear positioned engine compartment, central fighting compartment with the turret placed on top, front driver compartment, and the two large suspension compartments. The Macharius tank is constructed using a combination of welding and bolted armor plates.
The superstructure of the Macharius occupies a large portion of the tank’s center and rear, partly extending over the rear parts of the tracks. While most parts of the Macharius’ armor plates are flat, a portion of the front superstructure armor plate (above the driver’s compartment) is placed at a 45° angle. While the flat armor provided relatively less protection than angled armor of the same thickness, it would be necessary in order to increase the internal space needed for the large crew, ammunition, and other equipment. Two protected observation ports and what could be some sort of camera or other sighting device are placed on this plate.
The driver’s compartment is placed on the vehicle’s right front side. This compartment has a simple box shape with a small cupola, which has five observation ports, placed on top of it. In front of it, another single-piece hatch with an observation port is located. On its left side, a firing point armed with heavy stubbers is placed. The weapon mount has a small gun sight and a larger armored periscope on top of it. While the driver’s side view is partially blocked by the suspension and track frame, the top observation ports provide a limited field of vision to the sides.
Engine and suspension
The Macharius is powered by an LC400 V18 P2 engine that can run on any type of fuel. The fuel is stored in two large tanks placed on both sides of the engine. Additional fuel can be carried in two horizontally placed fuel drums at the rear of the vehicle. The overall driving performance for a tank built so far in the future is quite poor, with the maximum speed being 26 km/h and the off-road speed being even less at 18 km/h. There is no information about its operational range. The engine itself is positioned in the rear of the vehicle. It can be reached either through a two-part hatch or a larger single-piece metal plate with a ventilation grill located on top of the engine compartment. The engine is equipped with two large exhaust pipes.
The Macharius’ suspension and track frame are completely enclosed by armored shields. This overall design is heavily inspired by the British tanks from the First World War. The suspension consists of 9 road wheels and an unknown number of return rollers. The drive sprockets are likely located to the rear, while on the front, an idler with a track tension screw is placed. The tracks are mostly completely exposed to enemy fire, and given their large size, can be easily destroyed, leading to immediate immobilization.
The inspiration for the Macharius turret comes more or less from the German Panzer II tank. It has the same overall basic shape, being slightly enlarged and with some other differences. The Macharius turret has a hexagonal shape with the round commander’s cupola placed on the right side. The rear armor plate is slightly angled. The side armor consists of two plates. The rear smaller one narrows toward the back armor plate. The longer front side plates also narrow toward the gun mantlet. The gun mantlet is surrounded by two highly curved plates on both sides. Above the gun mantlet, a movable armor plate serves to provide additional protection when the guns are in a level position. The turret’s top armor is mostly flat and slightly curves toward the gun.
On top of the turret, there is what appears to be a round-shaped ventilation port protected with an armored cover. Next to it is a protected telescope sight. What possibly is a targeting acquisition sight is located on the left side. Behind it, a small hatch is added to the rear of the side armor. Given its size, it seems unlikely that it is used for removing spent cartridges. On the back of the turret, a large three-part storage bin is installed.
On the right side of the turret top, a large round-shaped commander’s cupola protrudes out. A two-part hatch is placed on top. In order for the commander to have a good overall view of the surroundings, he is provided with 16 small vision ports.
The main armament of the Macharius consists of twin-linked large battle cannons placed in the turret. These are 120 mm smoothbore cannons that fire armor-piercing high-explosive rounds (APHE). With this armament, the Macharius is ideal for dealing with enemy armor but also large concentrations of infantry thanks to its large explosive blast radius. The total ammunition load for these two guns is 40 rounds. The turret can rotate 360o, while the elevation of the main armament ranges from -2° to +28°.
Secondary weapons consist of two hull-positioned heavy stubbers, with two more placed on the sponson mounts in the hull sides. The heavy stubbers are basically equivalent to modern-day heavy machine guns and operate the same way. The weapon mount is protected with a round shield that rotates as the stubbers move. The firing arc of the side sponson mounts is 20° to 130° and the traverse appears to be around -10° to +10°. This unusual firing arc essentially prevents these guns from firing directly forward. The gunners observe their target through small vision ports. To the rear of the sponson mounts, a large square-shaped hatch is placed.
The sponson weapons can be replaced with either two heavy flamers or two heavy bolters. Heavy bolters are enlarged machine guns that are specially designed to fire rocket-propelled and mass-reactive 2.5 cm shells simply known as bolts. The hardened tip is capable of penetrating most infantry armor (and light vehicles), obliterating the target with its explosive charge from within. The heavy flamer is basically an enlarged flamethrower with extended range and potency for destruction. The ammunition for the heavy stubbers consists of 1000 rounds and 600 rounds for the heavy bolters. One more heavy stubber can be added on the commanded cupola, which has to be operated by him. The Macharius can also be outfitted with a one-shot Hunter-Killer anti-armor missile launcher.
The overall turret armor was 220 mm thick, while the gun mantlet was 150 mm thick. The superstructure is 200 mm thick and the hull 150 mm thick. This overall armor thickness, together with the bolted armor, does not look very impressive for a vehicle produced in the far future. Its strength probably relies on the materials used in the construction of its armor plates. They are probably made using futuristics materials that are extremely resistant to heat, ballistic impacts, and other weapons. For additional protection and tactical use, smoke launchers can be installed on the tank.
Given its immense size, the Macharius needs a large crew in order to work properly. In the turret, the commander, gunner, and two loaders are positioned. In the hull are the driver, comms-operator, (radio operator), and two more gunners. The comms-operator is tasked with operating the two hull positioned stubbers. The hull gunners each operate a sponson weapon on the hull sides. It is highly likely that the Macharius was provided with a number of targeting, communication and other cogitators (computers in Warhammer 40K) to help the crew better operate the vehicle.
The Macharius tank’s first major combat use was during the 17 year-long sieges of Vraks, the capital city of the planet Vraks Prime. The Imperial authorities were overrun by insurgents who then proceeded to plunder the enormous war material storage depots present on the planet, including tanks, artillery, and other weapons needed to prepare for the Imperial retaliation. The capital Vraks was reinforced with many trenches, minefields, bunkers, and other defensive systems. The Imperium responded by sending in the 88th Siege Army to retake the planet, composed of units taken from the Planet of Krieg which were specialized in siege warfare. The subsequent battle lasted 17 years, leading to some dozen or so millions of dead and the complete destruction of Vraks Prime. The Macharius was used in this operation by the 88th Siege Army, providing the Imperials with strong fire support. Thanks to its long tracks, it was capable of crossing the many trenches that covered the killing fields of Vraks. Following the end of this campaign, the Macharius was slowly distributed to various other Imperial armored formations.
Sub-version based on the Macharius
The Macharius tank had two versions with a different main armament, along with several other variants based on the chassis.
A specialized anti-tank sub-version of the Macharius is the so-called Macharius Vanquisher. It is named after its improved main armament, the twin-linked Vanquisher cannons. These cannons fire special anti-tank ammunition at high velocity. Besides the change in the main armament, the secondary weapons are unchanged.
Another variant of the standard Macharius tank is the Macharius Vulcan. Like the previously mentioned Vanquisher, its name derives from its new main armament, the five-barrelled Vulcan Mega-Bolter. Two of these are mounted in the turret instead of the battle cannons. They are able to fire over a thousand rounds per minute and are excellent at destroying enemy infantry formations and lightly armed targets. In order to accommodate the extra ammunition needed, the crew had to be reduced to six crew members.
This version of the Macharius, unlike the previously mentioned vehicles, received a number of overall design modifications in order to accommodate the massive and extremely potent Omega-pattern Plasma Blastgun. This weapon (while prone to malfunctions or even explosions) creates extensive heat that then melts any armor without any trouble. In order to house the massive weapon, it was placed inside a new rear open-top fighting compartment on top of the Macharius hull. Additional changes include the removal of the two superstructure positioned stubbers. The inspiration for the vehicle was probably taken from German World War II self-propelled vehicles (like the Wespe or Marder series) that usually featured a powerful gun but only limited armor protection.
Praetor Armoured Assault Launcher
The Praetor is basically equivalent to a modern-day MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System). It uses the chassis of the Macharius tank with a front-mounted fighting compartment with two front weapon mounts. To the rear, a large rocket launcher can be raised or lowered under armor. Depending on the need, this vehicle can be equipped with different types of missiles, including anti-vehicle, anti-air, etc.
Gorgon Heavy Assault Transport
The Gorgon was designed to fulfill the role of a transport vehicle on the front lines, mainly for short distances. It is capable of transporting a whole platoon of some 50 men. While heavily armored, it is completely open-topped, exposing the men inside to enemy projectiles that come from above. Another noticeable feature is the large forward-mounted armored ramp.
Crassus Armored Transport
The Crassus is another type of transporter. In comparison to the Gorgon, it is fully enclosed. It is armed with four weapon mounts. There is a large hatch on the rear of the vehicle that acts as the entry point for the infantry that is being transported.
While the Macharius looks intimidating, the creators of this vehicle took inspiration from historical tanks and kitbashed them without much consideration of how its overall design would function. For example, while it is heavily armored, its tracks are completely exposed and present a huge target. The maximum speed is described as being less than 30 km/h. On the other hand, it fits perfectly into the Imperial Guard’s overall aesthetics and logic. For the Imperial Guard, more advanced weapons are rare while less advanced vehicles are used in such huge numbers. The Guard often employs simple tactics, counting on an overwhelming force of men, armor, and artillery which is enough to bring down any kind of resistance but not without huge cost in life and war materials.
10.9 x 7 x 4.8 m
8 (Commander, Gunner, Driver, Two Loaders, Radio Operator and two sponson weapon Gun Operators)
LC400 v18 p2 Multi-Fuel
26 km/h on-road, 18 km/h off-road
150 to 220 mm
W. Kinrade (2007) Armour Volume FIve The Siege Of Vraks – Part One, Forge world
Self-propelled anti-tank vehicle- One incomplete prototype
During the Second World War, the German Army officials wanted to improve the overall performance of their Panzer IIIs and IVs. One such project involved combining a number of elements from both tanks into a new design. In addition, new elements, such as an improved suspension and superstructure with angled armor were also to be added. The project was simply designated as Panzer III/IV, on which a self-propelled anti-tank variant was also developed, named Panzer IV/70 (E).
The Panzer III/IV project
Incorporating components from the Panzer III and IV into a single-vehicle was something that the Germans tried doing even before the start of the war. Early during the Panzer development, Wa Pruef 6 (the office of the German Army’s Ordnance Department responsible for designing tanks and other motorized vehicles) wanted to redesign the Panzer IV Ausf.C in order to be equipped with the newly developed Panzer III torsion bar suspension. For this reason, at the start of June 1937, Krupp, at that time, the sole Panzer IV manufacturer, was asked to cease any further work on the Panzer IV chassis. However, with the development of the Panzer III Ausf.E chassis was running at a slow pace due to the introduction of a new torsion bar suspension and a new transmission It was estimated that the first experimental chassis could not be built prior to April 1938. As there was a large demand for Panzer IV support tanks, in October 1937, Krupp was informed to continue working and producing Panzer IVs in their current form, which would remain basically the same until the end of the war.
The consolidation of the two different designs into a single-vehicle offered many advantages: reducing the cost of production, increasing the availability of spare parts, etc. But, as these two vehicles were becoming obsolete and the focus moved to more advanced tanks, such as the Tiger and Panther, the development of a Panzer III/IV hybrid was seen as redundant at that point.
The idea of building a Panzer III/IV vehicle, while initially discarded, was not completely abandoned. In January of 1944, a Panzerkomission (tank commission) was formed to once again determine how the Panzer III/IV hybrid should be further developed. This vehicle was to be designated as Panzerkampfwagen auf Einheitsfahrgestell III/IV Ausf.A, or more simply known as Panzer III/IV. It was agreed by the tank commission, that this new vehicle would use the modified chassis and the engine of a Panzer IV, with the steering gear, transmission, and final drives from the Panzer III. In addition, a new suspension and upper superstructure with sloped armor were also to be implemented. Work on the first few trial vehicles was to commence from March 1944, while the production would start in early 1945. In the end, by July 1944, the whole Panzer III/IV project was terminated. This vehicle simply did not offer that much of an improvement over a standard Panzer IV to warrant the introduction of a new vehicle.
The Anti-Tank Version Based on the Panzer III/IV
Interestingly, when the same tank commission met at the start of 1944, besides the talks about the Panzer III/IV, another project based on it was also proposed. This was to be an anti-tank version based on the Panzer III/IV chassis, designated at that simply as Jagdpanzer III/IV. This particular vehicle was heavily influenced by an earlier project based on the Panzer IV chassis. This project consisted of a Panzer IV chassis that was equipped with a new and well-sloped armor superstructure (known as Jagdpanzer IV). Initially, the Jagdpanzer IV was to be armed with the 7.5 cm L/70 gun. As this gun could not be produced in sufficient numbers, as a temporary solution, the shorter 7.5 cm L/48 gun had to be used instead until the production of the longer version could match up with the demand.
The Jagdpanzer III/IV project would incorporate many components that were already in production. This included the sloped superstructure, 7.5 cm L/70 tank gun, engine, etc. As these components were already available, the overall development time and costs could be greatly reduced. The only major modification was a completely redesigned suspension. Thus, the prospect of producing this vehicle did not seem a far-fetched idea. Given the German plans to cancel the overall Panzer IV production and instead focus on the anti-tank version based on it, great interest in this project arose. In addition, the Jagdpanzer IV’s general combat performance was deemed satisfactory, having excellent armor, low silhouette, and possessing sufficient firepower to deal with any Allied tank, further encouraging the Germans that another such vehicle was desirable.
In March 1944, Alkett received orders to prepare for the production of the first few trial vehicles meant to be used for testing. The German Army officials went to such an extent that, two months later, they informed Alkett and MIAG (Maschinenfabrik und Mühlenbau) that the StuG III production would cease in favor of the new Jagdpanzer III/IV project. The companies were to make the necessary preparations for the production of this vehicle, which was to commence in November 1944. During the first few months of 1945, three additional manufacturers, Krupp, Vomag, and Nibelungenwerke were also to be included in the Jagdpanzer III/IV production.
Initially, the project was designated as Jagdpanzer III/IV. During the war, it was quite common for the Germans to change the designation for their vehicles, and the Jagdpanzer III/IV was no exception. In July 1944, Adolf Hitler insisted that the name of all Jagdpanzer IV should be changed to the much simpler Panzer IV lang (long). In addition, the capital letter of the manufacturer was also added to them, such as (A) for Alkett and (V) for Vomag. In the case of the now Panzer IV lang (E), the E stood for Einheitsfahrgestell (which could be translated as standard chassis). The name would eventually further be changed to the even simpler Panzer IV/70 (E). This article will refer to it as such.
Despite the Panzer IV/70 (E) never being fully completed (no surviving photograph of its components exist), thanks to the fact that it would share most components with the Panzer IV/70 (V), a somewhat clear picture of how its overall design may have looked can be considered.
The Panzer IV/70 (E) hull was likely quite similar to that of a Panzer IV. Given the introduction of new parts, for example, the transmission, there would be some changes made to incorporate them.
The front hull was redesigned and had a more sharply angled shape, with the glacis being placed at 60° and the lower hull at 45°. The transmission and steering brake inspection hatches appear to have been removed based on a few drawings of Panzer IV/70 (E). The upper part of the hull, where the two steering brake inspection hatches were originally positioned, was slightly raised.
The Panzer IV/70 (E) more or less had a superstructure directly copied from the Panzer IV/70 (V). It was designed to provide the best possible protection with its angled and thick armor. The angled shape of the superstructure provided thicker effective armor and also increased the chance of deflecting enemy shots. Also, by using larger one-piece plates, it was much stronger and also easier to produce.
On the front angled plate, slightly to the right, was the gun with its mantlet. Next to it, on the right side, was a small round-shaped machine gun port. It was protected by a movable hemispherical-shaped armored cover. To the left of the gun was a small visor for the driver.
On the top part of the superstructure were two escape hatches. The right round-shaped one was for the loader. Left of it, the commander’s hatch had a small rotating periscope in the middle. The commander had a small additional hatch for the use of a retractable telescope. In front of the loader and commander hatches was a sliding armored cover for the gunsight. Additional periscopes with armored covers would likely have been added on the Panzer IV/70 (E) superstructure’s roof.
During the Panzer IV/70 (E)’s development phase, it appears that a few different ideas for the suspension were proposed, though sources do not mention which precisely. In the end, German engineers decided to go with six 660 mm diameter road wheels. As rubber became a rare commodity in Germany in late 1944, these were instead steel-tired and internally sprung. It is not completely clear, but, according to T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No.20-1 Paper Panzers), these were suspended using simple leaf spring units. Author J. Ledwoch (Panzer IV/70), on the other hand, mentions that the leaf springs were replaced with horizontal volute springs.
The front-drive sprocket was taken from a Panzer III, and was modified to have center guides. The rear idler was taken from a Panzer IV, but provided with a strengthened and improved tensioning mechanism. The number of return rollers would likely have been reduced to three, as was common at that time. The Panzer IV track was replaced with completely new 540 mm wide tracks. This suspension was actually built and tested on some Nashorn vehicles, possibly during 1944.
The Engine and Transmission
The engine used on the Panzer IV/70 (E) was the standard Maybach HL 120 TRM engine producing 265 [email protected],600 rpm. In the engine compartment, an additional 300 liters fuel tanks were to be placed. These would have greatly increased the vehicle’s operational combat range. Components such as the SSG 77 transmission, reinforced steering gear, and final drive was taken from the Panzer III Ausf.M. As no operational prototype was ever constructed and there is no information about the estimated weight, it is difficult to predict how the Panzer IV/70 (E) would have performed mobility-wise.
The Panzer IV/70 (E) glacis armor plate was 60 mm thick and placed at a 60° angle. The lower hull had the same thickness but was placed at a 45° angle. The upper superstructure frontal armor was 80 mm at a 50° angle. The sides were much weaker, being only 30 mm of armor placed at a 36° angle. The armor thickness of the remaining components of the Panzer IV/70 (E) is not listed in the sources. Additional 5 mm thick armor plates were also provided for extra protection of the engine compartment sides.
The Panzer IV/70 (E) could probably also be equipped with additional 5 mm thick armor skirts (Schürzen) covering the sides of the vehicle. These may have been replaced with the later developed stiff wire mesh panels (Thoma Schürzen).
The main armament chosen for the Panzer IV/70 (E) was the effective 7.5 cm StuK 42 L/70 gun. This gun was, more or less, the same one as used on the Panther tanks. While there is no information about its characteristics when mounted on the Panzer IV/70 (E), these may have been close if not the same as on the Panzer IV/70 (V). In that case, the elevation of the main gun would be –5° to +15° and the traverse 20°. While not present on existing drawings, the use of a travel lock would be required due to the long and heavy gun. The muzzle brake would not be added to the gun, as it would create a lot of dust during firing.
As this gun required a large amount of room and the use of large one-piece ammunition, the Panzer IV/70 (E) interior would have been very cramped and the ammunition capacity probably consisted of between 55 to 60 rounds.
The 7.5 cm StuK 42 L/70 could fire a few different types of rounds, including armor-piercing (PzGr 39/42 or 40/42), high-explosive (SpGr 42), and armor-piercing tungsten rounds. While the latter had a superb anti-armor penetration power, due to scarcity of tungsten, these rounds were rarely employed. Its cousin, the Panzer IV/70 (V), usually carried 34 anti-armor rounds, while the remaining 21 were high-explosive rounds, so it is plausible that a similar ammunition load would also be employed on this vehicle.
When firing a standard armor-piercing round at a distance of some 500 m, it could penetrate 124 mm of armor placed at an angle of 30°. At 1 km and at the same angle, the armor penetration was 111 mm, and at 2 km it was 89 mm. Using the rare tungsten rounds, the armor penetration at 500 m at an angle of 30° was 174 mm. At ranges of up to 1 km, it could penetrate 149 mm of armor Thanks to this firepower this gun could effectively engage most Allied tanks up to the war’s end.
The secondary weapons would have consisted of an MG 42 machine gun, the crew’s personal weapons, and probably a Nahverteidigungswaffe (close defense weapon).
Four crew members would have been needed to effectively operate the Panzer IV/70 (E). These included the commander, gunner, loader/radio operator, and driver. The driver’s position was on the vehicle’s left front side, but his view of the surroundings was limited, as he only had a front-mounted periscope and a small periscope pointing to the right to see out of. Behind him was the gunner’s position, and behind him was the position of the commander. The last crew member was the loader, who was positioned on the vehicle’s right side. He operated the radio and he also doubled as the MG 42 machine gun operator.
The Fate of the Panzer IV/70 (E) Project
In July 1944, Adolf Hitler insisted that production of the Panzer IV was to be terminated in February 1945 at the latest. Instead, the companies that were initially involved in the Panzer IV production were to focus on the Panzer IV/70 tank hunter. This included the (A), (V), and the newer (E) version.
In anticipation of the Panzer IV/70 (E)’s production, work on its components was carried out during 1944. Due to the worsening economic situation, there were delays. Deutsche Edelstahl, which was responsible for the production of the armored components, reported that one superstructure was completed by September 1944. Some components that were to be used for this project were installed on a Nashorn for testing and evaluation.
The following month, in the hope of reducing the number of many different tank chassis, prioritizing mainly the Panther, Tiger, and the Panzer 38(t) chassis, this project came to an end. In contrast to the Panzer III/IV, some components for the Panzer IV/70 (E) were built, but they were never assembled into a complete vehicle.
The Panzer IV/70 (E), if ever produced, would have had good anti-tank firepower and protection. On the other hand, the introduction of one more design would have caused additional strain on the already stretched-to-the-breaking-point German industrial production capabilities. Its performance would likely have been quite similar to the Jagdpanzer IV, except for some improved mobility and a slight increase in ease of production, so there was really little reason to introduce it to service. While initially quite interested in the Panzer IV/70 (E), this fact became quite obvious to the German military circles, who simply terminated the whole project even before a single prototype could be made.
4 (Commander, Gunner, Loader/Radio Operator, and Driver)
Kingdom of Italy (1942 – 1943)
Self-Propelled Gun – One prototype built
Prior to and during the Second World War, the Italian industry generally lacked the capacity to fulfill all the military demands placed upon it. This was probably most obvious in regards to producing and developing more modern armored vehicles. Italian armored formations mostly consisted of obsolete light tanks, which were no match for the Allied armor. Even in regards to the medium tanks they produced, these were severely lacking. On the other hand, Italians introduced a number of vehicles that proved to be useful, although their number was small. These were the so-called Semoventi (Eng. self-propelled vehicles), which proved to be quite effective, but with some issues. They were armed with 47 mm, 75 mm, 90 mm, or 105 mm guns. In the later stages of the war, one installation of an even larger weapon was tested in the form of the highly mysterious and poorly documented Semovente M43 da 149/40.
When it entered the war on the German side in 1940, the Italian Army was mostly equipped with the CV series of small fast tanks. While cheap, these were only lightly armed and protected and were virtually obsolete even before the war started. The development of more powerful vehicles, such as the M-series of medium tanks, was underway but the small production capabilities and some bad decisions (like limiting the overall strength of the engine) ultimately led to rather a slow production and introduction. These tanks were armed with a 47 mm gun, which may have been effective in the earlier stages of the war, but struggled to do anything against newer Allied tank designs.
The Italians turned to their German allies for help, and after observing the StuG III, they came up with the idea of developing a similar vehicle utilizing components that were already in production. This would lead to the creation of a series of vehicles that, armed with a 75 mm gun, offered the Italians a means to fight back more effectively. The early and later improved versions were used as anti-tank vehicles. These could also act, if need be, as mobile self-propelled artillery.
While the 75 mm gun could fulfill this role, something with more firepower was preferable. It is for this reason that the Italian Army began showing interest in the development of a more dedicated design of self-propelled artillery armed with much larger caliber guns.
Unfortunately, due to a general lack of information about this vehicle in the sources, determining its precise developing history is quite difficult. Based on limited available information, it appears that the firm responsible for developing this vehicle was Ansaldo. When it was built and on which chassis it was based is somewhat confusing in the sources.
According to C. Bishop (The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II), work on such a vehicle was initiated by Ansaldo in late 1942. Ansaldo engineers used a heavily modified M15/42 chassis and placed the Cannone 149/40 Modello 1935 on it. When a fully working prototype was completed in late 1942, it was given to the Army for testing.
Author P. Battistelli (Italian Medium Tanks 1939-45) mentions that it was based on the improved P26/40 chassis. According to this source, the Semovente M43 da 149/40 was actually developed and completed by August 1943.
Authors C. Falessi and B. Pafi (Veicoli da combattimento dell’esercito Italiano Dal 1939 Al 1945) give a more detailed account. According to them, the Semovente M43 da 149/40 was not even a project requested by the Italian Army, but instead a private venture from Ansaldo. Ansaldo engineers, who had designed the large Cannone 149/40, were interested in increasing its mobility. Like all towed guns, it needed some time to be properly set up before it could effectively engage enemy positions. Mounting this gun onto a fully tracked chassis would resolve the mobility issue greatly. So, during 1943, Ansaldo engineers set out to develop such a vehicle. The prototype was completed by August 1943 and appears to have been presented to the Army.
Sources, such as Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’esercito italiano, volume secondo (1940-1945) by Pignato and Cappellano., mention that Ansaldo started the whole project at the end of 1941, when a wooden mock-up was completed. The actual work on the first prototype began in April 1942. Due to many delays, the prototype took some time before it was finally completed in August of 1943.
The Semovente M43 da 149/40 hull was divided into a few sections. In the front part were the transmission and two crew members. The engine was positioned in the center of the vehicle. To the rear was the gun mount.
Which precise chassis was used for the construction of the Semovente M43 da 149/40 is not clear. Sources mention that it could have been either that of an M15/42 or the larger P26/40. The hull front and the upper glacis do not resemble any of the M-series (even the chassis used for the later Semoventi). The M15/42 front hull had a rounded shape. The P26/40 hull has some similarities, but its design was also different. A more plausible solution is that the Anslado engineers simply took the best components from both chassis and combined them into a single-vehicle with some modifications. Authors C. Falessi and B. Pafi (Veicoli da combattimento dell’esercito Italiano Dal 1939 Al 1945) claim that, while the chassis of the Semovente M43 da 149/40 was new, it incorporated a steering gear unit taken from the M15/42, together with a strengthened suspension copied from the P26/40. The upper glacis on the Semovente M43 da 149/40 had two small hatches used as access points to the transmission and brakes for repairs and maintenance.
The suspension used was the Italian standard semi-elliptical leaf spring type. On each side, there were four bogies with eight doubled rubber road wheels, paired onto two suspension units. This suspension type was obsolete by the early 1940s and did not allow the vehicle to reach a high top speed. The drive sprockets were at the front and the idlers, with modified track tension adjusters, were at the back, with three rubber return rollers on each side. Interestingly, the front-drive sprockets had an unusual design not seen on other Italian armored vehicles. The tracks had a width of 400 mm.
The Semovente M43 da 149/40 was powered by an unspecified 250 hp SPA petrol engine. With a weight of 23.5 to 24 tonnes, the maximum speed was around 35 km/h. This engine somewhat complicates the matter of determining which chassis was used. The M15/42 used a SPA 190 hp engine, while the P 40 was powered by a 330 hp SPA engine. Neither of them matches the known data. Ansaldo engineers had plans to equip the first small production series with a similar engine, which was to be slightly lighter and smaller in size, but nothing came of this. Some sources also mention a completely different power plant, an eight-cylinder V-shaped 185 hp @ 2,400 rpm engine. The use of the engine from the experimental Sahariano tank was also proposed, but nothing came of it.
The engine was placed in the central part of the hull. It was fully enclosed, with two exhaust pipes placed on each side. Ventilation grills were placed to the rear, close to the gun installation. On top of the engine compartment were several smaller hatches.
The superstructure of the Semovente M43 da 149/40 consisted of a simple box-shaped and fully enclosed crew compartment. As was the standard for Italian designs, this was constructed using a metal frame on which armored plates were mounted, connected with bolts. On top of this compartment, two hatches were placed, one for each crew member. In addition, on top, a simple round-shaped travel lock was located. To the front were two protective observation ports without any slits. These too were of a standard Italian design, which was commonly used on other armored vehicles. No side ports nor slits were used on this vehicle.
As it was intended to use the Semovente M43 da 149/40 for long-range support, the vehicle was only lightly protected. The front armor was, depending on the source, 25 to 30 mm thick. The side armor was 14 mm thick, while the top armor was 6 mm. No armor protection was provided for the gun operating crew.
This vehicle was armed with the long Cannone 149/40 gun. Its official name was Cannone Ansaldo da 149/40 Mod. 1935 (Eng. Ansaldo Cannon 149 mm L.40 Model 1935). The development of this gun was initiated in 1929, when the Regio Esercito (Eng. Italian Royal Army) asked OTO, Ansaldo, and Arsenale Regio Esercito di Napoli, or AREN (Eng. Royal Army Arsenal in Naples), to develop a new 149 mm artillery gun to replace some aging artillery pieces which dated to before the First World War. It was requested to have a firing range of 20 km with a maximum weight of some 11 tonnes. In order to ease transport, it had to be dividable into two parts. In addition, it had to be assembled in half an hour. While OTO did not participate in this competition, both Ansaldo and AREN proposed their projects.
Ultimately, the Ansaldo project was chosen over its competitor. After some testing in 1934, the gun was officially adopted in July of 1935. In total, some 180 guns of this type would be produced (this number may have been lower as 63 to 64). These were used on various fronts, including in the Soviet Union and North Africa, and were deemed good designs. The Germans managed to capture some guns after 8th September 1943, renaming them to 15 cm K 408(i). After the war, the surviving guns were kept in reserve by the new Esercito Italiano (Eng. Italian Army) until 1969.
The Cannone 149/40 had a 6,360 mm long barrel and could fire a 46 kg round (with a muzzle velocity of 800 m/s) at ranges up to 23,700 m. It could fire a standard high-explosive, armor-piercing, and training round. The rate of fire was only one round per minute. Elevation was 0° to 45°, while the gun traverse was 57° (or 60° depending on the source).
This gun had modern twin-split trail legs. Additionally, in order to further absorb the recoil, the trail spades had metal bars that could be hammered into the ground. Both of these would be used on the self-propelled vehicle. Given the rather large size of the original trail legs, shorter ones were instead placed to the rear of the vehicle. When on the move, these would be raised from the ground and then folded down toward the vehicle. The spades would be placed on each of these two trail legs when the vehicle was prepared for firing. On the move, these would be removed and placed on each side of the gun for transport. In order to fully prepare the vehicle for action, the crew needed around 3 minutes. In contrast, the towed version of the same gun needed 17 minutes to be ready for action.
Elevation of the Semovente M43 da 149/40 gun was the same as on the towed version, but the traverse was slightly reduced, at 53°. The ammunition load allegedly consisted of only six rounds, which seems unlikely due to the lack of storage space for them. Additional spare rounds were carried by an auxiliary ammunition supply vehicle. No secondary armament besides the crew’s personal weapons was to be carried.
Like most information regarding this obscure vehicle, the number of men needed to effectively operate it is unknown. Often, sources mention that the vehicle only had two crew members, but this is likely referring only to those that were stationed inside the vehicle. This would include the driver, and likely the commander, but it could also be anyone from the crew. The remaining crew would be transported in an auxiliary vehicle. Ideally, in order to keep up with the Semovente M43 da 149/40, a fully tracked vehicle would be used in this role.
Given the general lack of such vehicles in Italian service, a more plausible solution would be to use simple trucks. The crew would most likely consist of a driver, commander, gunner, and possibly up to two (if not more) loaders. In the original towed version the 149/40 gun needed 10 crew members to be fully operational. The crew operating the gun were completely exposed, but given the firing range of more than 23 km, this should not have been a major issue most of the time.
The Fate of the Project
The Semovente M43 da 149/40 was used by the Italian Army for testing and evaluation. It is not clear if the Italian Army officials were satisfied with this vehicle. Nevertheless, Ansaldo made preparations for the production of a small series of some 20 vehicles, which were scheduled to be completed by the end of 1943. Unfortunately for them, in September of that year, Italy surrendered to the Allies and any further work on this project was terminated.
Following its former ally’s capitulation, the Germans took over what was left of the Italian industry and weapons. This included the sole-built Semovente M43 da 149/40 prototype. In German service, it was renamed to gepanzerte Selbstfahrlafette M 43 854(i). Its precise usage by the Germans from this point is not clear. Some sources suggest that this vehicle may have been used to defend the German Gothic Line against the Allies in Italy.
What happened next to it is also not clear. According to the American archives from the Museum of the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, the prototype was captured near Rome by the advancing American forces. In 1944, it was transported to America for evaluation. There is another version of the story, for which there is photographic evidence. The prototype was transported to Germany for examination. What the Germans thought of this design is unknown, but appears to have not influenced the development of German self-propelled artillery in any way. The prototype would eventually be captured by the Allies, possibly somewhere in France, during 1944-45, after which it would be shipped to America for examination and evaluation. Luckily, the prototype survived to this day. While initially located at the Military Museum Aberdeen Proving Grounds, it was later moved to the U.S. Army Field Artillery Museum at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Unfortunately, at some point during the 1970s, its tracks were removed and ultimately lost.
The Semovente M43 da 149/40, while not unique, was quite an interesting vehicle from Italy. It was designed and built with the intention of providing mobility to heavier guns. Alas, due to the deteriorating Italian industrial situation, lack of resources, and urgent need for tanks and self-propelled vehicles, there was simply no place for the new Semovente M43 da 149/40. In addition, taking into account that it was actually developed just prior to the Italian capitulation, there was simply no time for its introduction to service. Other nations also developed somewhat similar projects, like the American 155 mm armed M12 GMC, which saw some service during the war. Unfortunately, due to a general lack of information about the Semovente M43 da 149/40, a precise conclusion about its overall performance cannot be made.
The author would especially like to thank Art and Roshindow for providing valuable sources.
In the later stages of the Second World War, the Germans lost control over the skies and their ground forces had to endure extensive enemy air attack raids. The use of self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (SPAAG) based on half-track chassis offered some way to fight back, but these were themselves highly vulnerable, as they lacked proper armor protection. A SPAAG based on a tank chassis was more desirable. Early attempts were made in the form of the Flakpanzer 38(t), but this was more of a stopgap solution than a proper design. In 1943, more serious work was conducted using the larger Panzer IV chassis. This would lead to the creation of the first Flakpanzer IV, which would be a stepping stone to later German SPAAG development. Eventually, this would lead to the 2 cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell Panzer IV, or Flakpanzer IV.
Search for an Anti-Aircraft Tank
The development of a SPAAG based on a tank chassis was an idea that came to circulate in German military circles back in 1942. For this reason, Krupp was instructed in September 1942 to develop a lightweight chassis that would be able to be armed with a variety of weapons, ranging from 2 cm to even 5 cm anti-aircraft guns. The overall weight, with the armament, seven-man crew, and ammunition was not to exceed 4.5 tonnes. The armament and its crew were to be protected by folding armored walls. To speed up development time, the use of the Panzer II ‘Luchs’ chassis was proposed for the project. Given the cancellation of the Panzer II Luchs, Krupp instead proposed the ‘Leopard’ chassis in early November 1942. As the Leopard suffered the same fate as the Luchs, this idea was also scrapped. Interestingly, Rheinmetall also proposed its version of an anti-aircraft tank based on the VK13.03 chassis. In comparison to the Krupp design, the Rheinmetall project offered a somewhat better design, as it had a fully rotating and mostly fully protected, albeit open-top, turret. While a wooden mock-up was built, nothing came from this project.
In January 1943, the use of a highly modified Panzer IV chassis was proposed instead. While the basic overall design would remain the same, the chassis was to be shortened and used only six doubled road wheels on leaf suspension on each side. This was to be armed with either the 2 cm Flakvierling, the 3.7 cm Flak, or even the more powerful but extremely flawed 5 cm and 5.5 Flak guns. The fighting compartment was to be protected by a box-shaped superstructure with folding walls, each consisting of two 10 mm spaced armor plates. Initially, the whole project was deemed crucial, so Krupp was instructed to build two prototypes to be used for evaluation and testing.
Due to the overburden German production and industrial capabilities, the introduction of another tank chassis was deemed unnecessary. A simpler temporary solution was needed. Krupp was informed that the anti-aircraft tank based on the modified Panzer IV chassis was canceled. This did not stop Krupp from actually continuing working on this project, and, in March 1944, all necessary components for its construction were ready. While some components were assembled, it is unlikely that the vehicle was completed by the war’s end.
The Flakpanzer IV
During May 1943, various German Army, including armament and tank, commissions met to discuss a proper solution to the general lack of anti-aircraft protection for the Panzer Divisions. The use of a cupola-mounted 7.92 mm machine gun was deemed almost useless in this role. Installation of stronger anti-aircraft weapons on the Panzer turrets was also not possible. The half-track anti-aircraft vehicles were also deemed not up to the task, mostly due to their weak protection. The only feasible solution was to develop an anti-aircraft vehicle based on a tank chassis.
The Luftwaffe (German Air Force) design office (GL/Flak 4) gave new instructions to Krupp to cease all work on previously ordered projects and focus on developing an anti-aircraft tank based on the regular Panzer IV chassis. At this point of the war, the Luftwaffe was still responsible for providing anti-aircraft protection to the German ground forces, so to some extent, it was their responsibility to develop such a vehicle.
The contract for this project was officially awarded on 8th June 1943. To speed up the development and production process, the whole design was to be as simple as possible. As a temporary solution, the armament would consist of the 2 cm Flakvierling. This anti-aircraft gun and its crew were to be protected by four hinged armored walls. The decision to use this arrangement and not an enclosed turret was mostly based on the thinking that the anti-aircraft gun crew had to be able to have a good all-around view in order to be able to detect a fast-moving enemy aircraft. This thinking would prove to be flawed and later anti-aircraft Panzers would have almost fully protected turrets.
Krupp informed the Luftwaffe officials that the completion of the first prototype was expected to be ready by September 1943 if a Panzer IV chassis was provided in time. Krupp kept its promise and the prototype was completed by the end of September 1943 and presented to the German Army officials for inspection and evaluation. This vehicle was designated as 2 cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell Panzer IV, but this article will refer to it as Flakpanzer IV for simplicity.
Compared to its later 3.7 cm armed successor, there is quite a small amount of information on the overall construction characteristics of the first Flakpanzer IV. Which precise chassis was used for its construction is not clear in the sources, but it is likely to have been an Ausf.G version.
Suspension and Running Gear
The Flakpanzer IV suspension and running gear were the same as those of the original Panzer IV, with no changes to the overall construction. They consisted of eight small doubled road wheels on each side suspended in pairs by leaf-spring units. There were two front drive sprockets, two rear idlers, and eight return rollers in total.
Hull and the Engine Compartment
The original Panzer IV hull design did not receive any major change. The later Flakpanzer IVs utilized the standard Maybach HL 120 TRM engine but slightly modified to give out 272 [email protected],800 rpm instead of the usual 265 [email protected],600 rpm. If this was implemented on the Flakpanzer IVprototype is not clear.
A major change in comparison to a normal Panzer IV was the introduction of a larger and simpler rectangular-shaped superstructure. It was slightly enlarged and had four vertical sides. The machine gun ball mount was removed and replaced with a machine gun firing port. This port was protected by a round cone-shaped cap. It was like a plug, connected to a chain, and when in use, the armored cover would simply be pushed out by one of the crew members. The Panzer IV driver’s observation hatch remained unchanged. On top of the superstructure, four hatches were placed, two to the front and two more to the rear. The two front hatches served as entry points for the driver and the radio operator. The rear positioned doors served to access extra storage for spare ammunition.
On top of the superstructure were the main gun, crew, and protective folding walls. In the center of this compartment was a round-shaped mount on which the main gun was positioned and which could rotate 360°. It was protected by four large folding armored walls. Whilst driving, these walls were fully raised and the main 2 cm Flak gun was fixed in position, with its four barrels raised up. The front and rear plates also had two small hinged parts. These could be swung outwards and allow for the side plates to be fixed at an outward angle. This was done to allow more space for the crew during an aerial engagement while still providing protection from ground fire. For the installation on the Flakpanzer, 2 cm Flak gun’s shield had to be slightly modified. On the outside of the left and right side walls, two small metal rods were placed. These provided stability to the walls when fully folded down. Engagement of ground targets was possible only when all four walls were placed horizontally. This also provided the crew with additional working space, but left them almost completely exposed to enemy fire.
The main reason for using a folding wall was to provide the crew with an excellent overall view of the surroundings, especially of the sky, where fast-moving enemy aircraft had to be spotted quickly. This would, in theory, give the crew time to prepare for firing. In reality, lowering the side walls would take valuable time and leave the crew exposed to enemy fire.
This vehicle was armed with the 2 cm Flakvierling 38 anti-aircraft gun. A well-known anti-aircraft gun of the Second World War, it was designed by Mauser-Werke to replace the older 2 cm Flak 20 and was introduced in May 1940. Its effective firing range was between 2 to 2.2 km, while the maximum horizontal range was 5,782 m. The maximum rate of fire was 1,680 to 1,920 rpm, but 700-800 rpm was a more appropriate operational rate of fire. The elevation was –10° to +100°.
Whilst driving, the gun was fixed in position and could not be moved. In theory, the engagement of ground targets could be done in an emergency by lowering the front wall. However, the gun would have no possibility to traverse and the driver had to move the whole vehicle to hit moving targets. When engaging air targets the side walls could be partially lowered to a 30° angle. Ground targets could be engaged effectively only when all four armored walls were fully lowered.
While the 2 cm Flakvierling 38 was fed by 20 round magazines, not many sources mention how much ammunition was carried inside the vehicle. The gun itself had a special ammunition box in its base on both sides, where up to 8 magazines could be stored and which were in easy reach by the two loaders This meant that at least 320 rounds could be carried around the gun. Author D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) mentions that the total load consisted of 3,200 rounds. For self-defense, the crew had at their disposal one MG 34 with 600 rounds of ammunition and their personal weapons.
The Flakpanzer IV’s frontal armor hull protection would have ranged between 50 to 80 mm in thickness, the sides were 30 mm, the rear 20 mm, and the bottom armor was only 10 mm thick. The superstructure frontal armor was 50 mm and its sides 30 mm thick.
The four sidewalls placed to protect the crew and the gun consisted of two 12 mm (or 10 mm, depending on the source) spaced armor plates. The idea behind using two spaced armor plates was that the first would absorb most of the impact and the second plate would stop the round completely. Of course, due to the low armor thickness of only 12 mm, these could only effectively work against small-caliber bullets and shrapnel. Anti-tank weapons could easily pierce this armor.
The crew of the 2 cm Flakpanzer IV consisted of between five to six crew members. The radio operator and the driver were positioned inside the hull and were fully protected. In the fighting compartment were the two loaders, each on one side of the gun. The gunner was placed behind the gun, while the position of the commander is not clear in the sources. Some sources, such as Walter J. Spielberger (Gepard, The History of German Anti-Aircraft Tanks), mention that the crew of this vehicle consisted of five, which would suggest that the commander probably also acted as the gunner.
The Fate of the Project
Once the prototype was completed, it was presented to a Luftwaffe delegation for inspection on 3rd October 1943. The delegation did not have any objections and the prototype was to be used for initial testing and evaluation. For this, it was driven from Magdeburg to Kummersdorf for testing. During the 6 and a half-hour drive, no major problems were noted on the prototype. Once in Kummersdorf, it was used to test if the whole platform was stable during firing. After firing some 800 rounds using all-four guns, once again no problems were detected. Guderian was generally satisfied with its design and ordered it to be put into production, with 20 vehicles per month to be produced beginning in April 1944.
This was not to be, as, on 21st December 1943, it was decided to instead rearm this vehicle with the more powerful 3.7 cm Flak 43 anti-aircraft gun. For this reason, the 2 cm Flakvierling armed Panzer IV project was temporarily canceled, though revived later with the Wirbelwind project, and Krupp was instructed to focus on the 3.7 cm armed Flakpanzer. Krupp simply reused this prototype and armed it with the 3.7 cm gun. This would lead to the creation of the Möbelwagen, of which more than 200 would be built and which would see extensive action up to the war’s end.
The first Flakpanzer IV prototype, while built relatively quickly and with a satisfactory overall design that satisfied the officials, would not be accepted for service. This was not due to some flaws in the design, but due to the need for a more potent weapon than the 2 cm anti-aircraft gun. Unfortunately, the folding wall solution offered little protection for the crew operating the gun and the time needed to set up the whole system would have taken too long to effectively fight back against any sudden enemy attack. This would later become apparent with the Möbelwagen, which led to the creation of turrets for the next designs, the Wirbelwind and Ostwind.
5.92 x 2.95 x 3.25 m
Total weight, battle-ready
5 (Commander/Gunner, Two Loaders, Radio Operator, and Driver)
It is well known that prior to WW2, the Germans were heavily involved in tank development. What is less known, is that they also experimented and evaluated anti-tank self-propelled vehicles, based on half-track chassis. These were intended to provide a quick anti-tank response to enemy armor formation attacks. This overall concept, while tested, was never fully developed and only a small number of prototypes were made, including the vehicle known as 3.7 cm Selbstfahrlafette L/70. While a single prototype was built, sadly, the general development of German pre-war self-propelled anti-tank half-track is poorly documented in the sources.
During the early 1930s, in the Germany Military circles, the concept of using fast anti-tank vehicles that could outrun tanks was beginning to take shape. For this reason, on 20th November 1934, a program to develop and build such a vehicle was initiated. The chassis for this new self-propelled anti-tank vehicle project was to be based on a half-track. The choice to use a half-track chassis was probably based on its good overall road and off-road driving performance. While it could not fully match a tank’s off-road performance, especially on poor terrain, it still would perform better than ordinary wheeled trucks. The overall performance that this vehicle would be able to achieve was best described in the Wa Prw (short for Waffen Prüfungsamt, the automotive design office) report called ‘Offensive Defense Against Tanks’ (Offensive Abwehr von Panzerwagen) published at the end of October 1935.
In its introductory part, it described the earlier thinking that the only weapon that could successfully stop a tank was another tank. It followed on by elaborating that this was not the case anymore, providing examples that bombers were not employed against bombers, but instead this was the job of the smaller fighter aircraft. Another example was that smaller and more maneuverable ships could cause huge damage to much larger and expensive but slow warships. The key element in defeating these threats was superior speed and maneuverability. The armor came in second place, and only to a limited extent, not to hinder the performance of the overall mobility.
If these factors would also prove to be beneficial for an anti-tank vehicle was a good question. In order to test the new concept of an anti-tank vehicle, it should fulfill several criteria including high road speed; good overall cross-country speed, similar, or when possible, superior to that of tanks; small dimensions; accurate fire while stationary; effective firing range up to 700 meters; cheap; and if possible, use components that were already in production. The last request was a bit unusual but optional. The main gun was (if possible) able to be dismounted to be used as a towed gun
The two main problems in this report indicated for this vehicle were the creation of the chassis with enough mobility, and finding a sufficiently strong weapon to fit in it. In the case of the gun, it had to have the best possible armor penetration, but the recoil had to be manageable. Quite interestingly, this report also mentioned the possibility of alternatively using some kind of unspecified rocket launcher. The benefit of this weapon is no recoil and the armor-piercing round could be replaced with large high-explosive rockets.
Ultimately, only two trial vehicles were completed and submitted for testing during the period of 1935 and 1936. One of these was the 3.7 cm Panzerabwehr-Geschütz auf Selbstfahrlafette and the other one was simply described as Tankjager (during the early 1930s, the German Army used the term tank, later being fully replaced with Panzer).
3,7 cm Selbstfahrlafette L/70
For producing one such vehicle prototype, the Wa Prw issued a military contract to two firms, each designated to produce different necessary components. The company Hansa-Lloyd was tasked with building the chassis and the company Rheinmetall-Borsig for designing and building its main weapon and a turret. It was quite common practice in Germany, prior to the war, to include a number of different manufacturer companies in one project. The German industry at that time was still undeveloped and including other companies allowed them to gain valuable experience in armored vehicle design and construction.
When the vehicle was completed, it received an unusual but simple 3,7 cm Selbstfahrlafette (self-propelled) L/70 designation. Unfortunately due to being poorly documented in the sources, not much is generally known about this vehicle. What is known is that it was completed in 1935.
The 3,7 cm Selbstfahrlafette L/70 chassis was based on the HL kl3(H) half-track vehicle, developed by Hansa-Lloyd. A pre-war attempt to design a cheap and easy-to-produce half-track. This vehicle chassis could be divided into three major compartments. The front driver compartment was fully protected except for the wheels. The central firing compartment housed the main weapon. And lastly, the rear positioned engine compartment.
The Engine and the Running Gear
The 3,7 cm Selbstfahrlafette L/70 was powered by a Borgward engine, providing 70 hp @ 2,600 rpm. The engine was positioned to the rear of the chassis, somewhat unusual for German half-track vehicles. The installed transmission had 4 speeds, with a 2-speed transfer case. The maximum speed on the road was an excellent 50 km/h. While the cross-country speed is not listed in the sources it was likely slightly slower.
The torsion bar suspension consisted of one front drive sprocket, 5 road wheels, and a rear idler, larger than the wheels. Each track was 1.6 meters long. Two steering wheels were located to the front of the vehicle. These, like all German half-track designs, were not powered.
On top of the chassis, a larger armored superstructure was placed. The overall armor thickness is unknown, but given the fact that it was intended to be a lightweight vehicle and easy to build, it would most likely provide protection against small-caliber bullets. The high angled armored superstructure slides also served to provide additional protection.
The front part of this armored superstructure where the driver was positioned, was provided with at least one hatch, which was placed on the right side. Sadly there is no photograph of the vehicle’s left side, but it’s highly possible that another door was also added to this side. For observing his surroundings, the driver was provided with three visor slits. The two front steering wheels were completely exposed and could be easily damaged by enemy fire. Whether this was intentional or hoped to be later covered in armored plates, given that this was only a prototype vehicle, is sadly unknown.
The center of the vehicle was provided with highly angled armor plates. These spread from the bottom towards the top. While this arrangement provided additional protection, it also provided the crew with somewhat more working space inside the vehicle. On the right side, possibly also on the left, a rectangular hatch was added, possibly to serve as an entering point for the crew but also for maintenance.
The engine compartment had three ventilation grill hatches. One to the rear that could be opened and two on each side. Interestingly, in one photograph, these side hatches were covered by an armored plate. These probably offered a large target for the enemy and were thus replaced with simple armored cover. In addition, there was another two-part hatch placed on the top of the engine compartment.
On top of the armored superstructure, an open-top turret was placed. Unlike a tank turret, the 3,7 cm Selbstfahrlafette L/70 turret was more like an extended armored shield of its main gun mount, somewhat similar to the later Sd. Kfz. 222 armored cars series. The front of the turret was occupied by the main gun positioned in the center. To the left of the gun was a hatch for the gun sight. A machine gun ball mount was placed on the opposite side. There were no side visor slits or hatches but given that the turret top was open, this was not needed. To the rear, a small hatch was added. It probably served to remove spent cartridges or was used for gun barrel removal. On top of the open turret, a round-shaped anti-aircraft machine gun mount was placed. The whole turret could rotate 360°.
The main armament consisted of one 3.7 cm PaK L/70 anti-tank gun especially developed by Rheinmetall. It had a horizontal slide breach and was probably semi-automatic. This weapon is somewhat an enigma as very little is known about it. What is known is that when firing an armor-piercing round, which weighed some 0.710 kg, the muzzle velocity was 900 m/s. To the rear of the breach, a canvas bag was located to serve to catch any spent cartridges. The elevation of this weapon was -7° to +20°. The main ammunition storage bin was located behind the gun. The unusual feature of this gun was the cone-shaped muzzle brake. To improve the stability of the gun, a larger metal bar with two round cutouts was added to the rear of the gun.
The secondary armament consisted of two MG 34 7.92 mm machine guns. One was placed in the turret machine gun ball mount. The second one was placed on top of the turret in a specially designed anti-aircraft mount. No information is provided in the sources about the precise amount of ammunition for the main and secondary weapons.
The number of crewmen is not mentioned in the sources. Given the vehicle’s overall small size, we can give an educated guess that it would likely consist of at least three crew members. The driver was positioned in the front driver compartment. Behind the driver’s compartment, the fighting compartment with the main gun was placed. On a few surviving photographs of this vehicle’s interior, it can be seen that two crew members were needed to operate the gun. The gunner, who was likely also the commander of the vehicle, and the loader. The gunner was positioned to the left of the gun while the loader was on the opposite side. It also appears given that both machine guns were placed on the right vehicle side and would be operated by the loader. This was far from perfect, as these two would be overburdened with more tasks than they would be able to handle. A third crew member would have greatly improved the performance of the gun operating crew, but there appears no available space for one inside the cramped fighting compartment.
According to Rheinmetall-Borsig documentation, salvaged after the war and dated from 1940, only one 3,7 cm Selbstfahrlafette L/70 vehicle was ever built. It was supposedly tested extensively prior to the war. As mentioned earlier, due to the lack of sources, the precise fate or use of this vehicle is not well documented. But the fact that only one vehicle was built gives us an indication that the design was not good enough to warrant serial production. The fate of the prototype is unknown, but it was probably scrapped during the war.
The 3,7 cm Selbstfahrlafette L/70 was a quite unusual concept developed by the Germans during the mid-1930s. It generally fulfilled a few aims of the German Army mostly regarding speed and firepower. The half-track chassis could achieve speed up to 50 km/h on roads, while the longer 3.7 cm gun likely had much better armor-piercing performance than the 3.7 cm Pak 36 that was in service at that time. The negative sides were the generally small and cramped interior, low armor thickness, use of a gun that was not in service, and that the half-track was generally not cheap for production. But the reasons why this project was rejected are sadly not available. Due to almost nonexistent sources on this unusual vehicle, we will never know its overall performance nor its reason for rejection.
Prior to the Second World War, the Soviets were experimenting and developing a series of projects intended to improve the performance of already existing armored vehicles. One of these projects was an attempt to resolve the issues with the weak armament of Soviet amphibious tanks. This would lead to the creation of the experimental SU-45. While one prototype would be built, its poor performance would eventually lead to the cancelation of this project.
The SU-37 project
The Soviet Scientific and Technical Department Agency of Automobiles and Tanks (which was part of the Ministry of Defense of Red Army) issued a request to the director of plant №37 to begin designing and building a new self-propelled vehicle based on the T-37A amphibious light tank. The timeline was quite short. The order was given on 22nd March and the first prototype was to be completed by 11th April the same year. In reality, this task could not be achieved effectively in such a short period of time.
The T-37A was an amphibious light tank developed during the early 1930s in the Soviet Union. It was lightly protected and armed with only a single machine gun. The crew consisted of the driver and the commander/machine gunner. The T-37A was primarily intended to perform reconnaissance operations. Over 2,000 vehicles would be built, with most being lost during Operation Barbarossa in 1941.
When the tactical and technical requirements arrived, they included an option to use either an unchanged T-37A chassis or to build a completely new chassis with some elements taken from this vehicle. Other requirements included a maximum weight of the vehicle of 3 tonnes. The armament would include one 45 mm gun with a traverse of 30° (in both directions) and elevation of -8° to +25° and a DP machine gun. The ammunition load for the gun was to be 50 rounds, with an additional 1,000 for the machine gun. The overall armor protection had to be at least 5 mm thick (except the roof, which would be open-top) including an armored shield for the gun.
The new vehicle, which would receive the SU-37 (Samokhodnaya ustanovka – self-propelled) designation, was to have the same amphibious properties as the T-37A. It should have supplemented the weak firepower of the T-37A formations with its stronger armament. In addition, it was to fulfill a mobile anti-tank role on a regimental level.
The improved SU-45 replacement project
Despite the short-term development goal, the actual design work on the new self-propelled vehicle dragged on. Almost from the start, a number of problems arose. One issue was the weight of the new vehicle was much larger than expected. This prevented it from being able to cross water obstacles. Another even greater problem was that many components for the T-37A were no longer being produced. A team of engineers under the leadership of I. Arharov was tasked with resolving the problems with the SU-37 and trying to find a better solution.
In November 1935, a mock-up version of the new modified self-propelled vehicle was presented to the Agency of Automobiles and Tanks of the Ministry of Defense. The basis for this new vehicle was the T-38 amphibious light tank. The T-38 was an improved version of the T-37A. It had a slightly modified suspension, overall simpler construction, better buoyancy properties, and the turret position was changed to the left side of the hull. The armament, crew configuration, and armor were the same. Over 1,200 of his vehicles would be built from 1936 to 1939.
This vehicle incorporated the chassis, transmission, and engine from the T-38. The main gun was still the same 45 mm anti-tank gun. The driver/gunner was initially positioned on the right side. The commission requested that the driver’s position be changed to the left side and that he no longer have to operate the gun. The first prototype was to be built by the start of 1936.
In the documents of the Agency of Automobiles and Tanks of the Ministry of Defense, the project received the “SU-45” designation. It is somewhat confusing that the Soviet Military Authorities decided to name the previous prototype based on the chassis on which it was based (SU-37 from T-37A) and the second prototype by the main gun caliber. This designation practice would continue on, many later developed self-propelled vehicles receiving names based on their gun caliber.
Author D. Nešić, (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-SSSR) notes that the designation for this vehicle was T-45. This should not be confused with a Soviet attempt to improve the T-60 tank during the Second World War. If this is a mistake or misunderstanding on behalf of the author is difficult to know.
Note that, due to the generally obscure history of this vehicle, sources greatly disagree about nearly all of the SU-45 components.
For the construction of the SU-45, a modified chassis of a T-38 light amphibious tank was used. The front part of the chassis housed the crew and the main gun. To the rear, the engine and the transmission were placed.
Engine and transmission
The SU-45 was powered by a four-cylinder liquid cooling 40-45 hp GAZ-A engine. The maximum speed of the SU-45 with this engine, on a good road, was 45 km/h. The off-road speed and operational range are unknown. The GAZ-A engine was started by using a MAF-4001 electrical starter. The position of the transmission was changed to the rear.
With the increased number of crewmen, added ammunition, and other changes, the weight of the vehicle reached 4.5 tonnes (or 4.3 tonnes, depending on the source). The T-38 running gear had to be redesigned. This included adding an additional roadwheel (on both sides), making it five in total (from the original four on the T-38). While the added wheel was suspended individually, the remaining four were placed in pairs on a bogie suspension unit. All five wheels were rubber-tired. The idler and drive sprocket on the SU-45, in comparison to the T-38, had switched positions. The driver sprocket was now at the rear, while the idler was at the front. The two return rollers remained unchanged.
Not much is detailed in the sources about the superstructure’s design. The SU-45 was actually an open-topped vehicle. To shield the crew from the weather and elements, a canvas cover could be placed on top of the vehicle. Its overall construction, based on the few existing photographs, appears to have been simple in design. The SU-45’s side armor plates were flat, while the front plate was at an angle. The front, where the crew compartment was located, was slightly raised in comparison to the rear engine compartment. This was meant to provide the crew with protection but also to reduce the vehicle’s overall weight.
On the right front plate, a large square-shaped driver’s visor was placed. In its center, a smaller vision port was located. On the opposite side of it, a ball mount for the machine gun was located. Close to it, a pyramid-shaped cover can be seen. Its purpose is not clear, but it is likely to have been a protective cover for the gun’s sights.
The 45 mm M1932 anti-tank gun was chosen as the main armament of this vehicle. It was the standard Soviet infantry anti-tank gun prior to and during the first years of the war. While it would be replaced with larger caliber weapons, due to the large production numbers, it remained in use during the war. The 45 mm M1932’s armor penetration at 500 m (at 0 degrees) was 38 mm. The rate of fire was some 12 rounds per minute.
The main gun on the SU-45 was positioned in the front center of the vehicle. It was protected by a round shield placed in front of the gun. The elevation of the gun was -3° to +10°, while the traverse was 10° in both directions. The ammunition load consisted of (depending on the sources) between 50 to 100 rounds. The latter number seems to be unlikely, given the small size of the vehicle. The secondary armament consisted of one 7.62 mm DT machine gun. It was placed in a ball mount and positioned to the left side of the vehicle. It was operated by the vehicle’s commander. The ammunition load for this machine gun was around 1,100 rounds. The machine gun was also provided with a pivoting mount to be used as an anti-aircraft weapon.
Depending on the source, this vehicle is listed to have either two or three crew members. In case it had three crew members, these included a commander/gunner, loader, and the driver. Despite initial plans to change the position of the driver to the left, on the prototype, he was seated on the right side. The remaining crew members were positioned opposite the driver. The commander was overburdened, as he had to operate the gun and the machine gun and command the vehicle, greatly reducing his effectiveness.
The SU-45 was lightly protected, with armor plate thicknesses ranging from 6 mm on the sides to 9 mm on the front. These armor plates were connected using screws and rivets. This armor thickness was sufficient, at best, against small-caliber bullets.
Despite the plans to complete the first prototype by January 1st, 1936, due to many delays, it was only completed in the spring of that year. Once ready, a series of trails with the SU-45 were carried out. During these, a number of flaws in the design were noted. The T-38 chassis was overloaded and often led to mechanical breakdowns. The engine was underpowered, with an ineffective cooling system which often led to overheating. The transmission was also problematic and unreliable.
Seeing the results of these trials, the Agency of Automobiles and Tanks of the Ministry of Defense insisted that all these flaws and problems be resolved. The experiment would be carried on to the experimental T-38M chassis, but ultimately lead nowhere, and the whole SU-45 project was scrapped.
The SU-45 was intended as a lightweight self-propelled vehicle which was to provide additional support fire for the amphibious light tanks in cooperation with other units. The SU-45 design ultimately proved to be a failure. Having too great weight prevented it from being used as an amphibious vehicle. The engine had overheating problems. While it had much-improved firepower in comparison to the vehicle it was based on, it retained weak armor protection. This vehicle would never enter production and the Soviet units had to rely on their obsolete T-37 and T-38 vehicles. During the Second World War, these also proved to be unsatisfactory designs in many regards.
Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun – Possibly only 1 prototype
In the later stages of the Second World War, the Germans lost control over the skies and their ground forces had to endure extensive enemy air attack raids. The use of self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (SPAAG) based on half-track chassis offered some way to fight back, but these were themselves highly vulnerable, as they lacked proper armor protection. A SPAAG based on a tank chassis was more desirable. Starting from 1944, the German focus was on producing vehicles based on the Panzer IV chassis. The vehicle known as the Ostwind (Eng. Eastwind) was one of them, armed with a single 3.7 cm anti-aircraft gun placed in an open-topped turret. In the hopes of further increasing its firepower, the Germans tested the installation of two 3.7 cm guns in a modified turret which led to possibly the creation of a single Ostwind II prototype.
A Brief History of the Flakpanzer IV Ostwind
The first real effort to create a self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle based on a tank chassis, known as a Flakpanzer in German, was the Flakpanzer 38(t). While it was built in some numbers, its design was unsuccessful given the weak firepower, lack of a fully protected turret, and its overall small size. The Panzer IV chassis was deemed more suitable for this task. The first such vehicle, known as the Möbelwagen to its crews, while having a good gun, suffered from the same problems as the previous vehicle. It needed time to properly set up for firing, which reduced its combat effectiveness. For these reasons, the German Army focused on developing a Flakpanzer based on the Panzer IV having a fully rotating and protected turret. This would lead to the creation of two similar vehicles. The first introduced was the so-called Wirbelwind, armed with four 2 cm anti-aircraft guns. The second vehicle was the Ostwind, which was quite similar in appearance, being armed with a single 3.7 cm anti-aircraft gun. Both vehicles were quite simple in design and simply replaced the original Panzer IV turret with an open-top turret with the main gun placed in it.
Unusually, the Ostwind, similar to the Wirbelwind, was developed and built by the German Army itself, without the inclusion of any commercial firms. Due to the worsening economic situation, the use of newly produced tank chassis was limited at best, so repaired and returned from the front chassis had to be reused for this project. While vehicles such as the Ostwind were in great demand, there were huge delays in production, which hindered its introduction to service. By the time the war ended, only between 6 and 43 such vehicles are believed to have been built, seeing limited combat action.
An Improved Model
The general development history of the Ostwind II vehicle is, sadly, quite poorly documented in the sources, with very little information available. What is known is that it was developed by the Ostbau-Sagan workshop from Silesia, which was also involved in the development of the Ostwind Flakpanzer. The main weapon was provided by Gustloff-Werke from Suhl. The request to develop a Flakpanzer armed with two 3.7 cm anti-aircraft guns was given by Adolf Hitler in 1943. During May 1944 several wooded mock-up Flakpanzer projects were presented to a military delegation led by Heinz Guderian. One of these was a wooden mock-up of a Flakpanzer IV armed with 3.7 cm Flakzwilling 43 in its original configuration developed by Alkett. The delegation rejected this project and focused instead on the Wirbelwind, which was also presented at that time. The development of a Flakpanzer IV armed with two 3.7 cm anti-aircraft guns resumed sometime at the end of 1944. The first working prototype was completed only in January 1945. Unfortunately, besides a few drawings, no known photographs are believed to have survived to this day, and questions remain as to if even a prototype was built at all.
The name of this vehicle is often described as being Ostwind II. Due to the lack of information in the sources, it is almost impossible to determine if this was an official or post-war invented designation. This article uses the Ostwind II designation, mostly for the sake of simplicity.
The Ostwind II, like its predecessor, would be made using modified Panzer IV chassis. Due to the worsening situation with the war, new chassis could not be spared for projects besides the original tank configuration. The chassis used would have varied depending on what was available on hand. This would most likely have included the Panzer IV Ausf.H and J chassis, but out of necessity, older chassis may have also been used.
The suspension and running gear were the same as those of the original Panzer IV, with no changes to its construction. It consisted of eight pairs of small road wheels on each side, with every two pairs suspended by leaf-spring units. There was a front-drive sprocket, a rear idler, and three to four (depending on the model used) return rollers per side.
The engine was the Maybach HL 120 TRM, which produced 272 hp at 2,800 rpm. The original Ostwind had a weight of 25 tonnes. The improved version would have been heavier than that by about 1.5 tonnes, given the extra weight of the main armament. The new crew member should also be included, but also any additional spare ammunition needed to load the two guns. This would likely affect the overall driving performance, but to which extent is difficult to tell without any explicit source.
The upper tank hull was unchanged from the original Panzer IV. The driver’s front observation hatch and the ball-mounted hull machine gun remained the same as well. The installation of the main armament would most likely be a direct copy of the Ostwind, possibly with some minor modifications, such as strengthening the overall construction of the mount, given the extra weight added by the gun and the additional crew member. Two, or even more, in order to cope with the extra weight, metal beams were welded inside the Panzer IV hull to make a stable platform on which the twin 3.7 cm guns were placed.
Depending on the chassis used for the Ostwind II, there may have been slight differences in armor thickness. In general, the later built Panzer IVs had a maximum frontal armor thickness of 80 mm. The sides were much thinner, at 30 mm, while the rear was 20 mm thick.
The Ostwind II turret design would have been quite similar to the previous version in visual appearance, with some differences. The turret was open-topped, in order to provide a better view of the surroundings and to reduce overall construction costs. This would have also helped remove the gun fumes properly, as the Germans never properly developed a full-enclosed anti-aircraft turret with an adequate ventilation unit. The turret consisted of 12 welded armor plates. Due to the new gun and the additional crew member, its overall internal layout and its size had to be changed slightly. In addition, as the two guns were placed side by side, two new openings to the front armor had to be made. There would also be a small hatch for the gun operator’s sight, placed on the right front side of the turret.
The turret traverse mechanism would most likely be a copy of the one used on the Ostwind, which is itself poorly documented. A steering rod was used to connect the twin Flak guns’ traversing mechanism and the Panzer IV turret ring. This allowed the crew to move the turret by using the gun traverse. The turret would be placed on a ring-shaped turret base welded to the hull top, with added ball bearings to help with the rotation. It is unknown if the Ostwind II would have the pyramid-shaped sheet of armor welded to the lower part of the front turret. Its purpose was to provide additional protection against any possible ricochets from smaller caliber rounds in the direction of the vehicle’s hull.
The turret armor protection would probably have remained the same as on the first version in order to save time and resources. The armor thickness would have been 16 mm of all-around armor placed at a 30° angle. The secondary sources disagree on the turret armor thickness, as both 16 mm and 25 mm of armor are often attributed. For example, W. J. Spielberger (Gepard, The History of German Anti-Aircraft Tanks) mentions that the armor thickness was originally 16 mm, but later, during production, it was increased to 25 mm. T. L.Jentz and H. L. Doyle (Panzer Tracts No. 12-1 – Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV and other Flakpanzer projects development and production from 1942 to 1945) list that it was 16 mm thick.
The main weapon used was the 3.7 cm Zwillingflak 43 (also sometimes called Zwillingflak 44). This weapon was basically just two 3.7 cm Flak 43s placed one above the other. Although sharing the same 3.7 cm caliber as the earlier Flak 18, 36, and 37 models, the newer Flak 43 (built by Rheinmetall-Borsig) was a completely different weapon. The primary goal of this design was to be simple to operate and easy to produce. It had a new gas-operated breech mechanism, which was loaded with a fixed loading tray with eight-round clips.
What is somewhat unusual is that this gun was not placed in its original configuration, but instead side by side, with some 30 cm distance between the two barrels. This is odd, as it would have been much easier to just install the gun as it was into the Ostwind II turret. The most obvious reason for this kind of installation was reducing the overall height. With such an over-and-under configuration, in order to load the upper gun, the loader would have to stand up, which would expose him to enemy fire. In addition, with a height of nearly 3 m, the Ostwind’s weakly armored turret was too exposed to enemy fire. Raising the turret height would only increase the chances of being hit by enemy fire. Another reason would have been the difficulty of putting two loaders on the same side in the relatively cramped turret. The side-by-side configuration may have complicated production and development, but would at least offer more effective use of internal turret space.
The gun itself had to be modified in order to fit inside the turret. The lower part of the carriage and the original gun shield were removed. In order to cover the two front embrasure openings, smaller rectangular shields would be placed in front of each gun barrel. In addition, the spent ammunition baskets had to be smaller.
The Zwillingflak 43 could rotate a full 360°, with a range of gun elevation between – 10° to + 90°. The maximum rate of fire was 500 rounds per minute, but 360 was a more practical rate. With a muzzle velocity of 820 mps, the maximum effective ceiling was 4,800 m. The ammunition load is unknown, but in order to feed the two guns, it (at least in theory) had to be increased from the previous version. The Ostwind ammunition load differs between sources, ranging from 400 up to 1,000 spare rounds. It is possible that an ammunition trailer may have been used on the Ostwind II, but how practical it would be in a real combat situation would be questionable. It must not be forgotten that the German economy in 1945 was in a complete state of chaos and ammunition or fuel stocks were in short supply. For self-defense, the crew could rely on the hull-mounted MG 34, retained from the Panzer IV design, and their personal weapons.
Author D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) mentioned that the Ostwind II was armed with two 3 cm Flakvierling MK 103 anti-aircraft guns. He also mentioned that the ammunition load was 2,800 rounds. This is most likely erroneous, mistaking it with the Destroyer 45 based on the Wirbelwind. He also mentioned two 3 cm guns, when ‘Flakvierling’ actually means four guns.
The crew of the Ostwind II would likely consist of a commander, gunner, radio operator, driver, and loader. The driver and radio operator were placed in the vehicle’s hull. For the radio operator, the Fu 5 and Fu 2 radio equipment were provided. In addition, the radio operator also operated the hull-mounted machine gun.
The positions of the remaining crew members are not listed in the sources. But, given its gun main characteristics, their positions can be deduced. The 3.7 cm Flak 43 gunner position was on the right side, with the position somewhere on the right of the turret. As the two guns were placed side by side, the two loaders had to be placed opposite each other. While two loaders would be needed to properly feed the main guns, it is possible that, due to lack of personnel or space, the commander may have acted as the loader on the left side. This would hinder the main command task, but would provide more working room in the otherwise cramped turret. Given the lack of information, this is merely speculation. The commander would be placed on the left rear side of the turret. The working conditions in the Ostwind II turret would be quite difficult due to the lack of working space. This was actually a problem even on the previous Ostwind vehicle, and was never effectively solved.
The Fate of the Project
According to Walter J. Spielberger (Gepard, The History of German Anti-Aircraft Tanks), once the prototype was completed, it was, together with the improved Wirbelwind (known as Zerstörer 45, Eng. Destroyer), transported to the training center at Ohrdruf, in Thuringia. What happened to them after this point is not clear. Due to the chaos and destruction of the late stages of the war, they may have been used as part of an ad hoc unit in order to fight the advancing Allied formations. It is more likely that they did not see any action, given their experimental nature.
It is also important to consider the fact that the whole Ostwind II construction may have also ended in failure. The installation of two 3.7 cm guns in the cramped modified Ostwind turret may have not been possible. It is also possible that the often mentioned prototype did not even have a fully operational turret and was just used to see if the whole installation was even feasible. As such, some, including Hilary L. Doyle, have speculated that not even a prototype was built, alleging Germany’s almost non-existent industrial capacity at the time. H. L. Doyle expressed suspicion that by 1945 the Germans had industrial capabilities to actually build the Ostwind II vehicle, so it seems unlikely that even one fully operational prototype was ever completed.
Other sources, including author D. Terlisten (Nuts and Bolts Vol.13 Flakpanzer, Wirbelwind and Ostwind) mentions a report from Ostbau-Sagan discovered after the war that mentions that some turrets (plural, although the precise number is not listed) for the Ostwind II were completed. D. Nešić, (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) mentions that one prototype was built and that a production order for 100 vehicles was given, which did not materialize due to the end of the war.
Overall, for several reasons, the production of the new Ostwind II was not possible. Due to the Allied advance, the Ostabu-Sagan facility had to be evacuated to Teplitz-Schonau in occupied Czechoslovakia. This caused major delays and confusion during the Flakpanzer production. The lack of resources and spare Panzer IV chassis was also a major issue, not to mention the general lack of spare ammunition and fuel at this stage of the war.
The Ostwind II was certainly an interesting Flakpanzer design. It could have provided the Germans with a vehicle with sufficient firepower to be a serious threat to the Allies. In reality, it is not clear if the whole installation was without any mechanical issue. Another problem was its late conception, with a possible prototype being completed at the start of 1945, though even this is questionable. Given the chaotic state of Germany at that time, serial production would not have been possible.
5.92 x 2.9 x 2.9 m
25 to 27 tonnes
6 (Commander, Gunner, Two Loaders, Radio Operator, and Driver)
Independent State of Croatia and Slovene Home Guard (1942 – 1945)
Self-Propelled Gun – unknown 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. However, the Regio Esercito (Eng: Italian Royal Army) used it until September 1943, when the Armistice of Cassibile was signed, the Royal Italian Army was disbanded and the part of the Italian peninsula that was not yet under Allied control was occupied by German troops.
After the armistice, from 1943 to 1945, all the surviving Semoventi (Italian world for self-propelled guns, Semovente singular) deployed not only in Italy, but also in the Balkans, would be captured by the various armies or militias in the area.
The Semovente L40 da 47/32
The development of a new light infantry support gun that could support the assault of the Bersaglieri units (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.
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 oil fields which were vital for the Germans. 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 a 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.
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 battle 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 huge race by the remaining Axis and Partisan forces to capture and disarm as many Italian divisions as possible. From September 1943 on, 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.
After the Italian surrender, modern-day Slovenia was completely taken over by Germany. Slovenia became important to the German supply and unit transport network to Italy and the Balkans. The importance of the Slovenian infrastructure to Germany was not lost to the Yugoslavian Partisans, who, from late 1943, intensified sabotages by attacking enemy patrols and supply and troop convoys.
The Slovenians initially formed small anti-partisans units in 1941, which were slightly increased in numbers during the war. Initially, these were mainly used as security forces or to act as auxiliaries to the Italians. In 1943, now under German leadership, the Slovensko Domobranstvo (Eng: Slovenian Home Guard) was formed. The Germans mostly provided them with small arms, but also with a few armored vehicles, including at least two Semovente L40 da 47/32s. These vehicles were slightly modified by adding extra armor plates to the front and sides and installing a machine gun mount on top of the vehicle, which was protected by a small armored shield. Information about their service and final fate is currently lacking.
In service with the Independent State of Croatia (NDH)
The forces of the German puppet state of Croatia, Nezavisna Država Hrvatska (Eng: Independent State of Croatia, NDH) managed to acquire a small number of these tank hunters after the surrender and disarmament of the Italian forces in the Balkans.
The Croatian 369th, 373rd and 392nd Infantry Divisions, which were formed and under the direct command of the Germans, possessed an unknown number of Semoventi L40. The 369th Infantry Division received its first five Semoventi da 47/32 vehicles in December 1943. By the end of 1944, it still had 10 such vehicles. During 1944, the 373rd Infantry Division received some 9 Semoventi L40 da 47/32s.
The 373rd and 392nd Infantry Divisions participated, together with some German units, in the destruction of three Partisan divisions at Krbavsko Polje in May 1944. The 373rd Infantry Division also took action during the German Rosselsprung Operation, with the aim of capturing the Partisan supreme command and its leader, Josip Broz Tito, who were located in Drvar. The whole operation was a failure and the Partisan leaders managed to successfully evacuate after a vicious confrontation. During this operation, the 373rd Infantry Division managed to destroy up to 4 Partisan tanks, possibly with the use of the Semovente 47/32s. It is not completely clear if this is true, as some may have been captured. By mid-March 1944, this unit still had 7 operational Semoventi L40 da 47/32.
In late 1944, during the fighting to prevent the advance of the Partisan 1st Tank Brigade, the 392nd Infantry Division was defeated near the city of Knin, losing a number of their armored vehicles in the process. By mid-March 1945, the 392nd Infantry Division operated only two Semoventi L40 da 47/32. The 369th was defeated while trying to defend the city of Mostar in late January 1945, probably losing all its remaining Semoventi da 47/32.
By the start of December, due to losses, the NDH still possessed some 85 armored vehicles of various types. By the end of 1944, the elite NDH unit, Poglanikov Tjelesni Sdrug, had three ‘small’ tanks which are described by the Partisans to be Semovente L40 da 47/32. This unit reported to still have at least 4 L40 da 47/32 self-propelled guns while fighting the Partisans in May 1945.
Camouflage and Markings
The Slovenians and Croatians received the L40s already repainted by the Germans and put them into service without changing the camouflage patterns. Their L40s were mostly camouflaged with dark green stripes and sometimes with dark brown stripes on the original khaki camouflage. The use of national or other markings is difficult to determine due to a lack of pictures. It is likely that the NDH vehicles received the more or less standard ‘U’ capital letter, which stands for Ustaše, a name given to the military forces of NDH at that time.
While the Semovente 47/32 was effectively an obsolete design when it was introduced into service by the Ialians, in the hands of Germany’s allies, it was certainly a welcome addition. Given the fact that the NDH and Slovene forces were basically forced to use older equipment, the Semovente 47/32 may be considered as one of the better designs operated by these nations. In reality, these were simply too few in numbers to make any real difference in the fighting against the Partisans.
L40 da 47/32 specifications
3.82 x 1.92 x 1.63 m
Total weight, battle-ready
3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader)
Fiat SPA, 6 cyl. gasoline, 68 hp
42 km/h, 25/20 km/h (cross-country)
One Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun and one machine gun
Kingdom of Italy (1941 – 1943) and Italian Social Republic (1943-1945)
Armored Truck – Unknown Numbers built
The Renault ADR Blindati (plural of Blindato) were Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) used by the Regio Esercito (Eng. Italian Royal Army) in the Balkan theater starting from 1941. They had the task of patrolling and escorting supply convoys.
These were based on vehicles captured by Italian or German troops in France. They were armored and armed in local workshops by the Italian units employed in the Balkans.
In Italy, these vehicles are almost unknown because of the few examples produced and their improvised construction. In the few Italian sources that mention them, they are known as Renault ADR Blindati or Protetti (singular Protetto – eng. Protected).
Context – Situation in the Yugoslav Theater
Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Regio Esercito did not consider armored personnel carriers necessary and completely ignored this type of vehicle. However, during the first campaigns in Africa, Greece, and Yugoslavia, officers quickly realized the need for these vehicles in their ranks.
On January 20th, 1941, after seven months of war, the High Command of the Royal Italian Army requested a wheeled armored personnel carrier. FIAT-SPA developed a vehicle on the chassis of the TL37 (Trattore Leggero – Light Tractor) called the FIAT-SPA Autoprotetto S37.
The prototype was presented in May 1941 for testing and was officially adopted by the Regio Esercito on February 4th, 1942. 200 units were ordered, of which only 160 were delivered before the order was canceled in favor of an APC based on the chassis of half-tracks produced under German license by FIAT and Breda. These were never produced though.
The units that were equipped with the S37 Autoprotetti were the 998ª Autosezione Autocarri (Eng. 998th Truck Section) in Montenegro, the 1034ª Autosezione (Eng. 1034th Section) in Albania, the 370ª Autoreparto Autocarri Protetti S37 (Eng. 370th Vehicle Protected S37 Section) that was sent to Yugoslavia and, finally, the 1650ª Sezione Autoprotetti (Eng. 1650th Vehicle Protected Section) that remained in Bari, in Southern Italy.
A number were delivered to the 13ª Divisione di Fanteria “Re” (Eng. 13th Infantry Division “Re”) and the 154ªDivisione di Fanteria “Murge” (Eng. 154th Infantry Division “Murge”) in the Balkans and other units stationed in Rome.
By way of comparison, Germany produced about 15,000 Sd.Kfz. 251s and the United States produced about 50,000 M3 Half-tracks throughout the war. Italy produced only 270 wheeled armored personnel carriers, which, for an army the size of the Regio Esercito, was too few.
General Mario Roatta, commander of the Regio Esercito of the 2nd Italian Army in Croatia with headquarters in the province of Ljubljana, understood after the Yugoslavian Campaign that he needed to equip his troops with civilian armored trucks. He called these “Mezzi Comuni Blindati” (Eng. Common Armored Vehicles), and would be used for patrolling and escorting supply convoys.
After a meeting with several officers and generals deployed in the various theaters of war, the Chief of General Staff of the Royal Army, Marshal Ugo Cavallero, declared that at least 500 civilian or military trucks, armored in an improvised manner, were necessary for the needs of Italian troops in the Balkans and North Africa.
After the French Campaign, the Royal Italian Army came into possession of a large part of the French equipment. More equipment was handed over by the Germans. Among this equipment, there were simple firearms, such as pistols, rifles, or machine guns, but also large equipment, such as cannons, howitzers and logistical material, such as Renault ADR trucks.
It is not clear how many were captured by the Kingdom of Italy and if some were sold to them by the Wehrmacht.
The Renault Truck
The Camion Léger Bâché Renault Type ADR 65cv 3,5 tonnes (Eng. Light truck Renault Type ADR 65 hp 3.5 tonnes) or, more simply, the Renault ADR 1, was the last Renault truck of the AD series to go into production, in 1935. The Renault ADR civilian version had a gasoline 4 cylinders in-line engine with an output of 65 hp at 2,200 rpm and a volume of about 4,000 cm³. This gave the truck a speed of 65 km/h at full load and a consumption of 27 liters per 100 km.
The Renault ADRD was also a civilian version with a 4-cylinder in-line diesel engine with an output of 45 hp at 1,800 rpm and a volume of about 4,300 cm³. Fully loaded, this truck could reach a speed of 47 km/h and a consumption of 19 liters per 100 km.
The two civilian versions had a gearbox with 4 gears and had a load capacity of 3.5 tonnes in the “Long” version. This gave a total weight of the vehicle of 4.5 tonnes, with a fuel tank of 95 liters. The short version had a payload of about 1.5 tonnes and a fuel tank of 75 liters.
The third version was the military one, produced with only the 4-cylinder in-line gasoline engine delivering 62 hp at 2,350 rpm and a 5-speed transmission. In 1940, due to the needs of the war, production had to be speeded up and the characteristic aerodynamic radiator grille was replaced with a standard one.
It was delivered to the Armée de Terre (Eng. French Army) in 400 units, 126 of which went to the Garde Républicaine (Eng. Republican Guard) before and during the war. Almost all were requisitioned by Axis troops after the French Campaign.
Given the improvised nature of these armored personnel carriers, their protection was also improvised or taken from scrap yards. The cargo bays were protected with 10 mm thick trench shields dating back to World War I or with plates found almost anywhere in the Balkans of similar thickness. Rectangular or ellipsoidal loopholes were made into the plates and shields. These shields and plates were placed in two rows, one on top of the other, on the cargo bays, held together by welding.
The first row was placed at 90° and consisted of eight trench shields (or plates of the same size) welded to supports fixed directly to the vehicle’s chassis. The second row was composed of eight shields or plates welded and angled at about thirty degrees.
Like many other protected vehicles produced by Italy, both in an improvised and industrial manner, a major problem was the lack of a roof. This created problems with shrapnel or hand grenades falling inside the cargo bay, injuring or killing all occupants. In addition to this serious problem, the lack of a roof exposed the transported soldiers to the weather conditions.
To solve these problems, bomb nets or wooden boards were mounted on the roof to protect from bombs thrown at the vehicles.
Initially, the vehicles produced received armor only on the cargo bay. Later, the vehicles also received cab protection to protect the driver and the vehicle commander. Some armor plates or trench shields were placed to protect the doors and the front of the cab by cutting a large slot for the driver and maintaining the slits on the doors and the side of the vehicle commander.
Together with the cabs, the fuel tanks were also armored to increase protection, but the wheels and the engine compartment, and the radiator were never armored.
In the beginning, the armament was absent on the Renault ADR Protetti vehicles. The defense was assured by the cargo bay slits, 13 on each side. Seven were in the lower row of trench shields and armor plates, and 6 in the upper row. In addition, there were six on the rear, 4 in the lower row and 2 in the upper one, for a total of 32 slits on three sides of the cargo bay.
For defense in these cases, the bipod of a light machine gun Breda Mod. 1930 was simply placed on the roof of the cabin, but it had many problems of reliability, a clip feed of 20 rounds, a very slow clip reloading system that did not allow an effective suppression fire and, finally, no protection for the gunner save for the gun shield.
At a later stage, the low volume of fire from the soldiers firing through the loopholes was noted. In most cases, they were equipped with Carcano bolt-action rifles of various models. In order to remedy this, a support was added to the center of the cargo bay for a FIAT-Revelli Mod. 14/35 machine gun with a frontal shield to protect the gunner.
At the same time, the cabin of the truck was armored. As a consequence, three more slits were added for the vehicle commander and driver, one on the right side, one on the left side, and a third one on the front.
The Breda Modello 1930 light machine gun was fed, as mentioned above, by a 20-rounds clip of 6.5 × 52 mm Mannlicher-Carcano rounds that guaranteed a practical firing rate of only 150 rounds per minute. The machine gun entered service in 1930 and 10,000 were produced until 1945. It proved unsuitable for the role of infantry support because of its weight, its mechanical unreliability and too much maintenance required to keep it effective.
The FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935 medium machine gun, on the other hand, was a modification made between 1935 and 1940 to the stock of FIAT-Revelli Model 1914 6.5 × 52 mm water-cooled machine guns used with great success in World War I by the Regio Esercito.
The 1935 modifications included the removal of the water tank, barrel cover, barrel, and bolt, transforming the machine gun into an air-cooled weapon in the new and more powerful 8 × 59 mm RB Breda caliber.
Thanks to the belt feed of 50 or 100 rounds, the machine gun guaranteed a firing rate of 600 rounds per minute, a muzzle velocity of 750 m/s, and a practical range against targets of 700-1,000 meters.
After the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia from April 1941 on, the Italian garrison forces had at their disposal two armored units, the 1° Gruppo carri L “San Giusto” (Eng. 1st Light Tank Group) and the 2° Gruppo carri L “San Marco” (Eng. 2nd Light Tank Group). Both were equipped with 61 CV 33/35 tankettes. There was also a company of AB41 armored cars and another one composed of AB41 and L6/40 light tanks.
These were stationed in the city of Zadar. As the Yugoslav resistance movements began to extensively target garrisons, transport and supply convoys, rails systems, etcetera, the Italians began increasing the number of armored vehicles in Yugoslavia. Initially, these were just standard CV series light tanks. From 1942 onwards, several different types of armored trucks began to be a common appearance.
Due to the war and the loss of the occupied territories, many documents were destroyed or lost. Therefore, the numbers of Renault ADR Protetto used in Yugoslavia by the Royal Army and the number of Renault that were armored in the workshops of the Royal Army in Yugoslavia are still unknown.
The number of Renaults used in Yugoslavia should not exceed fifty units. The number of armored vehicles could vary from a minimum of 2-3 units to a probable realistic maximum of 10-15 units.
These trucks were used to patrol and protect various vital supply lines, act as convoy escorts, often used to transport documents or very important materials, reducing the number of men on board (but maintaining a more than the adequate defensive capacity to repel partisan attacks), directly supporting Italian units in combat against the Partisans, etcetera. They were mainly active in Italian-occupied territories like Slovenia and Croatia. Some Renault ADR Blindati armored trucks were also operated by the Italians in Yugoslavia. During 1942, these took part in the forced deportation of Yugoslavian civilians around the area of Gorskog Kotara and Slovenije to camps located in Italy. The use of ADR Blindato armored trucks after 1942 in Yugoslavia is unclear.
Another important role that the armored trucks played was to transport officers of the Royal Italian Army safely from one garrison to another while on official visits, or to replace other officers.
Yugoslav partisan attacks were unpredictable and it would not have been safe for officers to travel in unprotected staff cars.
Use of Armored Trucks by Others in Yugoslavia
After the Italian capitulation, the Germans came into possession of most of the weapons and armored vehicles of its former ally, including armored trucks. The contingent of these armored trucks may have included some ADR vehicles, but it is not known precisely. One of the first uses of Italian armored trucks by the Germans was for anti-partisan operations in Slovenia during September 1943. These, together with other captured equipment, were usually distributed to various small garrisons. After 1943, the use of Italian-built armored trucks largely disappeared from this front, or they were operated in quite limited numbers.
The forces of the German puppet state of Croatia also managed to capture a number of Italian fighting vehicles, including some armored trucks. The Yugoslavian Partisans also captured and used some Italian armored trucks.
The use of ADR armored trucks by these warring parties is, sadly, unclear. The reasons for this are the general lack of sources, small number of built vehicles, lack of Partisan knowledge of enemy vehicle designations, and the general removal from service after late 1943. Authors Bojan B. D. and Dragan S. (Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945) give an indication that, while other types of armored trucks were used by the previously mentioned participants in Yugoslavia, the ADR was used only by the Italians.
Although produced in workshops and in very few examples, the Renault ADR, together with the few other Italian armored trucks, played a key role in escorting convoys and patrols, being able to supply the isolated Italian garrisons in Yugoslavia until September 8th, 1943. While these were built using civilian vehicles and improvised armor protection, due to the Partisans’ lack of proper anti-tank weapons, they offered some level of protection and also increased the offensive capabilities of the Italians that used them. Nevertheless, after the Italian capitulation, the use of such vehicles rapidly declined under the control of the Germans.
Italy (1942 – 1945)
Self-Propelled Gun – 414 built
The Semovente L40 da 47/32 was developed by Ansaldo and built by FIAT between 1942 and 1944. It was designed to allow the Bersaglieri regiments, assault infantry units of the Regio Esercito Italiano (Royal Italian Army), to provide direct fire support from the Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 medium support gun during infantry assaults without having to tow them and, secondly, to provide the Italian armored divisions with a vehicle with anti-tank performance. These self-propelled guns (Semovente in Italian, Semoventi plural) were used from 1942 to 1945 by Italy and Germany, as well as by the Independent State of Croatia and Yugoslavian partisans. In total, 402 vehicles in different variants were built.
History of the L6/40
In 1938, the standard tanks of the Italian Army were the L3 series light tanks, which, during the Spanish Civil War, did not give a positive impression to Italian officers because they were inferior to the Republican Army armored vehicles of Soviet origin, such as the BT-5 fast tanks, the T-26 tank and the BA-6 heavy armored cars.
On the basis of Spanish experience, the High Command of the Royal Italian Army issued several requests to some Italian auto companies to develop more advanced vehicles able to fight with the most modern foreign tanks. In order to modernize the armored units, Ansaldo, helped by FIAT, started to develop different vehicles on the chassis of the L3 series tanks, all of which remained at the prototype stage. By 1940, the M6T was developed, a vehicle with a hull and suspension similar to those of the L3s, but with a new superstructure and the same turret used on the AB40 armored cars armed with two 8 mm machine guns. After some tests, as on the armored car, it was clear that the armament was not sufficient, and, therefore, a new turret was designed, the Mod. 1941 armed with the powerful Breda 20/65 cannon.
The new vehicle was called the Carro Armato Leggero da 6 tonnellate Modello 1940 (Light Tank Lightweight 6-ton Model 1940) or, more simply, L6/40, and went into production in 1941, with 283 being produced until 1945.
It was designed by FIAT and Ansaldo to fight on the narrow and steep Italian mountain roads, but was used by the Italian Army mainly in Russia and North Africa. After the Allied landings in Sicily in July 1943 and the September 1943 Cassibile Armistice, which led to the surrender of the Royal Italian Army, some L6/40s were captured by the Wehrmacht, which reused them in its second line units for anti-partisan duties in Italy and the Balkans.
History of the prototype
The idea of developing a light and fast vehicle to support the Bersaglieri units was born in the late 30s, when the standard support gun used by Italian infantry assaults was the 47/32 Mod. 1935 Cannon. The Mod. 1935 variant could not be towed by artillery tractors or trucks because it lacked a suspension. For this reason, it could only be towed by horses or disassembled in 5 parts and loaded on mules. During the war, in order to make infantry units faster, the soldiers loaded the cannons on the cargo bay of trucks such as the SPA38R or the Lancia 3Ro. In 1939, a new version of the cannon was created, the Mod. 1939, with a suspension, allowing it to be towed by trucks. At the same time, in order to provide a vehicle that could directly support the infantry on the assault, the Breda factory decided to modify the chassis of the L3/35 light tank by removing the superstructure and mounting a 47/32 cannon in the center of the hull.
The project, called Semovente L3 da 47/32, was not accepted by the Army because of the poor crew protection offered by the 10 mm thick gun shield. Ansaldo wasted no time and decided to create a self-propelled mock-up with the L6/40 light tank chassis, with a powerful 75 mm L.18 cannon designed and produced by Ansaldo. The weight that the vehicle would have had, the low speed and the little ammunition that could be stowed on board were not acceptable by the Army and the project for a 75 mm self-propelled gun on the chassis of the L6 was canceled, but the Army did not cancel the plans for a 47 mm cannon that proceeded even after 1940.
The first design of a self-propelled gun armed with a 47 mm gun on the L6 hull resulted in only one mock-up and consisted of the hull of an L6/40 without the turret. Above the superstructure was mounted the 47 mm cannon with a gun shield in the middle to protect the gun servants from enemy light weapons fire.
This project was also not accepted by the Italian Army because of the height. In late 1940, Ansaldo was requested to modify the project while maintaining the chassis and the cannon.
Development began in January 1941 and, on May 10, 1941, the prototype of the L40 47/32 self-propelled gun was presented at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione Militare (Centre for Military Motorisation Studies). The cannon was inside a casemate, so the vehicle was much lower than the first L6 da 47/32 mock-up. It had an armored roof with two hatches.
This prototype was very much appreciated by the High Command of the Royal Italian Army, which considered it suitable for the task of infantry support and, secondly, for the role of tank hunter.
During the tests in late 1940, it was evident that the limited space hindered the tasks of the three members of the crew, so it was ordered to remove the roof of the vehicle, decreasing the protection of the crew but increasing the available space.
An interesting and strange curiosity is the presence of the right-side access hatch. Both the prototypes and the first series vehicles were equipped with it, inherited from the L6/40. The hatch could never be used because there was a rack in front of it and, consequently, it was welded to the structure.
In the last months of 1940, the last version of the prototype of the Semovente L40 47/32 was presented to the Army General Staff. It was similar to the previous prototype with some modifications: the superstructure was redesigned, completely removing the supports for the armored roof, repositioning the ammunition in two new protected racks and with the addition of rounded sides of the gun mantlet. Instead of the roof, a waterproof tarpaulin protected the crew from the rain and the breech of the gun from the desert dust. The tarpaulin, when not in use, was placed on the back of the superstructure, tied with leather straps.
The vehicle was accepted in service with the name Semovente Leggero Modello 1940 da 47/32 (Self-Propelled Gun (on hull) Lightweight Model 1940 (armed with) 47/32) or, more simply, Semovente L40 da 47/32.
On the production vehicles, the rounded sides of the gun mantlet were eliminated to increase the production speed.
Design of the Semovente L40 da 47/32
The crew of the self-propelled gun was composed, as on other Italian self-propelled guns, of 3 men. The driver was positioned on the right, on a fixed seat. The gunner/vehicle commander sat on the left, also on a fixed seat, while the loader was positioned behind the driver, on the right of the gunner, sitting on an ammunition rack fixed to the floor of the fighting compartment.
An interesting detail is that, on this vehicle, the man who had the better battlefield visibility was the loader, so it was customary for the loaders to monitor the battlefield and spot targets to hit.
One of the most serious problems of the self-propelled vehicle was the little space inside the vehicle that, among other things, forced the loader to expose himself to load the cannon.
During battles when the vehicle was within range of the enemy infantry’s weapons, the loader, in order to avoid exposing himself to the enemy’s weapons, could only give the gunner the ammunition and he had to load the cannon. This significantly reduced the rate of fire and distracted the gunner/vehicle commander’s attention from the situation and whereabouts of the enemy forces seen through the gun’s optics. As on other Italian self-propelled guns, during skirmishes, especially at short distances, crews wore infantry steel helmets instead of tanker padded helmets to protect themselves from enemy fire and grenade splinters.
Engine and suspension
The engine of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was the same as on the light L6/40 tank, the FIAT-SPA 18D gasoline, 4 cylinders in-line, liquid-cooled engine with a power of 68 hp (some sources claim 70 hp) at 2,500 rpm. It had a volume of 4,053 cm3.
The engine could be started either electrically or using a handle that had to be inserted at the rear. The Zenith type 42 TTVP carburetor was the same one used on AB series armored cars and allowed ignition even when cold.
The engine used three different types of oil, depending on the temperatures in which the vehicle operated. In Africa, where the outside temperature exceeded 30°, ‘ultra-thick’ oil was used; in Europe, where the temperature was between 10° and 30°, ‘thick’ oil was used, while in winter, when the temperature fell below 10°, ‘semi-thick’ oil was used. The instruction manual recommended replacing the oil every 100 hours of service or every 2,000 km.
This engine was an enhanced version of the one used on the military cargo trucks SPA38R, SPA Dovunque 35 and FIAT-SPA TL37, the 55 hp FIAT-SPA 18T.
The 165-liter tanks guaranteed a range of 200 km on road and about 5 hours off-road, with a top speed on-road of 42 km/h and 20-25 km/h on rough terrain, depending on the terrain on which the self-propelled gun was operating.
The running gear consisted of a 16-teeth front sprocket, four paired road wheels, three upper rollers and one rear idler wheel on each side. The swing arms were fixed to the sides of the chassis and were attached to torsion bars. The L6 and L40 were the first Royal Army vehicles equipped with torsion bars. The tracks were derived from those of the L3 series light tanks and were composed of 88 track links on each side.
The armor was the same as on the L6/40. The front plates of the superstructure were 30 mm thick, while those of the gun shield and driver’s port were 40 mm thick.
The front plates of the transmission cover and the side plates were 15 mm thick, as was the back. The engine deck was 6 mm thick and the floor had 10 mm armor plates. The armor was produced with low-quality steel because, while the demand for ballistic steel to produce armored vehicles had increased since 1939, the Italian industry was not able to supply very large quantities. This was further worsened because of the embargoes that hit Italy in 1935-1936 due to the invasion of Ethiopia and those that started in 1939.
The armor of the L40s often cracked after being hit (but not penetrated) by enemy shells, even small-caliber ones such as the Ordnance QF 2 Pounder 40 mm rounds. The armor plates were all bolted, a solution that made the vehicle dangerous because, in some cases, when a shell hit the armor, the bolts flew out at very high speed, potentially seriously injuring the crew members. The bolts were, however, the best that the Italian industry could offer in 1941 and they had the advantage of keeping the vehicle simpler to manufacture than a vehicle with welded armor and it had the possibility of replacing a damaged armor plate with a new one very quickly even in poorly equipped field workshops.
Hull and Interior
On the front side was the transmission cover with a large inspection hatch that could be opened by the driver through a lever. This would often be kept open to cool the brakes during travel. On the right fender, the shovel and crowbar were carried, while on the left one was the jack support. For night driving, the only headlight was mounted on the right, because, due to the 47 mm gun shield, the one on the left was removed.
As mentioned earlier, the driver was positioned on the right and had both a slit that could be opened by a lever mounted on the right and, on top, an episcope that had a horizontal field of view of 30°, a vertical field of view of 8° and had a vertical traverse from -1° to +18°. On the left, he had the gear lever and the handbrake, while on the right he had the dashboard. Under his seat were the batteries produced by Magneti Marelli that were used to start the engine and to power the vehicle’s electrical systems.
Behind him, there was a box with a spare episcope mounted on a 33 cannon round rack on which the loader sat. On the left, the loader had an armored rack for another 37 rounds that took up almost all the space available. In the middle of the fighting compartment was the transmission shaft that connected the engine to the transmission. On the left of the loader was the gunner/vehicle commander who had, in front of him, the breech of the cannon and, under it, the cranks for the horizontal and vertical traverse. On the right of the cannon was mounted the 1x optical sight produced by the San Giorgio factory of Sestri-Ponente. This was also used on the medium tanks of the ‘M’ series.
Due to the small amount of space inside, the vehicle was not equipped with an intercom system.
On the sides of the superstructure were mounted two rails for attaching the tarpaulin when the crew used it to cover the crew compartment. These rails were also used as handles to better enter into the vehicle or to attach backpacks, steel helmets and spare tracks to offer more protection from enemy fire.
On the back of the combat compartment, behind the head of the loader, a rectangular tank with the cooling water of the engine was placed. In the middle was a fire extinguisher. On the sides, there were two air intakes, useless for the L40 but inherited from the L6/40, exactly like the access hatch positioned on the right side. Above the transmission shaft, there were two inspection doors for the engine compartment.
The engine and crew compartments were separated by an armored bulkhead which reduced the risk of fire spreading to the crew area. The engine was located in the middle of the rear compartment, with two 82.5-liters tanks on either side. Behind the engine were the radiator and the lubrication oil tank. The engine deck had two large doors with two grilles for engine cooling and, behind, two air intakes for the radiator. It was not uncommon for the crew to travel with the two hatches open during African operations, in order to better ventilate the engine due to the outside temperatures.
On the rear parts of the mudguards were positioned two big boxes for tools closed by locks and, on the left side, a spare wheel. On the right, the muffler was placed. On the first vehicles produced, this was not equipped with a cover. The cover dissipated the heat and averted damage.
The primary armament of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was the Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935, nicknamed by the soldiers “Elefantino” (Eng: Little Elephant). This gun was designed by the Austrian Böhler company and over 3,200 units were produced under license by various companies for the Royal Army from 1937 until 1945. The main producers were Breda of Brescia, Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino (Eng: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin) or ARET, Arsenale Regio Esercito di Piacenza (AREP) and Ansaldo. Designed as an infantry support cannon, it proved to be reliable and precise during the Spanish Civil War and capable of taking out the few opposing armored vehicles. Its maximum range was 7,000 m, but it was effective up to 4,000 m for infantry support and about 1,000 m for anti-tank fire.
The gun was mounted on the left side of the hull, in a support that allowed a horizontal traverse for 27° and a vertical traverse from -12° to +20°.
Although lacking interior space, the crew began to bring on board L40 Carcano Mod. 91 rifles, MAB 38 submachine guns and OTO, Breda or SRCM Mod. 35 hand grenades for close defense against enemy infantry. Often, due to the limited space in the fighting compartment, the weapons were transported in boxes or bags attached to the engine deck.
The cannon had a rate of fire of about 15 rounds per minute on the L40, due to the cramped available space but, when the vehicle was under enemy infantry fire, the loader could not perform his function safely and therefore could only pass the ammunition to the gunner and this sensibly lowered the rate of fire.
The ammunition consisted of 70 rounds and the cannon could fire five types of ammunition:
Projectile weight (kg)
Muzzle Velocity (m/s)
Cartoccio Granata da 47 mod. 35
Percussion mod. 35 or mod. 39
Perforante mod. 35
Armor Piercing – Tracer
Percussion mod. 09
Proietto Perforante mod. 39
Armor-Piercing Composite Rigid – Tracer
Percussion mod. 09
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto
Internal mod. 41
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale
IPEM front fuze
A serious problem was the lack of HEAT ammunition which was produced late and not often distributed to the crews. In fact, according to Italian Army documents, in May 1942, there were only 12,537 47 mm EP rounds in North Africa out of 145,777 47 mm caliber rounds in total.
Precise values on the penetration of the Mod. 35 armor-piercing ammunition are not available. However, an Italian document of the Spanish Civil War era states that it penetrated 37 mm at a distance of 700 m.
The Mod. 39 armor-piercing ammunition could penetrate plates with thicknesses of 55 mm at 100 m, 40 mm at 500 m, and 30 mm at 1000 m, angled at 0°.
There is no precise data on the penetration of the HEAT ammunition of the 47 mm gun, but an Italian report from some tests in October 1942 shows that the Effetto Pronto round was not able to penetrate the 52 mm thick side armor of the turret of a T-34/76 Mod. 1942 captured by the Italians on the Eastern Front.
The Effetto Pronto Speciale round, produced in very few numbers between early 1943 and the end of the war, had greater anti-tank capabilities and was able to penetrate the front armor of an M4 Sherman.
Production of the Semovente began at the end of 1941, but the first Semovente da 47/32 was completed in early 1942.
The L40 production started while construction of 583 L6/40 tanks was already underway. A new contract was immediately signed by the Italian Royal Army with Ansaldo to reduce production of the L6 light tank to 283 vehicles and simultaneously produce 300 L40. In June 1942, however, the Italian Royal Army signed a new contract for 444 L6/40 light tanks and 460 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 to be produced.
As for the L6/40 light tank, Ansaldo subcontracted production to FIAT due to the large orders received from the Royal Army. The self-propelled guns were produced in Turin, in the same plant where the L6/40s were produced.
Due to the lack of raw materials to produce the armored vehicles, in the first months of 1941, the Regio Esercito ordered FIAT to give priority to the production of AB41 armored cars, which were considered much more useful than the L6/40 light tank in long-range reconnaissance roles.
FIAT continued to produce light tank chassis but could not complete them due to the scarcity of molybdenum, used in the steel alloy of the suspension, and due to delays in the delivery of radios, optics of and other parts of the Mod. 1941 turrets. In January 1942, the FIAT factory warehouses were full of L6/40 chassis waiting to be completed, so many of these vehicles were modified into L40 self propelled guns.
Between January and May 1942, the production rate was 30 vehicles per month, decreasing to 25 L40s produced in June up to 13 units completed in December. This was due to a lack of 47 mm cannons and San Giorgio optics, which were also used for the medium tanks of the ‘M’ series.
340 L40s were produced in the standard version (320 delivered to Regio Esercito units) and another 47 in command and radio station versions, for a total of 387 vehicles between January 1942 and September 1943.
On 9 November 1943, the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen signed contracts with Italian factories to restart the production of several Italian vehicles. The FIAT plants in Turin started producing light tanks again in the following days, producing a total of 74 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 between November 1943 and October 1944.
For the Germans, another 10 platoons command tanks were also produced, 7 in 1944 and 3 in 1945 and 36 battalion command tanks (also known as radio station version), with 27 produced in 1944 and 9 produced in 1945, for a total of 120 vehicles on the L40 hull produced between 1943 and 1945.
Versions – First, Second and Third series
Three different series of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 were produced.
The first series was produced between January 1942 and mid-1943 and is distinguishable from the other series by the early production idler wheel and the welded access hatch on the right side of the hull.
In mid-1942, new idler wheels began to be available and were mounted on the first series L40, before moving onto the second series produced in a few numbers for the Regio Esercito. The side access hatch was removed and the idler wheel was replaced by a more robust model (also mounted on the late production L6/40s).
The third series, better known as the ‘Ausf. G’ series, with the ‘G’ standing for ‘Germanico’ (Eng: German), was produced for the Germans by FIAT factories in Turin. This series had some modifications from the second series, as requested by the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen. The superstructure was enlarged and raised at the rear, becoming much more “cubic” than the Italian versions. An RF1CA-TR7 radio with its respective antenna and a Breda Mod. 38 machine gun shielded with 10 mm thick armored plate were added. The machine gun was mounted on a sliding support on a crossbar in the front part of the superstructure which allowed the loader/machine gunner/radio operator to have a good shooting range, especially on the right side of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the amount of ammunition available for the cannon and for the machine gun is unknown. The speed and range were the same as on Italian versions, but the weight increased to 6.75 tonnes, 250 kg more due to the new additions.
Variants – Command Vehicles
There were two command versions: the Semovente L40 Comando Plotone (Eng: Platoon Commander) and the Semovente L40 Commando Compagnia (Eng: Company Commander).
The Semovente L40 Comando Plotone was equipped with an RF1CA-TR7 radio which worked on the same frequency as German tank radios. This radio had a range of about 12 km and a model AL-1 Dynamotor power supply with 12V batteries produced by Magneti Marelli.
The radio was mounted on the right side together with the antenna, fixed on the rear right side of the superstructure. Due to the limited space, the ammunition rack with 37 rounds was eliminated and replaced by a rack with 16 rounds.
The Semovente L40 Commando Compagnia was produced only in late 1942 and had several modifications. A new, more powerful radio equipment was added instead of the RF1CA radio, the RF2CA. This radio had a range of about 25 km and was used by the Company or Battalion commander to stay in contact with other unit commanders or commanding officers. The power supply was the same as the RF1CA. The radio was also mounted on the left side together with its antenna which was mounted on the rear left side.
Due to the reduced space inside the vehicle, in order to make room for the new radio system of over 120 kg, the main armament and its ammunition were completely removed. For defense purposes, the crew had at their disposal a Breda Mod. 38 8 mm caliber machine gun mounted on a spherical support in place of the cannon. To avoid being recognized even at a very long distance, a fake 47 mm wooden barrel was fixed on the spherical support in order to make the vehicle look like a standard L40.
The ammunition for the machine gun was 1,608 rounds, which was 67 magazines with 24 rounds stored on the right side of the superstructure next to the RF1CA-TR7 radio.
The two command versions were called Panzerbefehlswagen L6 770(i) by the Germans and 47 units were produced for the Italian Royal Army and 46 for the Germans on the chassis of the second series vehicles.
It was planned to assign a Battaglione Semoventi Controcarro (Eng: Anti-Tank Self-Propelled Guns Battalion) to each Italian armored division. This would be composed of 21 self-propelled guns, in two 10 vehicle platoons and one L40 Platoon Command vehicle. In June 1942, the units were reorganized and each armored battalion received a third platoon, for a total of 30 L40s and one L40 Platoon Command. In December 1942, with the entry into service of the L40 Company Command vehicle, the Battaglioni Controcarro were reorganized with 10 L40s and one L40 Platoon Command tank for each of the three platoons and one L40 Company Command for a total of 34 self-propelled guns per battalion.
The anti-tank battalions were assigned not only to the armored divisions but also to autonomous battalions, Raggruppamenti Esploranti Corazzati or R.E.Co. (Eng: Armored Exploring Groups) and Cavalry regiments. The latter received two or three platoons, depending on the unit.
The Semovente L40 da 47/32 in action
The first self-propelled guns completed became part of the XIII Gruppo Squadroni Semoventi Controcarri (Eng: 13th Anti-Tank Self-propelled Gun Squadron Group) of the 14° Reggimento ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ (Eng: 14th ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ Regiment), which left for the Eastern Front on 3rd August 1942, supporting the 3ª Divisione Celere “Principe Amedeo Duca d’Aosta” (Eng: 3rd Fast Division). The 31 Semoventi L40 took part in various battles against the Soviets, with all vehicles being lost during the Soviet offensive on the Don. On 11 December 1942, together with some L6/40s of the Bersaglieri units assigned to the XIII° Gruppo Alessandria Cavalleria (Eng: 13th Alessandria Cavalry Group), they had the task of repelling Soviet attacks at the center of the very long sector held by ARMata Italiana In Russia or ARMIR (Eng: Italian Army in Russia). They covered a section that remained open in order to support the 5ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Cosseria’ and the 3ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Ravenna’ (Eng: 5th and 3rd Italian Infantry Divisions) that had suffered losses in the last few days due to the continuous assaults by the Red Army. The remaining operational tanks were fewer than twenty due to the lack of supplies and spare parts. All L40s and almost all L6/40s were destroyed in the fighting in Gadjucja and Foronovo. The unit was reorganized in May 1943 in the Italian town of Codroipo in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, incorporating the few survivors from the retreat from Russia.
These light self-propelled guns were not suitable for use on the snow-covered ground and muddy roads because of their narrow tracks. The 47 mm cannon was not able to cope with the most modern Soviet tanks, such as the T-34/76 and KV-1s, but could effectively knock out pre-war or light vehicles such as the BT series tanks, T-60s and T-70s often used to support Soviet infantry assaults.
In September 1942, the registers of the Royal Army mention the sending to Tunisia of two platoons, amounting for a total of 21 L40s, which armed XXX Battaglione Controcarro of the RECo ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’. The vehicles were supposed to arrive in Tunis in the first days of November but, after the departure from Italy on September 27, 1942, the merchant ship carrying them, the Francesco Barbaro, was hit and damaged by the Royal Navy submarine HMS Umbra. On the next day, the submarine reengaged the merchant ship, sinking it.
Due to this (the merchant ship was also carrying other vehicles besides the 21 self-propelled guns ones), RECo ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ only reached Tunisia in February 1943, when the situation in Africa forced the Axis forces to a desperate defense.
In North Africa, the L40 self-propelled guns were used during the Tunisian Campaign by the I and CXXXVI Battaglioni Controcarro and in units of the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’ (Eng: 132nd Armored Division ‘Ariete’) and the 133ª Divisione corazzata ‘Littorio’ (Eng: 133rd Armored Division ‘Littorio’).
In late 1942, the British sank dozens of merchant ships and shot down hundreds of Italian and German transport planes. This meant that the Deutsche Afrika Korp (DAK) and the Royal Italian Army could not replace their losses.
The Italians gathered all their operational armored vehicles in the Raggruppamento (Eng: Group) ‘Cantaluppi’, named after its commander. The ‘Cantaluppi’ included the surviving armored vehicles of the ‘Ariete’ and ‘Littorio’ divisions, some medium tanks of the ‘M’ series, armored vehicles of the 101ª Divisione Meccanizzata ‘Trieste’ (Eng: 101st Mechanised Division ‘Trieste’) and, finally, the very few vehicles of the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ which had managed to land in Africa after November 1942.
In February 1943, General Giovanni Messe took command of the 1ª Armata in Tunisia (Eng: 1st Army in Tunisia) and reorganized the armored units under his command into two divisions.
The 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ was reformed with the surviving vehicles of the armored divisions ‘Ariete’ and ‘Littorio’, along with new units just landed in Africa, such as the RECo ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ (with 34 L40 self-propelled guns) and other new armored vehicles.
The 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ received the surviving regiments of the ‘Trieste’ division.
The Semoventi L40 da 47/32 were the most numerous Italian tracked vehicles present in the Tunisian Campaign and participated in few numbers in all battles until March 10, 1943.
During the Battle of Kasserine Pass, these fast self-propelled guns were fundamental to launching the decisive counterattack that, on February 20, made the inexperienced American units retreat, succeeding, at the cost of huge losses, to knock out some M4 Sherman tanks at a very short distance. The Italo-German forces under the command of General Erwin Rommel managed to capture more than 30 M3 half-tracks, cannons and also some M4 Sherman medium tanks, while destroying more than 40 enemy tanks.
The last known action of the self-propelled guns units was during the Battle of Médenine on March 6, 1943, when a platoon of L40s of the 20th Italian Army Corps launched an assault on the British forces with disastrous results. In a single day, the units under Rommel’s command lost about 50 Italian and German tanks.
The use of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 by the Regio Esercito in Balkans
The precise date when the first L6/40 and the Semovente anti-tank vehicle based on it first arrived in occupied Yugoslavia is unknown. One of the first known units that operated the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was the Reggimento ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ which had 13 L6/40 and 9 Semoventi L40. The Reggimento ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’, which was stationed in Albania until the Italian surrender in 1943, also operated Semovente da 47/32 vehicles.
During an anti-partisan action conducted by the Italian occupation forces in late July 1943, at least one Semovente L40 da 47/32 was lost, as it hit a Partisan anti-tank landmine. After the Italian Armistice, most Italian units were forced to surrender to different factions, including the Germans, Croats and to the Partisans. One Italian unit, the Italienische Panzer Schwadron (later renamed to Panzer Abteilung Adria), was used under German command during 1944-45 in Yugoslavia. It had some 34 armored vehicles, including unknown numbers of Semoventi da 47/32. Despite having armor in their possession, this unit was rarely used against the Partisans.
The Fight in Italy
After the Tunisian Campaign, the Allies landed in Sicily on July 9, 1943.
On July 11, the 4ª Divisione fanteria “Livorno” (Eng: 4th Infantry Division “Livorno”) and the Fallschirm-Panzer-Division 1. “Hermann Göring” launched a counterattack but without success. In the following days, the survivors of the two divisions and other Italian and German units desperately tried to slow down the advance of the Allied forces.
The armored units equipped with the Semoventi L40 in Sicily were the IV° Battaglione Controcarro of the 4ª Divisione fanteria “Livorno” and the CXXI, CXXX, CXXXII, CXXXIII, CCXXX and CCXXXIII Battaglioni Controcarro, for a total of over 100 vehicles that fought with very little results against the Anglo-American tanks.
On July 12, 1943, a platoon of the CCXXXIII Battaglione Controcarro was involved in a skirmish at a short distance from Bivio Gigliotto near San Michele di Ganzaria. There, after a furious fight, the commander was taken prisoner by the American soldiers and the second in command, Luigi Scapuzzi, assumed the role of platoon commander.
In the following days, the CCXXXIII positioned itself on the Italian-German defensive line between Assoro and Leonforte in a vain attempt to resist the assaults of the US and Canadian troops that were inexorably advancing. The enemy succeeded in capturing Valguarnera, a few kilometers from the defensive line.
The objectives of the Canadians were the capture of the cities of Assoro at 920 m above sea level, assigned to Hastings and Prince Edward of the 1st Brigade of Graham, and Leonforte at 600 m above sea level assigned to Loyal Edmonton and Princess Patricia’s of the 2nd Brigade of Vokes. In that area were entrenched the Italian-German units that had survived the counterattacks of the previous days, two Panzergrenadier-Regiments of the “Hermann Göring” division, 33° and 34° Reggimenti di Fanteria of the ‘Livorno’ division, 6 81 mm mortars, some guns and a pair of 149/13 Skoda howitzers of the 28° Reggimento Artiglieria ‘Monviso’.
The situation remained calm for a few days but, on July 21, the Canadians began the attack on the positions held by the Germans and the self-propelled guns of the CCXXXIII Battaglione Controcarro were called to intervene.
In the clash, three L40 were destroyed or knocked out. These included that of Major Villari, commander of the Battalion, who was taken prisoner, that of Lieutenant Pierino Varricchio, commander of the second platoon of the CCXXXIII, who was saved but slightly wounded, and another was destroyed by a hand grenade thrown inside the fighting compartment. It is not clear how but the three crew members survived miraculously and were hospitalized at the German infirmary.
In the afternoon, one after the other, all the self-propelled guns were destroyed or knocked out. One of the last L40 still working was that of Luigi Scapuzzi, placed in the locality of Casa Ricifari that, after a whole day of fighting, in the late afternoon, had ran out of ammunition, so the Italian officer started throwing hand grenades at the enemy soldiers and, after also running out hand grenades, leaped out of the L40 taking his MAB38 and repelling the Canadian soldiers until he was mortally hit towards the evening. After his death, four German soldiers were captured by the Canadians soldiers, but were executed by the Canadians who, at dawn on July 22, conquered Leonforte. The Canadian troops suffered 56 soldiers killed and 105 wounded during the fight. The two surviving self-propelled guns from the battle, belonging to the 3° Plotone of the CCXXXIII, withdrew and joined the 26ª Divisione di Fanteria “Assietta” and the 28ª Divisione di Fanteria “Aosta” in Nicosia where they took part in the defense of the city and then they were withdrawn to the Italian peninsula.
The XX Battaglione Controcarro formed in October 1942 with two platoons of L40 from 47/32 was sent to Corsica in late October 1942.
The CXXXI Battaglione Controcarro of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (Eng: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) with two platoons, was also sent to Corsica in 1943. These two units were still on the island at the time of the Armistice. The Italian commander of the forces on the island, General Giovanni Magli, received news of the Armistice an hour before the official announcement from Radio London and prepared to fight the German forces by freeing the Corsican partisans captured in the previous months from prison. Around one in the morning, there were the first skirmishes with the German soldiers who tried to occupy the port city of Bardia. The Italian counterattack supported by some L40s, L3s and some AB41s also managed to repel the German forces for several days but, on September 13, some Tiger tanks landed on the island and the Italians were forced to retreat and hide themselves waiting for Allied support. On September 17, the troops of Free France landed on the island and made contact with General Magli and on September 29, the Bersaglieri units, the 4th Mechanized Regiment and the Goumiers of the 1st Moroccan Regiment, supported by L40s, re-occupied Bardia, forcing the Germans to re-embark for the mainland and the last German forces surrendered on October 5th. After the battle, the French disarmed their erstwhile Italian allies, treating them as prisoners of war and loading them on ships bound for Sardinia.
On April 1, 1943, in Ferrara, the Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’ was reorganized from scratch and renamed 135ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete II’. After a period for training the troops, it was sent on July 25 to Rome. In May, a new armored division was created, the 1ª Divisione corazzata di Camicie Nere “M” (M standing for Mussolini) formed by veterans of the Russian Campaign and the North African Campaign. This unit was supposed, in Benito Mussolini’s projects, to represent the vanguard of the Italian divisions and in fact, it was also armed with 36 German tanks, 12 Panzer III Ausf. Ns, 12 Panzer IV Ausf. Gs and 12 StuG III Ausf. Gs. The two divisions had 23 Semoventi L40s in two platoons each for a total of 40 L40 da 47/32s, 4 L40 Platoon Command vehicles and 2 L40 Radio Centre vehicles in addition to some vehicles in reserve.
On July 25, 1943, the Duce, Benito Mussolini, was arrested and a new Italian fascist government, with the Italian Marshal Pietro Badoglio as Prime Minister, was created and decided to continue the war with the Axis armies.
In August, however, the proposals for an agreement offered by the Allies convinced Badoglio, supported by the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, to accept an armistice on September 3, 1943.
The news of the Armistice, however, was not made public until September 8 at 19:42 in the evening. The German secret service had already discovered it a few days earlier and had alarmed the Wehrmacht, although the Anglo-American soldiers were informed in advance of the Armistice, the only ones who did not know about it were the soldiers and many generals of the Italian Royal Army who were taken by surprise by the announcement on the evening of September 8.
On the day of the Armistice of Cassibile in Rome, there were 24 L40s of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ of the 135ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete II’. These vehicles took part in the defense of Rome between 8 and 10 September against the German attack. In the confusing battle, not only the soldiers of the Regio Esercito but also men, women and children took part, some armed with shotguns or rifles from the First World War, whilst others threw stones from the windows when German troops passed by.
The RECo ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ took part in the defense Rome from September 8 to the morning of September 10, after which the survivors took part in the defense of Porta San Paolo, holding back the Germans for several hours, but at 5 pm, it had to retreat leaving on the battlefield many casualties and almost all the vehicles at its disposal.
The 24 L40s in the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato of the 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri of the 1ª Divisione corazzata di Camicie Nere “M”, after the arrest of Mussolini, which was renamed the 136ª Divisione corazzata ‘Centauro II’, were transported, with the entire division, by train to Rome. Some trains were blocked by sabotage of the railways.
The units that managed to arrive in Rome on the night of September 9 blocked the access to the city from Tivoli, clashing with the German troops on the morning of the 10th. Beginning on the morning of September 10, the few soldiers and almost all the L40s of the RECo of the 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri managed to arrive in Rome and joined the ranks of the ‘Ariete II’ division, which had lost almost all the men and vehicles of the RECo ‘Lancieri di Montebello’, which had, along with the 21ª Divisione fanteria ‘Granatieri di Sardegna’, fought against the German 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division “Ramke” at Porta San Paolo. In the afternoon, other elements of the division attacked the Germans at Porta San Sebastiano. At 5:00 p.m. the RECo received the news that a ceasefire agreement had been in place since 4:00 p.m. by means of flyers launched from a German aircraft. Under incessant enemy fire, the survivors of the RECo and the few surviving vehicles retreated to Settecamini where, in the evening, an air attack by Ju-87 “Stuka” dive bombers destroyed several tanks and trucks belonging to the Regiment. On the morning of September 11, the unit, with less than half of the surviving soldiers, disbanded after sabotaging the still operational vehicles. Most of the surviving soldiers joined the Italian resistance.
The 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri fought the Germans near the Colosseum and the Circo Massimo with some L40s taken from RECo reserves, but at the end of the September 10, the Regiment surrendered to German troops.
Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (ENR)
On September 12, 1943, Benito Mussolini was rescued from prison by a German paratrooper commando unit and was immediately taken to Germany, where he met Adolf Hitler on September 14, where he agreed to continue the war. He returned to Italy on September 23 1943 and founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (Italian Social Republic).
After September 8, the Germans had captured the Italian soldiers, their weapons and their armored vehicles, but with the proclamation of the new republic, the Italian soldiers still loyal to Fascism and Benito Mussolini were released and re-equipped and joined the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (Republican National Army) and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (Republican National Guard), the military police corps of the RSI.
Because of the situation of the Axis forces and also because German soldiers had little confidence in Italian soldiers after the events of September 8, 1943, they received very few armored vehicles and trucks.
Five Semoventi L40 da 47/32 were delivered by the Germans to the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano. One of these was delivered to the 1° Battaglione Bersaglieri Volontari ‘Benito Mussolini’ (Eng: 1st Bersaglieri Volunteer Battalion ‘Benito Mussolini’), one of the first units founded in Verona in early September 1943.
They fought from the end of October 1943 until April 30, 1945 on the eastern Italian border, mainly on anti-partisan duties in the Gorizia area. Most of the soldiers had been trained in the Centro Costituzione Battaglioni Cacciatori di Carro (Eng: Instructions Centre for Tank Hunter Battalions) in Verona.
The battalion was employed in operations against the Slovenian partisans of the IX Corpus in the Isonzo and Baccia valleys and with defensive tasks along the Gorizia-Piedicolle railway, with numerous strongholds. The Semovente was used together with some FIAT 626s to patrol the supply routes of the various strongholds.
Around the middle of April 1945, this unit had many losses and the self-propelled vehicle was destroyed in combat.
Other sources claim that the vehicle, being unsuitable for fighting partisans, would have been provided to another RSI unit but there is no information on which unit or when it was provided.
The Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ (Eng: Armored Squadron Group ‘San Giusto’) received two Semoventi L40 da 47/32 of the second series, probably provided by the Germans when the unit was stationed in Gorizia.
They were used with success in the area of Gorizia, Fiume and Mariano del Friuli against the Yugoslav partisans until April 1945, when a major partisan offensive forced the unit to retreat to the Italian territory and then to surrender.
The Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani or RAP (Eng: Anti Partisans Group) stationed in Turin and active throughout Piedmont received two L40 da 47/32s at the end of 1944, found in an abandoned military depot in Caselle.
They were almost immediately employed in anti-partisan duties. In fact, on November 2nd, the unit took part in the retaking of the city of Alba which, on October 10, 1944, had been freed from the fascist forces by the partisans, who had founded an autonomous partisan republic. During the assault, the RAP lost an AB41 and probably also one of the L40s.
Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (GNR)
Some of the soldiers freed by the Germans joined the Republican National Guard, the military police of the Italian Social Republic that was not equipped with armored vehicles by the Germans and had to arm themselves with abandoned vehicles hidden by Italian Royal Army units, those forgotten in abandoned depots consequently not captured by the Germans or by repairing damaged vehicles.
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was formed in late September 1943 at Montichiari, in the province of Brescia, with officers and soldiers of the 136ª Divisione corazzata ‘Centauro II’ who refused to fight against the Germans on September 8 and swore allegiance to them, avoiding arrest and internment in prison camps.
Under the command of the GNR, the ‘Leonessa’ was the largest RSI unit with subunits in Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia Romagna. In January 1944, it had more than 800 men and repaired or found more than 100 tanks, self-propelled guns and armored cars, 158 transport trucks, 48 cars and more than 60 motorcycles during its operative life, among which were five Semoventi L40 da 47/32.
The 2nd Company of the ‘Leonessa’, commanded by Giovanni Bodda, was stationed at the Da Bormida barrack in Turin and was the only unit to use them together with some L3 light tanks and M13/40 and M14/41 medium tanks.
In November 1944, after participating in the conquest of Alba with elements of the RAP, some companies of the ‘Leonessa’, including the 2nd, were sent to Piacenza, Emilia Romagna, and used in anti-partisan duties in the Apennines Mountains of the Piacenza region and Val Trebbia. They were also used, along with tanks and armored cars, for the protection and patrolling of the highway to Liguria, the protection of the garrisons, and above all else, along with armored cars, patrolling the oil zone of Montechino to protect the few oil wells of the Agenzia Generale Italiana Petroli or AGIP (Eng: Italian General Oil Agency). In March 1945, in Busseto, in the province of Parma, a detachment was sent under the command of Antonino Condemi to reinforce the Black Brigade of Parma, which owned an armored vehicle independently produced by the Arsenal of Piacenza, very probably similar to the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVI° Black Brigade “Natale Piacentini” of Piacenza.
For several months, these units of the ‘Leonessa’ effectively neutralized any disturbing action of the partisan brigades, which rarely launched small attacks on peripheral garrisons or fascist units on patrol.
The Partisan Command of Emilia preferred to avoid offensives, both because of the arrival of the companies of the ‘Leonessa’ but also because the Allies planned to liberate Emilia Romagna by mid-March (offensive postponed until April 1945). In order not to give all the credit to the Americans, at the end of February, the partisans launched a large-scale offensive against the garrisons of Rallio di Rivergaro, Busseto, Gropparello and Montechino, all garrisoned by soldiers of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, to cut off oil supplies to the Italian Social Republic.
The companies were ordered to resist at all costs while waiting for reinforcements. The soldiers of the ‘Leonessa’ and the Black Brigades of the cities under attack were commanded by Captain Bodda, who was seriously wounded in combat with the partisans, and by Lieutenant Loffredi, who took command after Bodda’s injury. They put up strenuous resistance for ten days, mainly thanks to their armored vehicles. The platoons of medium tanks were ordered to defend the garrisons and command centers, whilst the platoons of armored cars and light vehicles, among which were the three Semoventi L40 da 47/32, could launch fast and effective small scale offensives or counter-attacks against the partisan brigades if they were able to break through the fascist’s defensive lines.
On March 10 1945, the Waffen Grenadier Brigade der SS (italienische Nr. 1), a brigade of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS ‘Italienische Nr. 1 formed by Italian volunteers, also known as 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS “Italia” or in Italian as 29ª Divisione SS Italiana, attacked the partisans, forcing them to retreat and took numerous prisoners. During the fighting, all the L40s of the ‘Leonessa’ took part, and at least a couple were knocked out by the partisans.
A month later, the Allied soldiers arrived after violent fighting near Piacenza. Against all predictions, however, the partisans, after the assault of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division, reorganized and launched a new assault in the first days of April, succeeding in defeating the Nazi-Fascist forces, and entered Piacenza on April 26, 1945.
Between 1945 and 1946, the Arsenal of Piacenza scrapped several damaged or destroyed Allied and Axis vehicles, including Jeeps, some M3 half-tracks (including one “recovered in the countryside around Piacenza in the street between Albone and San Polo with evident signs of anti-tank weapons penetration”), “a damaged self-propelled gun on L6 hull” and two M8 Greyhound armored cars. According to the records of the Wehrmacht, the Italian Social Republic and the US Army, the only vehicle in the area capable of damaging these three Allied vehicles belonging to the Força Expedicionária Brasileira or FEB (Brazilian Expeditionary Force) was the last Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ which destroyed the two M8 Armored cars and the M3 half-track on April 26, 1945, in the last battle between Italian armored vehicles and the Allies of World War II.
After the armistice, the German Army occupied the part of the Italian peninsula not conquered by the Allied Forces and captured lots of Italian weapons and soldiers.
74 Semoventi da 47/32 were captured and also, in the same days the Turin factory was occupied.
By the 9th of November, the production was restarted with another 120 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 produced in all the variants.
Croatia and Slovenia
Some of the 194 L40 da 47/32 employed by the Wehrmacht were delivered to the Croatian and Slovenian Armies that reused them in anti-partisans actions.
Yugoslavian Liberation Army
After the armistice, some Semoventi were captured or spontaneously delivered from Italian soldiers to the Yugoslavian Partisans that used them against the occupants of their territories until they ran out of ammunition or for lack of fuel.
After the Second World War, an unknown number of Semoventi L40 47/32s were put into service with the Polizia di Stato (Eng: State Police) police corps of the nascent Repubblica Italiana (Eng: Italian Republic) founded on June 10, 1946.
Being a police corps of a state no longer at war, Semoventi were used only as a deterrent in demonstrations, elections, or political rallies, leaving the barracks only a few times throughout the late 40s.
During the first years of the Italian Republic, the Italian government and the USA feared that the former partisans and factory workers could attempt a communist coup d’état supported by Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. For this reason, the police and the Arma dei Carabinieri (Eng: Arm of Carabiners) were equipped with light armored vehicles and armored cars that were rarely used.
The event in which the most vehicles were employed was during the Italian institutional referendum between 2 and 3 June 1946 and on the 10th, when the results of the referendum were made public.
The L40s were only used, according to the information available, in Rome, with no more than 4 vehicles, which were repainted in Amaranth Red, a reddish-pink shade, taking to the streets.
Camouflage and markings
As on all Italian vehicles of the Second World War, the standard camouflage applied in the factory on 47/32 L40 self-propelled vehicles was the Kaki Sahariano Chiaro (Eng: Light Saharan Khaki). The vehicles used in the Soviet Union left for the Eastern Front in the classic khaki camouflage, but in an unspecified period between Summer and Winter 1942, the vehicles were repainted in olive green, leaving some stains of Light Saharan Kaki clearly visible. This camouflage was used only on the Eastern Front on the L40, it is not known why the Italians decided to repaint the self-propelled guns with this camouflage pattern, but they kept even during winter, at which time the camouflage made them easier to observe.
The self-propelled guns used in North Africa, Italy, and France had the standard khaki camouflage pattern, often with the addition of foliage to better camouflage them from potential aerial attacks. Many Italian vehicles received new camouflage patterns painted in the field by the crews, Italian flags to avoid friendly fire, mottos or phrases, though no other camouflage patterns are known before German service.
In the final months of the North African Campaign, the Royal Air Force had complete control of the skies over North Africa so it could act almost undisturbed at any time to support Allied ground troops on the battlefields.
To avoid being spotted by Allied ground attack aircraft, the crews of the L40 self-propelled vehicles began to cover their vehicles with foliage and camouflage netting.
This practice was also used by the crews who fought in Sicily even if, in that campaign, the Regia Aeronautica (Eng: Italian Royal Air Force) and the Luftwaffe were able to provide more efficient cover against the Allied ground attack aircraft.
The markings that the L40s possessed placed them in the platoons and companies of the Regio Esercito they belonged to. This system of cataloging vehicles was used from 1940 until 1945 and was composed of an Arabic number indicating the number of the vehicle within the platoon, a rectangle of different colors for the company; red for the first company, blue for the second and yellow for the third company of a Battaglione Controcarro.
White vertical lines were then inserted inside the rectangle to indicate the platoon to which the vehicle belonged.
Battalion command vehicles had the rectangle divided into two red and blue parts if the battalion had two companies or three red, blue and yellow parts if the battalion had three companies.
The vehicles of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana had different camouflage depending on the unit that used them. Note that the original plates were in some cases kept, but deleting the references to the Royal Army.
The 1° Battaglione Bersaglieri Volontari ‘Benito Mussolini’ added big olive green stripes to the standard camouflage in an unspecified moment between early 1944 and Spring 1944.
The Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ painted on top of the standard camouflage of one L40 dark brown and dark green stripes while the second one was delivered to the unit with the standard three-tone Continentale (Eng: Continental) camouflage pattern i.e. dark green and reddish-brown painted on standard khaki camouflage. To repaint the first vehicle, the unit did not use military-grade paint and completely covered the previous plates while with the second vehicle they only covered the reference to the Regio Esercito, that is, the letters R.E. on the right side of the frontal armor plate of the hull keeping the original serial numbers. On the second vehicle, a Balkenkreuz was painted on the frontal armor of the superstructure in February 1945.
The vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ kept the khaki camouflage but painted on the sides of the superstructure a red ‘m’ (for ‘Mussolini’) with a lictorian beam, the Italian Fascist Party symbol, used also by the Armored Group.
Some sources also mention Continentale camouflage. The vehicles probably received this camouflage in Emilia Romagna but there is no precise information on how many were repainted.
Unfortunately, today, there are only two 47/32 L40 self-propelled guns remaining. One is at the U.S. Army Ordnance Training and Heritage Center, Fort Lee, in the US state of Virginia. This vehicle was probably captured in Sicily and taken by ship to the United States. It seems in good condition even if a good part of the interior has been removed. Between 2018 and 2019, it was restored externally and also repainted in a khaki color similar to the original Italian camouflage. Before that the vehicle was at the United States Army Ordnance Museum at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland before the museum was relocated to Fort Lee. There, the vehicle had been left in a poor state and had previously been painted white.
The second L40 is located in Corsica where, after the war, it was demilitarized by removing the cannon and ammunition racks and used by the Forest Guards of the island for an unspecified period of time and then abandoned to rust in a warehouse.
In recent years, it has been restored and is now on display in Zonza in Corsica.
This self-propelled gun armed with a 47 mm cannon proved ineffective against the most modern British, American, and Soviet tanks when it appeared on the battlefield in late 1942.
Developed primarily for providing close support to Italian Army assault units, the L40 was very effective in the infantry support role, where it could hit targets up to 4,000 m with efficient accuracy.
Its weaknesses were the absence of secondary armament and radio equipment, feeble protection and the small and cramped internal space. These problems were mostly resolved by the third series produced for the Germans after November 1943, but due to the vehicle’s overall size, little could be done to increase the firepower with a more potent gun.
The article was written by Arturo Giusti, who provided the parts concerning the design and Italian operational service, and by Marko Pantelić, who provided the parts concerning the German, Croatian and Yugoslav partisan history operational service.
Semovente 47/32, 3rd Fast Division “Principe Amedeo Duca d’Aosta”, 8th Army (ARMIR), Ukraine, August 1942.
Semovente 47/32, CXXXVI Battalion Controcarri, Tunisia, January 1943
Semovente 47/32, Stalingrad area, southern sector, winter 1942-43.
Semovente 47/32, possibly from a Black Shirts unit, 6th Army, CXXXII self-propelled antitank battalion, Sicily, July 1943. All illustrations by David Bocquelet
L40 da 47/32 specifications
3.82 x 1.92 x 1.63 m
Total weight, battle ready
3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader)
Fiat SPA, 6 cyl. gasoline, 68 hp
42 km/h, 25/20 km/h (cross-country)
One Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun and one machine gun
Kingdom of Italy (1943 – 1945)
Self-Propelled Gun – 121 built
The Semovente FIAT-Ansaldo M43 da 105/25 was an Italian self-propelled gun developed by FIAT and Ansaldo. It was based on the M42 da 75/18 and used in limited numbers by the Regio Esercito (Eng. Italian Royal Army) before the armistice of 8th September 1943. After the armistice of Cassibile and the occupation of the center and northern parts of Italy by the Germans, the Semoventi were captured and used by the German Army and by the new Italian Collaborationist Army.
After the entry into service of the Semoventi (singular Semovente) armed with 75 mm L.18 cannons, based on the chassis of the tanks of the ‘M’ series (Medi, Eng. Medium), the M13/40 and M14/41, it was found that the vehicles were adequate for infantry support and anti-tank vehicles. However, the Regio Esercito needed something more heavily armed and armored to be able to fight against the more modern vehicles put into service by the Allies. By this point, the Italians were fighting the latest versions of M4 Sherman.
A specification was issued in mid-1942 for a Semovente that could support the infantry, but also fight against such modern threats using the heavy Italian Cannone da 105/23. At that time, Odero-Terni-Orlando (OTO) and the consortium Ansaldo-FIAT, two Italian tank manufacturers, proposed two different self-propelled gun prototypes. The OTO proposal was to mount the 105/23 cannon on the hull of the heavy tank P26/40, which was still under development and entered into service only after September 1943.
However, FIAT-Ansaldo could build a prototype of their vehicle faster because the project was based on the already under construction M15/42 Italian medium tank hull. This had already been tested in February-March 1943 and under construction since April of that same year.
At the same time, the FIAT-Ansaldo project was also chosen because the manufacturers had mastery over the components involved. It also required only small modifications to the assembly lines. This meant it could be put into production very quickly. The Italian Army evaluated it positively for two simple reasons. Firstly, because there were already existing courses for the training of new crews (and mechanics) of self-propelled guns on almost identical chassis. Secondly, because a self-propelled gun based on the modified M15/42 chassis was lighter than a self-propelled gun on the P26/40 hull, which meant that the FIAT-Ansaldo self-propelled gun needed a less powerful gasoline engine. This was a big advantage for the Italian Army that had to replace diesel engines with gasoline engines after 1942 due to the limited resources available.
A prototype was built between 16th and 28th January 1943 and was armed with a prototype of the 105/23 Mod.1943 cannon. It was first examined by the Ispettorato delle Truppe Motorizzate e Corazzate (Eng. Inspectorate of Motorised and Armored Troops) and the Ispettorato dell’Arma d’Artiglieria (Eng. Inspectorate of the Artillery Corps) on 1st February. It was presented to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (Eng: Centre for Motorisation Studies) in Rome on 27th February for official testing. Early photos of the prototype show that the vehicle initially lacked a radio antenna, racks for the 20-liters cans, and headlights, which were fitted before the presentation in Rome. In particular, 6 racks were mounted on the prototype, two on the front, two on fenders, and two more on the rear of the vehicle.
The testing of the prototype took about a month. In the end, the Regio Esercito was very impressed by the firepower of the 105 mm cannon. On 29th March 1943, the High Command of the Regio Esercito ordered 130 vehicles divided into two batches, the first batch of 30 and a second of 100 self-propelled guns. It was now officially renamed as the ‘Semovente FIAT-Ansaldo su scafo M43 da 105/25’, abbreviated to ‘Semovente M43 da 105/25’ (Eng: Self-propelled gun FIAT-Ansaldo on hull M43 armed with a 105/25). It was nicknamed “Bassotto” (Eng: Dachshund) by the crews for its lower and larger profile.
In addition to the first order of 130 units placed in March 1943, the FIAT and Ansaldo consortium received new contracts from the Regio Esercito for the production of 105 mm-armed self-propelled guns. On 10th May 1943, the total order was increased to 200 vehicles, and then to 454 in June. Some sources mention 494 units ordered in July 1943, but this can not be confirmed due to the partial loss of the Ansaldo Archives following the armistice of September 1943.
The first vehicles produced in the gigantic Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, near Genoa, Northern Italy, were completed at the end of May 1943. They were delivered to the Regio Esercito at the beginning of July. According to the records, by 30th June, a total of 30 M43 105/25s had already been completed. After the Armistice of Cassibile and the occupation of the central and northern parts of Italy by the Wehrmacht, production was initially interrupted. However, the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (Eng. Inspector General of the Armed Forces) quickly evaluated the self-propelled gun, and, judging it positively, production was restarted.
By the end of 1943, the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Genoa had produced another 24 M43 self-propelled 105/25 vehicles for the Germans. However, in 1944, only 67 more were produced due to bombing, lack of raw materials and strikes. The production was not continued in 1945 because of heavy Allied bombing that stopped the production of most of the plant and because the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen, together with the Reichsministerium für Rüstung und Kriegsproduktion (Eng: Reich Ministry for Armaments and War Production) in Berlin, had decided to discontinue production of all Italian vehicles except the Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i), Panzerspähwagen Lince 202(i) and the Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 75/46 852(i) self-propelled vehicle which they considered adequate.
The total production of the Semovente М43 da 105/25 was 121 units between April 1943 and December 1944.
Design of the “Bassotto”
Hull and armor
The M42 hull was 14 cm longer than the previous M40 and M41 hulls. The new M43 hull (also called M42 ‘Lungo’ – Eng. ‘Long’) was even longer, with 4 cm more than the M42, reaching a length of 5.10 m (18 cm more than the M41), 17 cm wider (2.40 m compared to 2.23 m of the M42) and 10 cm lower (1.75 m compared to 1.85 m of the M42). Finally, the flameproof armor plate separating the engine compartment from the fighting compartment was moved back 20 cm, increasing the space for the crew. All these modifications brought the total weight of the vehicle to 15.8 tonnes battle-ready compared to the 15 tonnes of the M42.
This made the vehicle’s silhouette more elusive and also allowed the cannon to be positioned in the center of the superstructure, instead of being moved to the right, like on the previous chassis.
The armor was both bolted to an internal frame and partially welded (a great innovation for Italian vehicles) and had great thickness compared to Italian standards. The hull armor was 50 mm on top and 25 mm on the bottom. The superstructure had an armor plate 75 mm thick (some sources mention 70 mm) frontally, 45 mm on the sides, while the rear was protected by a plate 35 mm thick. A plate of the same thickness protected the back of the engine compartment.
The roof and floor of the vehicle were 15 mm thick. New to the vehicle were the side skirts that were divided into three parts. These were presumably 5 mm thick. They partially protected the sides of the vehicle. The side skirts had a hole in the back to allow the crew to be able to reach the track tension adjuster.
In general, the protection was increased compared to the 50 mm frontal, 35 mm side, and 20 mm on the rest of the frame of the previous M42, or the 50 mm frontal, 25 mm lateral, and 15 mm rear of the M41, even if the Italian industry was not able to provide ballistic steel of good quality. In fact, the Italian armor was fragile compared to the armor of equal thickness of other nations involved in the war. When an enemy round hit Italian armor, the armor often broke or splintered even without being penetrated, causing damage to the vehicle and/or crewmembers and leading to the need to send the vehicle to specialized workshops to replace the damaged armor plates.
On the roof, on the left side, there was the radio antenna, a fully rotatable periscope and an opening for the cannon. The commander was equipped with an optical sighting system produced by Ansaldo and weighing about 13 kg. On the left front mudguard, there was a support for the jack. On the sides of the superstructure, there were two headlights for night operations. The engine deck had two large inspection hatches equipped with grills for engine cooling. Behind them were the fuel tank cap and two grills for radiator cooling. At the rear, there was a spare wheel, a hole for the engine crank, the towing hook and a smoke grenade launcher system consisting of a launcher and a rack carrying smoke grenades to reload the launcher.
On either side of the engine deck, on the rear fenders, there were two storage boxes and the mufflers covered by a steel shield to protect them from impacts. Six racks for 20-liter cans were placed on the sides of the vehicle, three on each side, just like other Italian self-propelled guns and tanks. In fact, from 1942 onward, the racks were factory fitted on all vehicles, as most would have gone to operate in Africa, where the cans would have increased the range of the vehicle. It should be noted, however, that in the majority of cases, on the Semoventi M43 da 105/25, the cans were not transported because, in Italy, it was not that difficult to find fuel.
The suspension was a semi-elliptical leaf spring type. On each side, there were four bogies with eight doubled rubber road wheels paired on two suspension units in total. This suspension type was obsolete and did not allow the vehicle to reach a high top speed. In addition, it was very vulnerable to enemy fire and mines.
The tank had 26 cm wide tracks, with 86 track links per side. The drive sprockets were at the front and the idlers and track tension adjusting mechanism were at the back, with three rubber return rollers on each side. The small surface area of the tracks (20,800 cm²) caused a ground pressure of 0,76 kg/cm² (to give an example, the Soviet SU-100 had 0,56 kg/cm² and the German StuH 42 0,92 kg/cm²), increasing the risk that the vehicle would bog down in mud, snow or sand.
The main armament was a Cannone da 105/25 (sometimes also called Mod. S.F. ‘Serico’ for Spherical) produced by Ansaldo. It was developed on the basis of the Obice da 105/23 Mod. 1942, a howitzer developed by OTO-Melara as a prototype for divisional artillery together with the Obice da 105/40 Mod. 1938.
Unfortunately, the two prototypes were produced and tested by the Regio Esercito too late. 600 of the Mod. 1938 were ordered, but only a few were delivered before the Armistice of Cassibile. The Mod. 1942 was not ordered in time.
At least two prototypes of the Obice da 105/23 Mod. 1942 were produced. One, or perhaps more, were on a fielded carriage and one was on a spherical support meant for the prototype of the Semovente M43 da 105/25.
The field version of the gun had a maximum range of 13 km and a practical range of 2,000-2,500 m for anti-tank ammunition. It had a practical firing rate of 8 rounds per minute. Obviously, inside the narrow fighting compartment of the self-propelled gun, this dropped dramatically.
The gun weight is not given in the sources, but we can assume that it did not exceed one tonne together with its spherical support. The Cannone da 105/28 Mod. 1912, also produced by Ansaldo (and with which it shared the ammunition) had a barrel length of 2.987 m (compared to 2.6 m of the 105/25) and weighed 850 kg.
Thanks to the enlargement of the vehicle, the cannon’s spherical mount was centrally placed on the front plate. The gun had a horizontal traverse of 18° to the right and 18° to the left, as well as an elevation of +18° and a depression of -10°.
After the war, some 105/25 guns were used as anti-tank artillery in the bunkers of the fortification line called the “Alpine Wall”, on the border with Yugoslavia, in the early years of the Cold War.
No other data is available on this artillery piece due to the few units produced and their limited use.
The secondary armament consisted of a Breda Mod. 38 medium machine gun, a vehicle version of the Breda Mod. 37 medium machine gun used by the Italian infantry. The machine gun weighed 15.4 kg and was chambered with the 8×59 RB Breda cartridge. It was specially developed for Italian machine guns in 1935 and had a muzzle velocity of 775 m/s. The Breda Mod. 38 had a theoretical firing rate of 600 rounds per minute, which in practice dropped to about 350 rounds per minute. One of the advantages of this machine gun, in addition to its reliability, was its small size. In fact, the machine gun was only 89 cm long, taking up little space when stowed inside the vehicle.
Some sources claim that, due to the lack of Breda machine guns or for simple convenience, some German crews who received these self-propelled guns replaced the Breda Mod. 38 with German-made machine guns, such as the MG34 or MG42. This would have greatly increased the anti-aircraft firepower of the vehicle, but there is no photographic evidence or data confirming the use of Mauser machine guns on the self-propelled vehicles.
Although lacking interior space, the crew brought onboard the Semovente M43 their Carcano Mod. 91 rifles, MAB 38 submachine guns and OTO, Breda or SRCM Mod. 35 hand grenades or their German counterparts for close defense against enemy infantry.
The 105/25 Cannon could fire a wide range of projectiles:
Explosive Filler (kg)
Maximum Range (m)
Penetration at 1,000 m
Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 32
Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 36
Proietto Perforante da 105
72 mm at 90°
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale M43
9,400, effective 2,000-2,500
120 mm at 90°
The Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 32 and the Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 36 were almost identical, but the Mod. 36 with ADE M32 or ADE M36 nose percussion fuze could detonate the ammunition on impact or in the air.
Information about the anti-tank ammunition is provided only by some accounts. The muzzle velocity of the Armor-Piercing, Capped – Tracer (APC-T) was 500 m/s and it could pierce a maximum of 90 mm of ballistic steel inclined at 90° at 100 meters, 80 mm at 500 meters and about 60 mm at 2,000 meters.
The penetration and muzzle velocity of the Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds are unknown. The Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale M43 had a muzzle velocity of 510 m/s. It could pierce a 120 mm plate inclined at 90°. The maximum range was of 9,400 m with anti-tank effectiveness at a maximum distance of 2,000-2,500 m.
There were also smoke and incendiary projectiles developed for the field artillery version. These were apparently almost never used on the Semovente.
The Breda Mod. 38 machine gun was fed by top curved magazines with 24 bullets. This was not ideal, because it did not allow for continuous fire against aircraft or infantry.
The standard 8 mm ammunition had a muzzle velocity of 780 m/s and could penetrate a 11 mm RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armor) plate at 90° at a distance of 100 m.
Although hardly ever used on self-propelled guns, the machine gun could also fire M.39 AP (Armor Piercing) shells. The bullet weighed 12 grams and could penetrate an armor plate of 16 mm at 100 m.
In the wooden rack on the right of the vehicle, there were 864 shells, equivalent to 36 magazines.
Starting from the front of the vehicle, there was the transmission connected to the braking system, which had two armored inspection hatches. These could be opened from the outside by means of two handles, or from the inside by means of a knob located on the right side of the vehicle, which could be used by the gunner.
On the left was the driver’s position with the seat with a fold-down back for easy access. In front, it had the two steering tillers, an armored slot that could be closed with a lever and a hyposcope for driving with the slot closed. On the left was the control panel and, on the right, the gun breech.
Behind the driver, there was a box rack for twelve 105 mm rounds arranged in rows of 4 rounds, with a padding on top that also served as a seat for the loader. Behind this, there was a rack of 24 105 mm rounds, also arranged in rows of 4 rounds.
The loader had, on the left, the radio system and, above him, one of the two armored hatches. In case of an air attack, the loader would also have to use the anti-aircraft machine gun.
On the right side of the fighting compartment, there was the gunner’s/commander’s seat without a backrest. In front of his seat, the gunner had the elevation and swing handwheels. On the left was the gun breech. Interestingly, the lever for opening the breech was placed on the right side of the breech. This meant that, after firing, the gunner had to rotate his torso by about 90° (a very uncomfortable action in the narrow space) and open the breech.
On his right was the support for the anti-aircraft gun (when not in use), a maintenance kit and a fire extinguisher. Behind the support was a wooden rack for the ammunition of the machine gun. In order to prevent the magazines from falling on rough terrain, the rack had a closable curtain.
Behind the gunner/commander was the last ammunition rack with 12 105 mm rounds arranged in three rows of 4 rounds.
On the rear wall of the fighting compartment, there were four cumbersome filters for air, oil and two for the fuel. The engine fan, an engine cooling water tank, the batteries for engine ignition were also there, and the transmission shaft ran through the entire fighting compartment, dividing it in half.
The Semovente M43 da 105/25 was the only self-propelled gun of World War II armed with a 105 mm gun, but with only 3 crew members. The driver was positioned on the left of the vehicle. On his right was the gun breech. The commander/gunner was positioned on the right of the vehicle and loader/radio operator on the left, behind the driver.
Some sources state that the Germans preferred to add a fourth crewman behind the gunner, who would load the gun. The loader’s seat would be occupied by the commander/radio operator and the gunner would perform only one function. Obviously, adding a fourth crewman meant reducing the quantity of 105 mm ammunition on board and, above all, operating in a fighting compartment that was already cramped with three men.
The engine of the Semovente M43 da 105/25 was inherited from the previous self-propelled guns on the M42 chassis, which in turn inherited it from the M15/42. This was the FIAT-SPA T15B. ‘B’ stood for ‘Benzina’ (Eng. Petrol). This was a petrol water-cooled 11,980 cm³ engine developing 190 hp at 2400 rpm. It was developed by FIAT and one of its subsidiary companies, the Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA (Eng. Piedmontese Automobile Company). Previously, on Italian vehicles such as the M11/39, M13/40 and M14/41 and the self-propelled guns on their chassis (M40 and M41), the engine was a diesel. Due to the scarcity of fuel as early as the beginning of 1942, the Royal Italian Army converted to gasoline with the M15/42. However, due to the size of the 307 liter gasoline tank (compared to 145 liters-tanks of the previous diesel engined tanks) and the fire extinguishing system, the chassis was lengthened by 14 cm (5.06 m compared to 4.92 m of previous models).
The engine was quite reliable, with a power-to-weight ratio of 12 hp/tonne and was connected to the Fiat 8 F2 transmission (the same as on the previous vehicles) with four forward gears and one reverse gear. This guaranteed a maximum speed of 35 km/h and a range of 180 km.
The radio onboard the Semovente was the standard Italian tank equipment, the Magneti Marelli RF1CA produced in Sesto San Giovanni, near Milan. It had a weight of 13 kg. The transceiver had the possibility of adjusting the sensitivity of the amplifier by a two-position switch, ‘Vicino’ (Eng: near) for distances not exceeding 5 km and ‘Lontano’ (Eng: far) for distances between 5 and 12 km, the maximum range of the radio.
The equipment was placed on the left side of the hull, above the fender, under its standard 1.8 m high antenna that could be lowered 90° to the rear by means of a knob. The 8 watt radio transformer and four Magneti Marelli 3NF-12-1-24 batteries were on the radio’s right. Further to the right was the driver’s instrument panel.
The first Semoventi M43 da 105/25 were completed at the beginning of May 1943. The first self-propelled gun, plate number ‘R.E. 5846’, was delivered on 2nd July 1943, after testing at the tank crew School of the Royal Army in Nettunia, about fifty kilometers from Rome.
It was foreseen by the Regio Esercito that these vehicles would be used in Gruppi Corazzati (ENG. Armored Groups) of 12 self-propelled guns, subdivided into 3 platoons of 4 vehicles. These would have the task of supporting the actions of the P26/40, then at the beginning of production, and of the P30/43, which was still under development.
Five Armored Groups were created by the Regio Esercito, the DC° Gruppo Corazzato, DCI° Gruppo Corazzato, DCII° Gruppo Corazzato, DCIV° Gruppo Corazzato and DCV° Gruppo Corazzato.
On 25th July 1943, Mussolini was arrested by order of the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III d’Italia, and the Gran Consiglio del Fascismo (Eng: Grand Council of Fascism). The new government, presided over by Prime Minister Pietro Badoglio, ordered the Army to continue to fight alongside the Axis powers even if, almost immediately, in secret, it tried to negotiate an armistice with the Allies.
This situation brought much confusion to the soldiers who, in many cases, were not even informed about what had really happened in Rome.
Only the DCI° Gruppo Corazzato and the DCII° Gruppo Corazzato stationed at Nettunia for crew training received all 12 vehicles.
From what is reported, the DCI° Gruppo Corazzato, assigned to the 135ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ (Eng. 135th Armored Division), was the only one to participate in military actions of the Regio Esercito, participating in the Defense of Rome on 9th September 1943.
As mentioned, Italian Prime Minister Badoglio tried to sign an armistice with the Allied powers and succeeded in his intent only on 3rd September 1943.
The official proclamation was made by U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower on Radio Algiers at 6.30 p.m. and then repeated by Pietro Badoglio in Italian on Radio EIAR at 7.42 p.m. on 8th September 1943.
Needless to say, this threw almost all units of the Royal Army into chaos, as they did not receive precise orders and were forced to act on their own initiative.
Immediately after the Armistice, the German command, which had foreseen the Italian defection, launched Fall Achse (Eng. Operation Axis), meant to take apart the Italian Royal Army.
On 9th September 1943, the morning after the radio announcement of the Armistice, the 135th Armored Division engaged German troops in the city of Cesano, and on the Via Ostiense leading to Rome.
It is not clear in which part of Rome they took part in the fighting, as the Armored Division fought in every neighborhood of Rome supporting the 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” (Eng. 21st Infantry Division) at Porta San Paolo, the members of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (Eng. Italian Police of Africa) and the 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri (Eng. 18th Bersaglieri Regiment) near the Colosseum.
During the fighting, four Semoventi M43 da 105/25 of the DCI° Gruppo Corazzato were destroyed. It is not clear whether they were all destroyed by German weapons or whether some were sabotaged by the crews before escaping and joining the Italian partisan resistance or returning to their homes.
Immediately after the Armistice, the Germans launched Fall Achse, which lasted until 19th September 1943 and resulted in the deaths of between 20,000 and 30,000 Italian soldiers, the capture of just over one million Italian soldiers, 2,700 anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, 5,500 howitzers or field guns, 16,600 trucks or cars and 977 armored vehicles.
Among the 977 captured armored vehicles were the 26 surviving Semoventi M43 da 105/25, which were later renamed Beutepanzer Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 105/25 853(i) (Eng. Captured Assault Gun with 105/25 gun Italian).
For the duration of the war, the Germans received another 91 StuG M43 mit 105/25 853(i) produced after the Armistice. This means that the Wehrmacht used a total of 116 M43 mit 105/25.
While the Germans operated relatively large numbers of M-series tanks and some older Semovente in the Balkans for anti-partisan operations, the more modern Semovente M43 da 105/25 were only used in Italy. By the end of September 1943, the German units had around 221 (both 75 and 105 mm) Semovente at their disposal.
At the end of 1943, the 26th Panzer Division had 7, the 356th Infantry Division had 20 and the Panzer training unit Sued had two Semovente M43 da 105/25 vehicles. The greatest concentration of these vehicles was allocated to the SturmGeschütz Brigade 914 (Assault Gun Brigade) and SturmGeschütz Brigade 21. By February 1944, the 914th Brigade had some 31 Semovente da 105/25 in its inventory. The 21st Brigade continued to operate the Semovente da 105/25 up to the war’s end. By mid-March 1945, it had 56 such vehicles, three of which were given to this unit by the 356th Infantry Division.
The M43 da 105/25 was used by the German mainly in anti-tank roles when possible. The Italian vehicles, in general, were plagued by the lack of spare parts and ammunition. So the relatively large number of vehicles did not always necessarily mean that all were operational, as most would be often stored at the rear for much needed repairs. One occasion where the M43 da 105/25 was used was by Panzer Regiment 26 which attacked the Allied positions at Mozzagrogna with the 65. Infantrie-Division at the end of November 1943. The attack was spearheaded by 6 Semovente (three 105 and three 75 mm) and five Flammenpanzer III flame tanks. One flame tank was destroyed by PIAT attacks of the 1st/5th Royal Gurkha Rifles or the 1st Royal Fusiliers when he tried to attack the allied HQ at the church in Mozzagrogna with his Flammenpanzer III.
The unit was later on attacked by Allied ground attack planes and decimated, with only one Semovente M43 da 105/25 managing to survive. The Germans were generally satisfied with the Semovente vehicles, but noted that these lacked proper observation sights, had insufficient frontal armor and a cramped crew compartment.
When production resumed, the Germans ordered the vehicles to be modified by adding four large teeth to the sprocket wheel, which decreased the risk of the tracks falling off or coming loose. Some sources also mention that the Germans had replaced the Italian radio system with a German one and also the machine guns, but there is no evidence of these changes.
Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano
After 8th September 1943, the Germans freed Benito Mussolini and took him to Germany to discuss the continuation of the war alongside the Axis with Adolf Hitler. On 23rd September, he returned to Italy as ‘Duce’ and founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (Eng. Italian Social Republic), a collaborationist state in the territories not yet occupied by the Allies. Some Italian prisoners who had remained loyal to Mussolini immediately joined the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano, ENR (Eng. National Republican Army).
This new army was armed with few armored vehicles, artillery pieces and any other type of military equipment because, after the armistice, the German soldiers no longer trusted their Italian allies.
A good part of the units of the new army and of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, or GNR (Eng. Republican National Guard), had to arm themselves as best they could. They produced several homemade vehicles or recovered abandoned vehicles in very bad condition from former Regio Esercito depots.
One of these units was the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ (Eng. Armored Group) which, during the last two years of the war, was equipped with only 7 L3/35 light tanks, 1 L6/40 light tank, 5 tanks of the ‘M’ series (4 M13/40 and 1 M15/42) and a Semovente M43 da 105/25, the latter from February 1945.
It is not clear how the unit took possession of the self-propelled gun. It is supposed that it was one of the examples in service since February 1944 with the 1° Deposito Carristi (Eng: 1st Tanker Depot) in Verona, where it would have been used for the training of tankers. According to the Army Staff, this vehicle had damaged optics.
The vehicle, part of the Squadrone Comando (Eng. Command Squadron), received the nickname ‘Terremoto’ (Eng. Earthquake) painted in capital letters on the front plate. It also had an Italian tricolor and, on the sides, a lion holding between the paws the fascio littorio, symbol of the Partito Fascista Italiano (Eng: Italian Fascist Party) and Italian flags.
From January to the first days of April, the vehicle was not used in anti-partisan actions, but only for training and was stationed in Polpenazze sul Garda, 130 km east of Milan, at the headquarters of the Armored Group. In April 1945, when the situation was desperate, the Command Squadron was stationed in Milan, avoiding the popular strike and insurrection, but without the Semovente. On the night of 24th April 1945, the day of the partisan insurrection that, in a few days, would lead to the complete loss of the main cities of Northern Italy, such as Turin, Genoa and Milan, a unit formed of the five ‘M’ series tanks, some light tanks and the Semovente, under the orders of the Armored Group Commander Gianluca Zuccaro, moved towards Milan.
During the night, an Allied aircraft noticed the column and attacked the unit repeatedly, but only with machine guns. It disabled an ‘M’ tank that was abandoned on the roadside the morning of 25th April.
After receiving orders to surrender from the Armored Group Headquarters, the tank crews sabotaged the vehicles near Cernusco sul Naviglio, 100 km from Polpenazze and surrendered to the partisans.
Semovente M43 da 75/34
This was a self-propelled gun built on the same hull, but with the Cannone da 75/34 cannon Mod. S.F., the same as on the Semoventi M42M da 75/34. Only 29 were built and they were only used by the Germans in tank destroyer Regiments in Italy and the Balkans. It had more internal space due to the smaller dimensions of the 75 mm cannon breech. The total number of rounds transported was 45, giving the crew more space.
Semovente M43 da 75/46
Developed in 1943, with heavy armament and armor, the main armament was a powerful Cannone da 75/46 C.A. Mod. 1934 and the welded armor had a maximum thickness of 100 mm on the frontal plate, the only Italian vehicle with this thickness. Eleven were built during 1944-1945 and only used by the German Army in one tank destroyer Regiment in the defence of the Gothic Line. One was captured by Brazilian soldiers in Piacenza and one was captured by partisans in Milan. None survived the war.
The Semovente M43 da 105/25 was produced in small numbers during the war and could make little contribution to the Axis forces during the war. Most were used by the Germans, but the lack of supplies and ammunition hindered their use. Their gun proved to be an excellent anti-tank artillery piece. Unfortunately, no M43 has survived to the present day.
Kingdom of Italy (1942-1945)
Medium Tank – 167 built
The Carro Armato M15/42 was the last variant of the Italian ‘M’ tank series. It was in service from late 1942 to 1945 in small numbers. For the most part, it was used by the Wehrmacht. Compared to its predecessors, the M13/40 and M14/41, it had a much more powerful engine and a gun with greater anti-tank performance.
Development of the M15/42
In order to discuss the M15/42, its predecessors must be taken into consideration. The ‘M’ series was born in 1938, with the M11/39 (Medium 11 tonnes, Model 1939), itself developed from the Carro di Rottura da 10t (Eng. 10-tonne Breakthrough Tank). This vehicle was, in turn, inspired by the two Vickers 6 ton tanks that the Regio Esercito purchased from Britain in 1932.
Imagining that a hypothetical future war would be fought like World War I in the mountainous terrain of northern Italy, the designers developed a very light vehicle. This was done in order for it to cross small bridges and traverse narrow mountain roads. It had the cannon in the casemate because it was deemed that it was less likely to be attacked from the side in the mountains.
The vehicle was still a long way away from the shape of the M15/42, but the lower hull and suspension were almost unchanged between the two vehicles.
The M11/39 was armed with a 37/40 Vickers-Terni cannon in the casemate. It had a limited traverse range. There was also a single-seat turret equipped with two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns. The vehicle, although modern, did not impress the Regio Esercito, which ordered only 100 units, produced between July 1939 and May 1940.
Considering the limited firepower of the M11/39 and its ineffectiveness in facing other tanks, Ansaldo modified the vehicle by equipping it with a two-seat revolving turret armed with a 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon. The previous gun position in the hull was replaced with a ball mount for two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns.
The new M13/40 (Medio 13 tonnellate Modello 1940 – Medium 13 tonnes Model 1940) was presented in October 1939. After some modifications, it was accepted into production by the Regio Esercito. In November 1939, 400 units were ordered, with the first ones delivered only in July 1940.
The engine of the M13/40 was more powerful than the 105 hp FIAT SPA 8T of the M11/39. This improved power plant was the FIAT SPA 8T Mod. 1940 11,140 cm³ V8 diesel engine delivering 125 hp at 1,800 rpm, allowing a speed of 32 km/h for the M13/40. The tank had a weight of about 14 tonnes.
In August 1941, the first M14/41 (Medio 14 tonnellate Modello 1941 – Medium 14 tonnes Model 1941) came off the assembly line. It differed from the M13/40 in having reinforced fenders, some small external modifications, and the new FIAT SPA 15T Mod. 1941 11,980 cm³ V8 diesel engine delivering 145 hp at 1,900 rpm.
The ammunition supply remained unchanged, with 87 rounds for both the M13/40 of the third series and for the M14/40. A total of 710 M13/40s were produced in three different series and 695 M14/41s in two different production series.
In the winter of 1940 and 1941, the Regio Esercito, in great difficulty due to the numerous defeats on the various war fronts, turned to its closest ally, Germany, placing an order for 800 French tanks captured during the French Campaign.
Given the German difficulties, the order was later reduced to 450 French tanks that arrived in even smaller numbers. 109 Renault R35s, out of 350 ordered, and 33 Somua S35s, out of 50 ordered, were received, while the 50 Char B1 heavy tanks were never delivered. The 142 vehicles were delivered in 1941, but the lack of spare parts and ammunition did not allow their use and the Regio Esercito was forced to look for another solution.
Another request for help was sent to Germany in June 1941, which responded by proposing that FIAT purchase the production license for the Panzer III, at that time the Wehrmacht’s leading tank. FIAT agreed in August, but a clause was added that armament and optics had to be purchased from Germany, as well as half of the raw materials needed to produce the vehicles.
These restrictions led to the cancellation of the contract, as FIAT convinced the High Command of the Royal Army that they should not allow Germany to interfere in the Italian industry.
Also in June 1941, the Regio Esercito tested the Czechoslovakian Skoda T-21 medium tank. Due to pressure from Ansaldo and FIAT, the Army was forced to give up on the evaluation and possible production.
In order to avoid losing the monopoly on the production of armament for the Regio Esercito, Ansaldo and FIAT announced in the summer of 1941 that they would be able to put the P26/40 tank into production by the spring of 1942. This was the same period foreseen for the production of the first Italian Panzer III or Skoda T-21 tanks under license.
However, the Royal Army needed a new tank. This time, it no longer relied on FIAT and Ansaldo, but tested foreign material. The two leading companies in the Italian sector set to work in order to distract the High Command of the Royal Army from its research into alternative vehicles.
The two companies began to work together on the Carro Armato Medio Celere (Eng. Fast Medium Tank) ordered by the Royal Army at the beginning of 1941. Until then, it had remained in an embryonic state.
In June 1941, Ansaldo presented the mock-up of the Carro Armato Medio Celere, now called Carro Armato Celere Sahariano (Eng. Saharan Fast Tank). This was produced in a hurry by mounting a wooden superstructure on an M14/41 hull.
The project was slowed down by the development of Christie suspension and the prototype was ready only in the spring of 1942. The tests lasted until 1943, showing that the vehicle was well designed, but it was too late. The North African Campaign was coming to an end and the vehicle lost its purpose.
Due to delays in the production of the vehicle, FIAT and Ansaldo had to devise a stratagem to prevent the Royal Army from canceling the contract in favor of a foreign vehicle. In fact, in February 1942, Germany once again proposed the production of the Panzer IV under license.
After August 1942, the official Regio Esercito nomenclature for tanks changed from vehicle type, weight in tonnes, and year of production to type and year of production. For example, the M13/40 became the M40, the M14/41 became the M41, and the M15/42 became the M42.
Thus, the correct name for this vehicle would be M42. However, it was still called the M15/42 by the crews, and many book sources and contemporary companies call it the M15/42. In keeping with the popular usage, this article will use the M15/42 designation from here on.
History of the Prototype
In 1941, a 47 mm L.40 cannon was mounted in the turret of an M14/41, but continuous delays slowed down the project. Finally, in 1942, with the experience gained with the Carro Armato Celere Sahariano that mounted the same gun, it was possible to modify the turret to resist the firing recoil.
The M14/41 hull was also modified by lengthening it to accommodate a new gasoline engine with greater power than the FIAT SPA 15T. The side access hatch was also moved to the right side of the vehicle. After testing, the first batch of the new M15/42 Tank (Medio 15 tonnellate Modello 1942 – Medium 15 tonnes Model 1942) was ordered in October 1942.
In October 1942, after tests, 280 units were ordered, stopping the production of the M14/41.
In 1943, however, with the planned start of production of the P26/40 and with the obvious backwardness of the ‘M’ series, the High Command of the Royal Army decided to rely only on heavy tanks and self-propelled vehicles. They cut the order of M15/42s to 220 in March 1943.
Entering production in autumn 1942, the first vehicle was registered on November 21st, 1942, with plate number R.E. 5022, and assigned to the Centro Carristi di Civitavecchia on November 28th in order to train new crews.
The data on the production of the M15/42 are very discordant. Some sources claim numbers even beyond the two hundred units produced during the war.
An Ansaldo source states that the first batch of 103 vehicles was produced in 1942 and a second batch of 36 by March 1943. A third batch of 80 was due by December 1943 but was never fully completed.
The number of 103 vehicles produced between October and December 1942 seems slightly exaggerated given the short period of time and state of the Italian armament industry. According to this document, 139 M15/42 were produced by March 1943, plus another unspecified number between March and September, before the armistice.
After the armistice, 28 M15/42 were produced for the Germans in 1944. The total number of M15/42s produced should be at least 167, while the maximum number could be at most 248 (considering the entire last batch was finished in addition to the German vehicles).
At the front, the rounded transmission cover had two hooks and a towing ring. There were also two inspection hatches above the clutch. The two hatches could be opened or closed from the inside of the vehicle even while driving by means of a lever located on the right side of the chassis. This allowed the driver to better cool the clutch while driving if needed and when not in combat.
On the right side, the front superstructure had a ball mount armed with two machine guns. On the left side, there was a slot for the driver, who also had a hyposcope for use when the hatch was closed. For night driving, there were two headlights on the sides of the superstructure.
On the left side of the superstructure, there was a pistol port behind the headlight, used for close defense. Three canister holders were mounted on this side. These were used to carry fuel to increase the range of the vehicle. On the right side, there was a large hatch for crew access. It was also equipped with a pistol port for close defense.
On the rear side of the superstructure, there were two more pistol ports and an air intake. On the mudguards, behind the superstructure, were a glove box on each side and the mufflers behind. These were equipped with a heat sink.
In order to make room for the new engine, the engine compartment was lengthened by 14 centimeters (5.06 meters length compared to the 4.92 meters of the M13/40 and M14/41). Because of the lengthening, extra armor plates were added and the track tensioning system was modified. The engine deck received inspection hatches which could be opened at 45°. Cooling grills were added. Between the two inspection hatches there were the tools, including a shovel, a pickaxe, a crowbar, and a track removal system.
The rear of the vehicle was completely redesigned compared to previous ‘M’ series tanks. The radiator cooling grills were much larger and the rear was much more sloped. The rear had a towing ring and two hooks, two spare wheels, and a license plate. There was a brake light on the left side.
During production, a smoke launcher was added to the rear. In order to make room for it, one of the two spare wheels was removed. The jack that was previously positioned on the back was moved to the front, on the left fender, in front of the superstructure. This was like on the M13/40 first Series.
The armor thickness was slightly increased compared to the previous models of the ‘M’ series. The frontal armor of the transmission cover was rounded and 30 mm thick. The frontal plate of the hull, inclined at 12°, was 42 mm thick. The sides of the hull and superstructure, inclined at 8°, were 25 mm thick. The back of the superstructure was 25 mm thick, while the back of the hull was 20 mm thick.
The turret, on the other hand, had a maximum armor of 50 mm on the mantlet and 45 mm frontally inclined at 13°. The sides and the back were 25 mm inclined at 20°. The roof of the hull and of the turret and the engine deck had a thickness of 15 mm, while the floor of the hull had a thickness of only 6 mm.
The armor was bolted to an internal frame, making the structure more fragile but with faster replacement of damaged armor plates than models with welded or cast armor.
The armor was produced with low-quality steel because, while the demand for ballistic steel to produce armored vehicles had increased since 1939, the Italian industry was not able to supply very large quantities of high-quality steel. This was further worsened because of the embargoes that hit Italy in 1935-1936 due to the invasion of Ethiopia and the almost total isolation after 1940.
In fact, the Kingdom of Italy counted on the fact that, in case of entry into the war on the German side, their new allies would supply the majority of raw materials needed to produce high-quality steel. Obviously, starting in 1942, Germany could not supply these large quantities of raw materials since it had to replace its own losses.
The suspension was of the semi-elliptical leaf spring type. On each side, there were four bogies with eight doubled rubber road wheels paired on two suspension units in total. This suspension type was obsolete and did not allow the vehicle to reach a high top speed. In addition, it was very vulnerable to enemy fire or mines. Due to the lengthening of the hull, one of the two suspension units was mounted a few inches back.
The tank had 26 cm wide tracks with 86 track links per side, 6 more than the other tanks of the ‘M’ series due to the hull lengthening. The drive sprockets were at the front and the idlers with modified track tension adjusters at the back, with three rubber return rollers on each side. The small surface area of the tracks (20,800 cm²) caused a ground pressure of 0.76 kg/cm², increasing the risk that the vehicle would bog down in mud, snow, or sand.
The two-seat turret had a narrow mantlet armed with a 47 mm cannon and a coaxial machine gun on the left. There was a turret basket attached to the turret, with a support connected to a circular platform above the transmission shaft. Two folding seats for the loader and the commander were welded on the same support.
In addition to the gun breech and the machine gun, the gunsight was on the right, while a small rack for 13 magazines for the machine gun was on the far left.
On the roof of the turret, there was a rectangular split hatch, two panoramic monocular periscopes produced by the company San Giorgio, a bulge that allowed better depression for the cannon and a support for the anti-aircraft machine gun.
On the sides were two pistol ports for viewing the exterior and for close defense. At the back were stowed ready-to-use 47 mm rounds in two different racks.
The main armament of the M15/42 was the Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938. It was a significantly more powerful cannon than the 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon used on the Semovente L40 da 47/32 and the previous M13/40 and M14/41 medium tanks.
This cannon was also used on the AB43 ‘Cannone’ and the Carro Armato Celere Sahariano. It was developed starting from the 47/32 Mod. 1935 in 1938 and was produced only for vehicles. It was made by the Ansaldo-Fossati factory of Genoa. The elevation in the M15/42 turret was +20° and the depression was -10°. The maximum firing rate, thanks to the semi-automatic breech, was 14 rounds per minute. Due to the reduced space inside the vehicle, in practice, this dropped to about 8-10 rounds per minute.
The cannon had a maximum range of about 9,000 m, but its effective anti-tank range was only 1,200 to 1,500 m.
In addition to the 38 cm longer barrel (1.88 meters compared to 1.5 meters), the breech was larger. This meant that it could fire round with a longer casing, increasing the muzzle velocity, the accuracy at long range, and penetration.
The secondary armament consisted of four 8 mm Breda Mod. 38 machine guns, one mounted coaxially on the left side of the gun, two in the hull’s spherical mount, and a fourth which could be mounted on the anti-aircraft support on the turret roof.
These machine guns were the vehicle version of the Breda Mod. 37 medium machine gun used by the Italian infantry and had a top curved 24-round magazine.
In 1943, smoke grenade launchers were introduced. Smoke grenades were stored in a box mounted on the right side of the rear of the engine compartment. A box for carrying smoke grenades was also mounted on the rear of the superstructure, above the protective plate of the air intake.
When activated, the box would drop a smoke grenade, masking the position of the vehicle. It is unclear how effective this rear-mounted system was, but it was fitted to all vehicles produced from 1943 onwards, including the last series of AB41 and AB43 armored cars.
The Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938 used the same ammunition as the previous Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun, but its cartridges were 10 centimeters (32,8 centimeters versus 22,7 centimeters) longer. This increased the muzzle velocity by 43%. This also increased precision and penetration.
The ammunition types consisted of:
Cartoccio Granata da 47 mod. 35
Percussion mod. 35 or mod. 39
Perforante mod. 35
Armor Piercing – Tracer
Percussion mod. 09
Proietto Perforante mod. 39
Armor-Piercing Composite Rigid – Tracer
Percussion mod. 09
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto
Internal mod. 41
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale
IPEM front fuze
The advantage was that the new gun had a larger breech. This allowed the use of 328 mm long shell casings, instead of the 227 mm ones on the previous gun. The Proietto Perforante mod. 35. fired from the 47/32 Mod. 1935 had a muzzle velocity of 630 m/s, while the same ammunition fired from the 47/40 Mod. 1938 gun had a muzzle velocity of 900 m/s.
The Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale could penetrate 112 mm at 100 m and 43 mm at 1,000 m, instead of the 30 mm at 1,000 m of the 47/32 Mod. 1935 round.
The M15/42 carried a total of 111 shells onboard in three different racks. The first two unprotected racks were in the turret and contained 9 rounds each. The third, containing 93 47 mm shells, was positioned on the bottom of the hull.
None of the racks were armored. Often, when the racks on the back of the turret were hit, the result was a catastrophic explosion that destroyed the machine. The same thing is true for the rack in the hull even if, because of its lower position, it was rarely hit.
For the Breda machine guns, there were 108 magazines of 24 rounds each, for a total of 2,592 rounds. The 8×59 mm RB Breda cartridge had two types of bullets. These were standard ammunition and the M.39 AP (Armor Piercing) that weighed 12 grams and, with a muzzle velocity of 780 m/s, could penetrate a 16 mm RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armor) plate at 90° at a distance of 100 m. The standard ammunition, with the same muzzle velocity, penetrated 11 mm at 100 m.
The Breda magazine racks were mounted on the sides of the superstructure, 54 on the left side and 41 on the right side, with 13 more carried in the turret.
At the front of the fighting compartment were the transmission and the braking system. On the left side of the superstructure was the driver’s seat, which has a folding backrest to facilitate access. In front of this position, the driver had a large slit with a lever used to open or close it. Above the slit was the hyposcope.
The driver also had two tillers to move the vehicle. The handbrake handle was on the left, while the gearshift was on the right. On the left side was the dashboard, a box with spare hyposcopes, and the pistol port. Behind the dashboard, there were racks for machine gun magazines.
On the right-hand side was the machine gunner, who also sat on a folding seat. In front of the machine gunner were the machine guns while, on the right, there were some magazines for the two weapons and the radio.
In the middle of the right side was the access hatch. On the lower side was the storage place for the anti-aircraft machine gun, which was fixed to the hull with straps. In the middle of the vehicle was the transmission shaft, which was largely covered by the circular platform which served as a floor for the two crew members in the turret.
On the left side, at the bottom of the hull, was the largest 47 mm ammunition rack. The rear of the superstructure had two large cylindrical filters and the engine coolant tank. On the floor and on the sides of the superstructure were more racks for machine gun magazines.
The engine of the M15/42 medium tank was inherited from previous tanks of the ‘M’ series. However, in addition to the increase in displacement that increased the overall performance of the vehicle, the novelty was that the new engine worked on gasoline. The change of fuel from diesel to gasoline was due to the fact that the Italian diesel reserves were now almost completely exhausted.
The new FIAT-SPA T15B (‘B’ for ‘Benzina’) petrol water-cooled 11,980 cm³ engine developed 190 hp at 2,400 rpm. It was designed by FIAT and one of its subsidiary companies, the Società Piemontese Automobili, or SPA (Eng. Piedmontese Automobile Company). It gave the vehicle a maximum velocity of 38 km/h on-road and 20 km/h off-road. It had an on-road range of 220 km and an off-road range of 130 km, or 12 operational hours.
Thanks to the increased space in the engine compartment, the tank’s fuel tanks were increased to 367 liters in the main tanks, plus 40 liters in the reserve tank. This gave a total of 407 liters. The fuel consumption was almost two liters of gasoline per kilometer.
The engine was better suited to the new vehicle, with a power-to-weight ratio of just under 13 hp/tonne. It was connected to a new transmission produced by FIAT, with five forward and one reverse gears, one gear more than the previous vehicles.
The crew was composed of four. A driver on the left side of the hull and machine-gunner/radio operator on his right. Behind them, sitting in the turret, were the tank commander/gunner on the right and the loader on the left.
The crew of 4 was insufficient. The tank commander had to perform too many tasks, having to give orders to the rest of the crew, examine the battlefield, find targets, aim at them, and fire.
The Regio Esercito received about a hundred M42s by September 1943. However, the Army was never able to use these vehicles, except during the clashes against the Germans between September 8th and 11th 1943. In Sicily and Southern Italy, the M15/42 was never sent to fight the Allied troops. The Regio Esercito used them only for the training of the crews and in the new armored units it had created after the loss of Tunisia.
85 M42s were assigned to the 135ª Divisione Corazzata “Ariete II” (Eng. 135th Armored Division “Ariete II”) together with 12 M42 Centro Radio,164 other tanks (medium and light) and self-propelled guns, and 80 AB41 armored cars and AS42 and AS43 trucks. This unit was formed in July 1943 and was part of the Corpo d’Armata Motocorazzato (Eng. Armored Motor Corps). It was stationed in Rome.
After the fall of Benito Mussolini on July 25th, 1943, at the behest of the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II, the Italian Marshal Pietro Badoglio was brought in to command the army. He continued the war on the side of the German allies but secretly tried to make contact with the Allied powers to surrender.
The Chief of Staff of the Royal Army, Vittorio Ambrosio, moved the Armored Corps to Rome for two reasons. The first was to defend the capital from a possible Allied landing. The second was to defend Rome from a possible coup attempt by the fascists still loyal to Benito Mussolini.
The Armored Motor Corps was formed from the 10ª Divisione fanteria “Piave” (Eng. 10th Infantry Division “Piave”), the 136ª Divisione Corazzata “Centauro II” (Eng. 136th Armored Division “Centauro II”) (not considered loyal to the King, but to Mussolini) and the 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” (Eng. 21st Infantry Division “Granatieri di Sardegna”). It was equipped with 11 self-propelled guns and 31 tanks of the ‘M’ series (probably including some M15/42s).
Obviously, there were other units in Rome, such as the 220ª and 221ª Divisioni della Difesa Costiera (Eng. 220th and 221st Coastal Defense Divisions), 103ª Divisione fanteria “Piacenza” (Eng. 103rd Infantry Division “Piacenza”), the X° Reggimento Arditi (Eng. 10th Regiment Arditi), as well as smaller units, such as those of the Corpo dei Carabinieri Reali (Eng. Royal Carabiners Corps), the Corpo della Regia Guardia di Finanza (Eng. Corps of the Royal Finance Guard) and the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (Eng. Italian African Police). This totaled 88,137 soldiers, 124 tanks, 257 self-propelled guns, 122 armored cars and trucks, and 615 cannons and howitzers in the capital.
The proclamation of the surrender was made by Pietro Badoglio on Radio Algiers at 0745 pm, on September 8th, 1943, catching the Italian troops unprepared, as they did not expect the surrender.
The Germans were, however, not unprepared for the Italian defection. They had already prepared Fall Achse (Eng. Operation Axis). In the north of Rome, they had at their disposal about 25,000 soldiers, 71 tanks, 54 self-propelled guns, 196 armored cars and 165 cannons.
Already by 1000 pm, the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division “Ramke” (Eng. 2nd Parachute Division “Ramke”) attacked the airport of Pratica di Mare, which was 30 km south of Rome. During the morning of September 9th, German units repeatedly attacked a stronghold of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II”. This position resisted throughout the day, losing 4 tanks and 20 soldiers.
Other units of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II” were in the area between Bracciano and Menziana. They blocked the 3. Panzergrenadier Division, which had to give up the attack against Rome, heading towards Naples.
The men of the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division succeeded in forcing the Italian troops to retreat inside the city on September 9th and restarted the attack on September 10th. The 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” had established itself at Porta San Paolo, part of the ancient Roman walls, together with some groups of Allievi Carabinieri and other units of the Royal Army. They were also supported by several civilians who took to the streets either unarmed or armed with hunting weapons.
The 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division was slowed down significantly and, only at 1700 pm managed to penetrate the rather poorly organized Italian defenses.
In the fight for the Porta San Paolo and in the defense of the nearby Forte Ostiense, some ‘M’ series tanks of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II” were damaged or destroyed by German troops. The numbers and the exact model of the vehicles are unknown, it can only be assumed that there were some M15/42s among them.
During the clashes of Porta San Paolo, a Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger hit an ‘M’ tank of an unknown model. Only one member of the crew survived, saved by a young civilian woman who, under German fire, climbed into the vehicle, pulling him out of the turret and carrying him to safety.
At 1600 pm on September 10th, 1943, the Italian command proclaimed Rome an “Open City”, even if some Italian units fought until the evening. Most of the Italian soldiers surrendered to the Germans while others, along with civilians, fled the city to form the first partisan nuclei.
In the battle for Rome, 1,167 Italians died, of which between 200 and 400 were civilians. 597 Italians fell at Porta San Paolo, of which 414 military and 183 civilians.
The fate of the Italian vehicles present in Rome was threefold. Most were captured by the Germans or were handed over intact by the units that surrendered. Others were sabotaged by the crews before surrendering to the Germans. A small number were hidden from the Germans, waiting for the right time to use them.
In addition to Rome, the Regio Esercito defended itself also in Piombino, a Tuscan seaside town, where the Germans had landed on September 9th to occupy the city. The XIX Battaglione of the 31° Reggimento Carristi (Eng. 19th Battalion of the 31st Carristi Regiment), equipped with 20 tanks of the ‘M’ series (among which probably some M15/42s) and 18 M42 self-propelled guns contained the German troops until September 11th with heavy losses.
The CCCCXXXIII Battaglioni Complementi Carri M (Eng. 433rd Tank Complement Battalions ‘M’), which had training duties, was in Fidenza. After receiving news that the Germans were besieging Parma, at 0100 pm on September 9th, in the absence of orders, the unit unilaterally took the decision to support the troops in Parma. At 0530 PM, the unit left with 1 M15/42 tank, 7 Semoventi da 75/18 and 12 Autocannoni da 20/65 su SPA Dovunque.
Having had training duties, the vehicles had racks full of target practice rounds and had only 5 live rounds on board. The Germans discovered the column and organized an ambush outside Parma, knocking out 3 self-propelled guns and capturing another one.
The other vehicles managed to enter the city, creating a defensive perimeter until 0800 am, when the ammunition ran out and the CCCCXXXIII Battaglioni Complementi Carri M was forced to surrender after having sabotaged the vehicles.
Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano
After the Armistice, the Fall Achse operation, which lasted until September 19th, 1943, resulted in the killing of between 20,000 and 30,000 Italian soldiers and the capture of just over one million Italian soldiers, 2,700 anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, 5,500 howitzers or field guns, 16,600 trucks or cars, and 977 armored vehicles.
A small part of Italian soldiers immediately sided with the Germans but was deprived of their armored vehicles. The majority of Italian soldiers were captured and placed in prison or concentration camps until September 23rd, 1943, when Benito Mussolini returned to Italy after his release. He founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (Eng. Italian Social Republic) in Salò, in the province of Brescia.
Many Italian soldiers loyal to Mussolini and fascism adhered to the new republic, joining the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (Eng. National Republican Army). They were then released from prison and re-equipped.
Given previous events following the Armistice, the German soldiers did not trust the Italians and they re-equipped them with few Italian tanks, preferring to keep the captured tanks for themselves and, where possible, to replace their own losses.
The Italian soldiers were thus forced to re-equip themselves with the few armored vehicles not seized by the Germans, by looking for vehicles abandoned and hidden by the crews after September 8th or by repairing some damaged ones.
The Gruppo Corazzato “Leoncello” (Eng. Armored Group “Leoncello”) was established in September 1943 with the aim of defending the Ministry of the Armed Forces in Polpenazze del Garda, in the province of Brescia. It was commanded by Captain Gianluca Zuccaro.
Initially named Battaglione Carri dell’Autodrappello Ministeriale delle Forze Armate (Eng. Tank Battalion of the Armored Group of the Armed Forces Ministry), it was established without the authorization of the Germans. The group recovered armored vehicles from almost everywhere in Lombardy, Veneto, and Piedmont.
At the end of 1944, it received 5 tanks of the “M” series from the 27° Deposito Misto Provinciale (Eng. 27th Provincial Mixed Depot) of Verona. Four M13/40s and one M15/42s were used only in training and exercises until April 1945.
On the evening of April 24th, 1945, General Graziani himself called at Polpenazze del Garda and ordered the Squadrone Comando (Eng. Command Squadron), which had the 5 tanks of the “M” series, a Semovente da 105/25 M43 and some L3 light tanks, to move towards Milan.
During the night march, one of the five ‘M’ tanks was abandoned due to a breakdown following an Allied air attack (with only machine guns). In the morning, at Cernusco sul Naviglio, 100 km from Polpenazze, the squadron received the order to surrender, managing to sabotage two ‘M’ tanks and the Semovente M43 before surrendering to the partisans.
It is not clear if the M15/42 was sabotaged or was hit by the aircraft, but the two vehicles captured by the partisans were M13/40s.
Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana
For the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, or GNR (Eng. Republican National Guard), the situation was more drastic, as the ENR, some soldiers in prison camps swore allegiance to Mussolini and Nazi Germany, and those who did not join the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano joined the GNR but only the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” (Eng. Armored Group “Leonessa”, not to be confused with “Leoncello”) was able to recover some ‘M’ series tanks.
Some were recovered from Lombardy, Piedmont, and Emilia Romagna. According to some German documents, about thirty ‘M’ tanks were recovered from a unit in Milan before being dismantled.
Of these thirty or so tanks recovered in Milan, at least five were put back into service, while the others were used for spare parts. In total, the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” had 33 tanks of the “M” series (of which only a small number were M15/42s) and two M42 command tanks.
The 33 tanks were deployed with the four companies of the unit located in Lombardy, Piedmont, and Emilia Romagna.
There is only one record about the M15/42s of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa”, from December 16th 1944 in Milan. There, a large parade was held in honor of Benito Mussolini visiting the city. After the parade, Mussolini paid a visit to the Distaccamento di Milano (Eng. Milan Detachment) that had at least 2 M15/42s. He climbed on the turret of the M15/42 under the command of Vice Brigadier Donati, haranguing the gathered soldiers and people.
The units that used them in Yugoslavia also had other M-series tanks in their inventory, which may sometimes lead to confusion. Another quite common issue with determining the precise type of tanks was the poor knowledge of the Partisans in identifying the enemy armor. Being that the Italian M-series tanks were quite similar to each other, distinguishing them was not always an easy task.
Some M15/42 used by the Panzer Abteilung 202 were used to defend the vital Belgrade-Zagreb railway line during mid-1944. During skirmishes against partisans, many M15/42s were also damaged or lost by anti-tank gunfire.
During the Battle for Belgrade, there was an accident when a Soviet T-34 rammed an M15/42 and completely turned it on its side.
From late October 1944 onwards, Panzer Abteilung 202 would be involved in the German defense line on the so-called Syrmian Front in the northern parts of Yugoslavia.
At the end of the war, what was left of the equipment of Panzer Abteilung 202, which was attempting to evacuate from Yugoslavia, was captured by the Partisans in Slovenia.
Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was another unit stationed in Yugoslavia from 1941. It was heavily involved in fighting the Partisan forces there. At the beginning of March 1944, Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was in the process of reorganization and the older French tanks were slowly being replaced with Italian-built vehicles. By April 1944, there were some 42 Italian-built M15/42 tanks in use by this unit.
Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 had some 33 M15/42 tanks reported in October, which were reduced to 15 vehicles by the end of the following month.
The M15/42 tanks employed by the Germans in Yugoslavia were plagued by a lack of spare parts, ammunition and fuel. Many tanks were not used in combat, as they needed constant maintenance and repairs, and, too often, these would be simply cannibalized for spare parts.
Another unit that used M15/42s was the SS Panzer Abteilung 105, which was part of V-SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgskorps. It was involved in fighting Bosnian Partisans during 1944.
At the end of 1944, when the unit was recalled to Germany, it had 5 M15/42 tanks in its inventory. While the unit fought the Soviets in the defense of Frankfurt, it is unknown if by that time it still possessed any M15/42 tanks.
Yugoslav Partisan service
The Yugoslav Communist resistance movement managed to capture a number of M15/42 tanks. Some of these were probably used in combat, while smaller numbers were even used as training vehicles. The M15/42s were also used in military victory parades, like the one held in Kragujevac in May 1945. Following the end of the war, the M15/42s, together with other captured vehicles, was employed by the new Yugoslavian People’s Army. Their use would be quite limited due to the general lack of spare parts and ammunition. Nearly all would be scrapped a few years later, with one vehicle being preserved at the Belgrade Military Museum.
Camouflage and Markings
The Italian Royal Army received most of its M15/42s in Kaki Sahariano (Eng. Saharan Khaki). Only in late 1943 did some M42s receive the Continental three-tone camouflage (Eng. Continental). This was a Kaki Sahariano base color with dark green and reddish-brown spots.
Some photos show an unusual two-tone camouflage, quite surely applied independently by some crews during training in Italy in the summer of 1943.
The vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leoncello” were painted in standard Saharan khaki camouflage with the department’s coat of arms on the sides of the turret, a tricolor on the sides of the turret and on the front plate of the hull.
On one vehicle, on the front plate, the nickname “DERTHONA” (name of the Tortona soccer team) was painted in capital letters, along with the name Silvio Pelati, perhaps a dead comrade, a footballer or the name of the driver.
The M15/42 and M42 command tanks of Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” were painted in standard Kaki Sahariano with the symbol of the unit, a red M with the fascio littorio, symbol of Italian Fascism, and the inscription GNR until late 1944. After that, all vehicles were repainted with a three-tone camouflage called Continentale, in some cases covering the symbol of the department.
In the case of the M15/42 of the Distaccamento di Milano, in addition to the ‘M’, a white thunderbolt whose meaning is unknown was painted on the turret.
Wehrmacht troops repainted captured vehicles in Saharan Khaki with two- or three-tone spot or line camouflage, depending on the unit employing them. The 28 vehicles produced for the Germans, on the other hand, received Continental camouflage at the factory. Pz.Abt.202 camouflaged its vehicles with dark green spots. This unit also received newly produced vehicles.
Carro centro radio
Like in previous versions, the M15/42 chassis was used for a modified command tank variant (carro centro radio/ radio tank). For the modification, the turret was removed, the superstructure’s twin-machine guns were sometimes replaced with a 13 mm heavy machine gun, and, lastly, extra radio equipment was added. By the time of the September Armistice, some 45 M15/42 CC vehicles had been built. An additional 40 vehicles were built after September 1943 under German control.
The M15/42 was also used as a field modification by replacing its original turret with one taken from a Panzer 38(t). This vehicle is quite a mystery regarding who made it and why. What is known is that it was built during 1944 or in early 1945.
Semovente M42 da 75/18 and M42M da 75/34
Due to the general ineffectiveness of their tank designs, the Italians introduced a series of vehicles called Semovente. These used tank chassis (starting from the M13) by replacing the superstructure and turret with an enclosed casemate and a 75/18 mm gun. The M15/42 chassis was also used in this manner. By the time of the Italian surrender in September 1943, around 200 vehicles were built. Under German supervision, an additional 55 vehicles were built with the materials available on hand.
The Semovente based on the M15/42 was further improved by adding the longer 75/34 gun. By May 1943, some 60 vehicles would be completed by the Italians. An additional 80 new vehicles would be built by the Germans after the Italian Armistice.
In total, thirteen M15/42s have survived to this day. Only three are outside Italy.
One of those three is at the Musée des Blindés of Saumur, France. Another is exhibited in the Belgrade Military Museum, in not a great condition. The last M15/42 outside Italy is in a private collection in the San Marino Republic and is in running condition.
In Italy, of the ten vehicles that survived, eight are conserved in military barracks around Italy. One is at the Caserma “de Carli” of the 132º Reggimento carri in Cordenons, Friuli Venezia Giulia. One is at the Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare in Cecchignola, near Rome, and another one is in the Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra in Rovereto, northern Italy.
The M15/42 was built by the Italians as a makeshift solution to their need for a better tank design. While it offered some improvements over the previous M13/40 and M14/41 series, by the time it was ready for service, it was already obsolete. Its armor and firepower were simply insufficient in comparison to the enemy tanks that would be used against. While less than 200 would be built, ironically, their use by the Italians was minimal at best.
The Germans managed to get their hands on nearly all M15/42s. These were used against the Yugoslav Partisans in the Balkans. Their performance was limited, due to many factors, including a lack of spare parts and frequent breakdowns, which prevented many vehicles from being used in combat. They did achieve some success against poorly armed Partisans, who lacked proper anti-tank weapons. Once the Soviets started to closely support these fighters with modern tanks, the M15/42 was unable to do much.
In the end the M15/42 proved to be a quick solution to the Italian need for a proper tank, but it ultimately failed in this regard.
Semovente da 75/18 specifications
5.06 x 2.28 x 2.37 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready
15.5 tons battle ready
4 (Commander/gunner, loader, machine gunner and driver)
FIAT-SPA T15B, petrol, water-cooled 11,980 cm³, 190 hp at 2400 rpm with 407 liters
Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 38 with 111 rounds and 3 or 4 Breda Mod. 1938 with 2,592 rounds
Germany 1943 – 1945, Light Self-Propelled Gun – 194 captured and produced
The Semovente L40 da 47/32 was an Italian light Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) developed as an infantry support vehicle. It entered service in 1942, immediately proving to be obsolete. The Regio Esercito (Eng: Italian Royal Army) used it until September 1943, when the Cassibile Armistice was signed, the Italian Royal Army was disbanded and the Italian peninsula not yet under Allied hands was occupied by the German troops.
After the armistice, from 1943 to 1945, all the surviving Semoventi (Italian world for self-propelled guns, Semovente singular) that were deployed, not only in Italy, but also in the Balkans, were captured by the armies or militias in the area.
The Semovente L40 da 47/32
The development of a new light infantry support gun that could support the assault of the Bersaglieri units (Eng: Italian Light Assault Troops) started in the late 1930s, but the first two prototypes were not accepted into service.
Another prototype development started in January 1941. On May 10th, it was presented to the Royal Army. After the tests, the Italian Royal Army High Command requested some changes to the prototype. It was renamed Semovente Leggero Modello 1940 da 47/32 or Semovente L40 da 47/32 (Eng: Lightweight Self-Propelled Gun Model 1942 armed with 47/32).
A total of 402 vehicles were produced under Italian and German control based on the hull of the L6/40 light reconnaissance tank.
German Operation Achse
After the arrest of Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Partito Nazionale Fascista Italiano (Eng. Italian National Fascist Party), on July 25th 1943, the Germans had foreseen the Italian surrender. They planned Fall Achse (Eng: Operation Axis), which they launched on September 8th when the signing of the Armistice of Cassibile (which had been secretly signed on September 5th by the Italian Royal Army and Allied Forces) was made public. In 12 days, the German troops managed to occupy all the Italian command centers and divisions in Italy and in the other occupied territories.
The Germans captured all the Italian factories that produced armaments or military equipment. They also captured 977 Italian armored fighting vehicles, of which about 400 were tanks and self-propelled guns, 16,631 trucks, over 5,500 artillery pieces, 2,754 anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, over 8,000 mortars, 1,285,000 rifles, 39,000 machine guns, and 13,000 submachine guns. They imprisoned 1,006,730 Italian soldiers stationed in Italy, the Balkans, Greece, and France.
By October 1st, 1943, Wehrmacht documentation stated that German units had captured 78 L40 da 47/32s in all occupied territories (including the 20 L40s produced before the Armistice and not delivered). In German service, this vehicle was known as the Sturmgeschütz L6 mit 47/32 770(i). For this reason, some sources wrongly call it Semovente L6 or StuG L6.
In addition, many former Italian factories, such as FIAT, Lancia, Breda, and Ansaldo-Fossati, were also under German control. With this and with the acquisition of many spare parts and materials, it was possible to restart the production of nearly all Italian vehicles. This was the case with the Semovente L40 da 47/32, with the Germans producing 74 new Sturmgeschütz L6 mit 47/32 770(i).
Under German control, another 46 Command and Radio Center vehicles on the L40 hull were produced, which brings the total number of L40 produced by the Germans to 120 units.
Operational service in Italy
While the Semovente L40 da 47/32s were available in some numbers, their use in Italy by the Germans was limited. The units that had this vehicle in Italy were the 305. and 356. Infanterie Divisionen, Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590, 114. Jäger Division and the 20. Luftwaffe-Field-Division.
The 305. Infanterie Division fought between September 8th and 10th to occupy the port of La Spezia. It was transferred in the following weeks to near Rome, where it was supplied with some Italian vehicles, among which were some L40 from 47/32s.
The 305. Division then defended the Gothic Line and the Gustav Line before surrendering, together with most of the German divisions that remained after the Battle of Bologna, on the Po River.
The 356. Infanterie Division fought in anti-partisan actions between November 1943 and January 1944. It was transferred to Anzio and was provided with the self-propelled L40 vehicles along the way.
The unit fought fiercely for the defense of the region together with the Italian Republican National Army units until they were forced to retreat along the Gustav Line in March 1944. After the Gustav Line was broken through, the unit fought in Tuscany. retreating to the south of Florence in July 1944. In January 1945, it was transferred to Hungary but, according to the surviving documents, it was no longer equipped with Italian self-propelled vehicles.
The Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590 was used from June 13th to September 14th, 1944 to secure central Italy. In order to perform this task, the unit was provided with some L40 self-propelled vehicles. From September 15th, 1944 to January 15th, 1945, the unit was involved in defensive combat in the Emilia-Romagna region.
Due to the scarcity of artillery towing vehicles and the obsolescence of the self-propelled L40 variants, many self-propelled vehicles were modified by removing the cannon to be used as artillery tractors.
From April 22nd to May 2nd, 1945, the unit was involved in the fighting retreat, desperately battling against the Allied forces.
The 114. Jäger Division was transferred to Italy from Yugoslavia in January 1944. It was supplied with material captured from the Italian Army, including some L40 self-propelled vehicles. After the Battle of Anzio, the unit was employed only in anti-partisan roles. It was responsible or co-responsible for three different massacres in the region of central Italy against innocent civilian victims. The unit was completely annihilated in April 1945 during fighting with Allied forces.
Panzer Ausbildung Abteilung Süd (a training tank battalion) was equipped with the Semoventi L40s, but these were used mainly for crew training. Organization Todt, which was present in Italy, operated an unknown number of L40 da 47/32s, but mostly as tractor vehicles without their guns.
In May 1944, the 20. Luftwaffe Field Division (20. LwFD), previously employed in Denmark, was sent to Italy, more precisely to Lazio. There, it was re-equipped with a number of Semoventi L40 da 47/32s and immediately participated in hard clashes with the U.S. Army units in the Terracina area. On June 1st, the unit assumed the designation of 20. Luftwaffen-Sturm-Division.
The division retreated to Tuscany and established defensive positions near Roccastrada. From there, at the end of June, it was again engaged in heavy clashes against U.S. forces.
After fighting house by house for the control of Siena against the units of the Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Italie (Eng: French Expeditionary Force in Italy), in July 1944, the division withdrew to the area of Volterra. It was then withdrawn from the front to be sent to the rear to guard the coast between Viareggio and La Spezia, where it absorbed the remains of the 19. LwFD. In mid-September, the division received orders to move to the coast of the Adriatic Sea, facing the Commonwealth forces between Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna and then south of Cesena.
After the killing of their commander in Bologna by the partisans and further heavy losses in the fighting between Cesena and Forlì, the division was disbanded on November 28th, 1944 and its survivors were reassigned to other German units.
Operational service in Balkans
In the Balkans, the L40 da 47/32s saw extensive use against Yugoslav resistance movements. Several German units were equipped with them. Some of these were the 117. and 118. Jäger Divisionen, 11. Luftwaffe-Field-Division, and the 181., 264. and 297. Infanterie Divisionen. Many police units of different sizes (such as the 13. Verstärkt Polizei Panzer Kompanie, 14. Panzer Kompanie, 4. SS Polizei Division) were also equipped with this vehicle. Some smaller units were also supplied, such as SS Panzer Abteilung 105. and Panzer Kompanie z.b.V 12.
In 1944, due to the availability of Italian armored vehicles, it was possible to resupply many German units which fought in Yugoslavia with them. The Germans did not form dedicated Panzer units with these vehicles. Instead, these vehicles were usually used to equip reconnaissance or anti-tank units (Aufkl. Abt and Pz.Jag. Abt.). By May 1944, German forces operating in Yugoslavia had at least 165 Semovente 47/32 vehicles.
By the end of 1943, Panzer Kompanie z.b.V 12 had in its inventory 12 operational Semoventi L40 da 47/32s and 4 in repair. In early 1944, it received an additional 14 Semoventi da 47/32, one L6 light tank, and 4 M13/40s. By February 1944, there were only 2 operational Semoventi da 47/32 and 2 in repair. On March 1st, 1944, some 10 were operational and 3 in repairs. These were allocated to the 2nd Company, which took action against partisan units around the city of Kraljevo. In July, the number of Semoventi da 47/32 was increased to 15 vehicles. The reason for the large monthly oscillations in available numbers is not clear. It could be either a mistake in sources or, because of the poor mechanical reliability, some vehicles were simply not listed. By September and October 1944, while this unit still had 16 such vehicles, they were replaced in order to increase the number of M15 tanks.
The 14th Panzer Kompanie was another example of a German unit using the Semovente L40 da 47/32. This unit, which was active in Slovenia in September 1944, was reinforced with two 8 vehicle strong platoons equipped with the Semovente L40 da 47/32. One smaller unit with four such vehicles was kept in reserve.
While fighting the Partisans in the Balkans, the L40 da 47/32s were usually dispersed and used in smaller groups. The usual tactical employment was that one vehicle would advance while the remaining vehicles provided cover.
By the end of 1944, on the Yugoslavian Front, the Germans and their allies had less than 80 Semoventi L40 da 47/32. Near the end of the war, in March 1945, the numbers were reduced to less than 40.
In German hands, the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was modified in order to improve its performance. As the L40 da 47/32 was initially only armed with the main gun, it was less effective against infantry attacks. For this reason, the Germans added machine gun mounts that were protected with an armored shield at the front. The machine gun models used included the Breda Mod. 37 and Breda Mod. 38, both 8 mm caliber, and, in some cases, MG34s or Fiat-Revelli Mod. 14/35. Additional armor plates were added to the side of the superstructure, and in some cases, even on the top. Additional spare part boxes were also sometimes added.
Also, as previously noted, a significant number of these vehicles were modified to be used as towing tractors or as training vehicles. For these modifications, the main gun was removed. In the case of the training vehicles, a wooden shield was simply added where the gun was.
The SS Polizei-Regiment 18 Gebirgsjäger was equipped with two Italian armored cars and at least five Semoventi 47/32s when it was relocated from Greece to the northern regions of Serbia in October 1944. It was engaged in a failed German attempt to stop the advancing Soviet Forces in Vojvodina and suffered heavy losses, probably losing all its vehicles.
In general, the German view of the L40 was very negative. It was small and narrow and the cannon was not able to face the most modern opponent vehicles. In anti-partisan actions in Italy and in the Balkans, it proved relatively effective, as its small shape and weight allowed it to climb very steep mountain roads, where only mules could pass. The cannon, even if almost useless against the armor of Soviet or American tanks, had a good High Explosive round that was effective against infantry.
The Germans, as well as the Italians, realized that the vehicle was very vulnerable to ambushes. Consequently, German tankers learned to wear the Stahlhelm helmet and carry MP40s and hand grenades inside the vehicle for close defense.
The Germans repainted the L40s that they captured from the Italians or that they received after November 9th with a three-tone camouflage, depending on the unit that used them.
For example, Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 590 repainted its L40 da 47/32s with dark green and dark brown stripes on a standard khaki base. SS Polizei-Regiment 18, stationed in Greece, repainted its vehicles in three-tone camouflage, dark green, and brown spots on standard khaki. The 20. Luftwaffen-Feld-Division, which used some L40s in anti-partisan duties in central-northern Italy, camouflaged its self-propelled guns vehicles with patches of green and dark brown.
The Semovente L40 da 47/32, while cheap and small in size, was by 1943 standards generally an obsolete vehicle. For the Germans who were at this stage of war becoming ever more desperate to find any additional armored vehicle, it was a welcome addition. The use of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 by the Germans in its original role against the Allied forces in Italy was limited. They did see service in other secondary roles for example crew training or as armored tractors. They were more deployed in combat against the Partisans especially in the Balkans where the enemy had limited anti-tank capabilities.
Semovente da 75/18 specifications
3.82 x 1.92 x 1.63 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready
3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader)
Fiat SPA, 6 cyl. gasoline, 68 hp
(road) 42 km/h (off-road) 20/25 km/h
200 km on-road
Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935, 70 rounds
30 mm front, 15 mm sides and rear, and 10 mm floor
74 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 captured and 120 produced under German control in all variants
Germany (1944-45) Tank hunter – approx. 2,827 built
The first issue to clear up is the fact that the Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer during the Second World War. Although most official wartime documents do not use the name Hetzer, a few did. Why this nickname has been associated with this tank hunter is investigated later in the article.
As the Second World War progressed, it turned into a numbers’ game. Germany needed more armored fighting vehicles that were cheaper to build and quicker to construct. They started using hulls of captured tanks and reliable but obsolete tanks, such as the Panzer 38(t), to mount anti-tank guns and artillery howitzers. This resulted in the production of the Marder series and Nashorn anti-tank self-propelled guns. They all carried powerful guns but had thin armor, an open-top fighting compartment, and a high profile which made them easy to spot on the battlefield. They could deal out punishment, but they could not take it.
The Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter was designed to have a very low profile which made it hard to target and easy to conceal. It was only 2.10 m (6 ft 10.6 inches) high which was ideal for ambush tactics. It was armed with a powerful high velocity 75 mm Pak 39 L/48 gun that could knock-out most enemy tanks. It was cheaper and quicker to build than a Panzer IV, Panther or Tiger tank.
It was not designed to be a close combat vehicle, used at the head of an attack like a tank. It was a self-propelled anti-tank gun that was intended to be deployed on the flanks to stop counter-attacks. A pack of Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters would hide in a wood or thick hedgerow and pick off enemy tanks at long range. The sloping front armor gave the crew reasonable protection from frontal attack. So long as the driver pointed the front of the vehicle at any threat, the crew could expect to survive a hit from an enemy armor-piercing shell. The thin armor on the sides of the vehicle and at the rear meant that there was a risk of being knocked out by flank and rear attacks with armor-piercing shells. If there was a danger of being outflanked, the driver had to change to a different location quickly.
In 1944, the Panzer 38(t) tank was considered outclassed and obsolete. It had been withdrawn from frontline units. The Jagdpanzer 38 utilized the tried and tested components of the Panzer 38(t) tank on a new wider hull. This meant that the Jagdpanzer 38 was relatively reliable, as all the early mechanical problems had been overcome. Because of this, production could start earlier than usual for a new armored fighting vehicle design, as most of the factory tooling for the manufacture of the Panzer 38(t) tank was still available. Due to the gun’s limited traverse, the driver had to continually change the vehicle’s orientation or move to engage new targets. This could reveal its location.
Inspiration: The Romanian Mareșal
Among the early inspiration sources for the casemate shape and light tank accommodation, the Romanian Mareșal is often cited. It was developed by Ateliere Leonida. This vehicle was born after the Romanian encounters with the Russian T-34 in Ukraine, which radically changed their opinion on armor and especially the possibilities of sloped armor. From there a project was born, which tried to create a tank hunter that would be extremely well-protected over an existing, readily available captured light tank chassis (the T-60), while keeping the weight down. It was achieved by giving the hull an extremely sloped, all-side armor. This resulted in the 50 mm (1.97 in) armor plates offering 100 mm (3.94 in) of effective protection against direct fire, which provided this small tank destroyer with the heavy tank protection level.
Six prototypes were built (M-00, M-01, M-02, M-03, M-04, M-05) between December 1942 and January 1944, but, after the 23 August coup d’etat, the plans and the remaining prototypes were seized by the Soviet army. Its main armament was a 7.5 cm (2.95 in) DT-UDR Resita Model 1943 and secondary ZB-53 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine gun. Other guns were looked at. It was propelled by a Hotchkiss H-39 120 hp engine (10 hp/t) and transmission. It was based on a modified T-60 chassis, but with Rogifer suspension, comprising four stamped roadwheels per side. The top speed was 45 km/h (28 mph) on flat and 25 km/h (15 mph) cross-country.
German officers were sent to inspect the Romanian Mareșal tank hunter. They were impressed with many aspects of the overall vehicle design and at one point considered it being used in the German Army, but there were too many practical issues that would have to be rectified before entering service. The external shape and some ideas were incorporated in the later Jagdpanzer 38 design. A Romanian Army report of the inspection of the Mareșal tank hunter by the German officers was found from the Romanian military archives in Bucharest. The Romanian Army document dated April 1944 recorded the visit of two German officers: Lieutenant-Colonel Ventz from the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency responsible for research and development) and Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann from German High Command OKH. Their initial reactions are also recorded in the report. This document is covered in more detail later in this article when we cover the origins of the nickname ‘Hetzer.’
On 26 November 1943, the production of Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) assault guns at the Alkett company was severely interrupted when Allied bombers dropped a total of 1,424 tons of explosive and incendiary bombs on their Berlin factory. Due to the damage, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres – OKH) investigated the possibility of starting Sturmgeschütz III production at the Böhmisch-Mährische Maschinenfabrik AG (BMM) company in Prague. Before the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, this factory used to be called Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk (ČKD) and built tanks for the Czechoslovakian Army.
On 6 December 1943, the OKH reported to Hitler that the BMM company was unable to carry out this type of production order, as it did not have the infrastructure to manufacture the 24-tonne StuG III. The factory cranes could not lift a completed vehicle. The BMM factory cranes could only lift 13 tonnes. It had spent most of the war constructing 9.8 tonnes Panzer 38(t) light tanks for the German Army.
Hitler gave orders that the BMM factory was to concentrate on producing the new lighter Sturmgeschütz. It was proposed this vehicle would have a top speed of 55 – 60 km/h (34 – 37 mph), weigh 13 tonnes, and, as a result, have thin but sloped frontal armor to keep the vehicle’s weight low. The side armor was only to be thick enough to provide protection from small arms fire and high explosive shell shrapnel.
Development work was carried out quickly. On 8 January 1944, the drawings of the final version of the vehicle were finished. By 24 January 1944, a wooden 1:1 scale model had been built and, two days later, demonstrated to officers from the Heereswaffenamt (HWA), the Army weaponry research and development agency. The size of the fighting compartment on the wooden mock-up was shorter than on the production vehicle, and the engine compartment had a longer sloped cover. These features were changed to give the crew more room.
There were plans to design and mount a 7.5 cm rücklauflose main gun in the production version of Jagdpanzer 38. A rücklauflose weapon featured a gun barrel fixed to the turret or casemate, which took on the full recoil of a shot. Development of the rücklauflose gun would take too long, so in the meantime, it was decided that a 7.5 cm Pak 39 (L/48) anti-tank gun would be installed in the Jagdpanzer 38. This gun was already in production and available for use. Oberst Thomale (Colonel Thomale) ordered three prototype Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters to be built and available for trials. It took less than four months from the initial design approval to the production of the first prototype.
Once the final design of the production Jagdpanzer 38 was agreed upon, BMM was awarded a contract to produce 2,000 vehicles. More were needed, so the Czechoslovakian company Škoda was also awarded a contract to build 2,000 Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. Both factories suffered bombing raids.
Both factories were supplied with components from subcontractors. Three hundred and sixteen such companies were based in Bohemia and Moravia in the Czech Protectorate. A further one hundred and seventeen came from other occupied countries and Germany. Due to advancing Allied forces and the constant bombing, the source of parts for construction of the Jagdpanzer 38 changed repeatedly. This caused delays in supply which affected monthly production figures.
The armored hulls were produced in the steel factory in Vitkovice and by the Poldi steel mills in Kladno: both were in the Czech Protectorate. They were also supplied by two German steel-factories: Linke-Hoffman in Breslau and Ruhrstahl in Hattingen. The tracks were cast in the Czech Protectorate at the steel mills of Chomutov in north-west Bohemia and Královo Pole in Brno. The engines were manufactured by the Czech car manufacturer Praga, which also supplied the Wilson-type gearboxes.
A total of 2,827 Jagdpanzer 38 were produced by BMM and Škoda. About 2,612 were Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters, 14 were Jagdpanzer 38D Starr, 181 Bergepanzer 38 and 20 Flammpanzer.
Jagdpanzer 38 production
Completed by Škoda
Completed by BMM
Note: The figures for BMM include Jagdpanzer 38 Starr and Bergepanzerwagen 38 (Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)
Due to the limited space inside the Jagdpanzer 38 and the desire to keep the profile of the vehicle low, the gun mount was not bolted to the floor of the vehicle. Instead, a gun cradle mount was fixed to the glacis plate. The gun had to be installed off-center, to the right of the vehicle. This enabled the driver, gunner, and loader‘s positions to be on the left side of the vehicle, in line, one behind the other. The commander sat on the right side of the vehicle, at the rear of the fighting compartment, directly behind the gun, with his hatch above him. He did not have access to an armored cupola.
The gun was mounted to the right of the vehicle. This restricted its traverse to only 5° left and 11° right. To engage targets outside this narrow 16° traverse range, the whole vehicle would have to be moved. The off-center gun meant that there was too much weight on the right track and suspension. To the vehicle did not tilt towards the right, 850 kg of crew and equipment had to be placed on the left side of the gun as a counterbalance.
If all the hatches were closed, the crew had limited visibility, especially to the side and rear of the vehicle. The driver had two angled periscopes that protruded out of the upper glacis plate under a protective armored cover. The gunner was provided with a forward-looking Selbstfahrlafetten-Zielfernrohr 1a (Sfl.ZF 1a) periscope gun sight. The loader had a periscope to look out for threats on the left side of the vehicle. The roof machine gun was aimed by looking through a periscope. It could rotate 360°. The commander had access to a rearward-looking periscope. If the commander’s hatch was closed, he had no forward vision. It would only be kept closed in extreme emergencies, such as during an artillery or mortar barrage. Also available was a Scherenfernohrs 14Z (Sf.14Z) scissor telescope which poked out the top of the open roof hatch which had a magnification of 8 x 10.
Engine and Transmission
The Jagdpanzer 38 was powered by a Praga EPA AC 2800 6-cylinder 158 hp petrol engine. The Praga engine was very similar to the one used in the Panzer 38(t) tank but had been uprated. Instead of producing 129 hp, it now produced 158 hp. The engine was connected to a five-speed Praga-Wilson transmission which was in turn connected to a Planetary steering system. The vehicle had a top road speed of 40 km/h (24.9 mph). This was less than initially hoped for. The production vehicle weighed 16 tonnes rather than the proposed 13 tonnes, which affected the vehicle‘s speed.
The dome at the back of the tank is a simple cover for the hand crank. Although the Jagdpanzer 38 had an electrical starter, crews were instructed that the preferred method was to use the hand crank where possible, as the electrical starter was not robust and should only be used in emergencies. To the bottom right of the rear armor plate, there was a port to gain access to the cooling water heater. In severe weather conditions, the engine coolant would freeze. A blow lamp could be placed in this port to warm the coolant and defrost it before the engine was started.
When the left rear engine compartment hatch is opened, access can be gained to the fuel filler cap behind the 12V battery. The Jagdpanzer 38 had two interconnected fuel tanks. The fuel tank on the left held 220 liters while the fuel tank on the right held 100 liters. This would give an approximate operational range of 180 km (111 miles).
Cooling the engine was a problem, as it only had a small air intake vent on the rear deck. It required a powerful motor to drive the air intake fan, which reduced the overall performance of the vehicle because it took power from the engine.
Although the hull, suspension, tracks, and road wheels look very similar to those used on the Panzer 38(t) tank, the vehicle was a new build. The hull was wider: the Panzer 38(t) tank was 2.13 m (7ft) wide, but the Jagdpanzer 38 was 2.63 m (8ft 7.5 in) wide. The road wheels were larger than those used on the Panzer 38(t) tanks: they were 82 cm diameter instead of the tank’s 77.7 cm (2 ft 7 in) diameter. The suspension has been made more durable than that used on the Panzer 38(t) tank, especially at the front of the vehicle, in order to cope with the extra weight. The tracks have been widened from 29 cm to 35 cm (11in to 1ft 2 in). The Jagdpanzer 38 was only provided with one track return roller, unlike the Panzer 38(t) that had two.
The Driver’s position
The Jagdpanzer 38 driver had a basic instrument panel in front of him. He steered the vehicle by using two hand tillers. Each one of these levers controlled one of the two tracks. The driver also had a handbrake. The foot pedals were not in the standard order that we have come to expect in a modern car. The accelerator was in the middle. The pedal on the right was the foot brake. The gear change pedal was on the far left.
The gearbox was to the right of the driver. It was a 5-speed Praga-Wilson preselector. The Wilson type was the same system used by the British and developed by the Wilson gearbox company. The driver did not change gear like you would in a modern car, where you put the clutch in first and then select the gear. Instead, while the engine was running, they had to choose the next gear first and then depress the gear change pedal, which acted like a clutch, and let it come back up, hence the name pre-selector. To stop the vehicle without stalling, the driver had to remember to select neutral first, then apply the brake and the gear change pedal at the same time.
Early versions of the exhaust system at the rear of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter had the pipe coming down the back of the vehicle into a tubular silencer box that ran along the top of the rear armor plate, mounted horizontally. This was changed to a single pipe going into a flame hider on the back of the vehicle.
The 7.5 cm Panzerjägerkanone 39 L/48 (7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48) anti-tank gun was used to equip Jagdpanzer IV and Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The German word ‘Panzerjägerkanone’ literally translates to ‘tank hunter gun’ (anti-tank gun) and is usually abbreviated to Pak, thus sharing the contraction of the more common ‘Panzerabwehrkanone’. It was an electrically fired weapon fitted with a semi-automatic breech mechanism and a 48 caliber long barrel (3615 mm or 11 ft 10.3 in). It could penetrate the armor of most common Allied tanks at ranges up to 1,000 meters as shown in the table below.
When travelling across rough ground, the gunner used the internal gun travel lock to minimize any damage to the gun. The Sfl.ZF 1a periscope gun sight was fixed to the left side of the gun and protruded out of the roof in a semi-circular sliding section of the roof armor. It moved when the gun was moved. It did not rotate. The gunner had to change his body positions to follow the gun periscope as he searched to bring the gun onto the next target by turning the traverse wheel. He also had to avoid being hit in the head by the remote control machine gun handles above him.
The loader sat on the left side of the main gun, behind the gunner and driver. He had a very challenging job because the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 anti-tank gun had been designed to be loaded from the right side. The loader’s controls were on the wrong side. To open the breech, he had to lean across the gun to access the breech opening lever. The main weapon had a semi-automatic loading system: once the first round was loaded, every time the gun fired, the recoil ejected the shell casing, and the breech block remained down in the open position waiting for another shell to be loaded. The large recoil guard was to his right, and this got in the way when loading shells. Not all of the ammunition was stored near the loader on the left side of the vehicle. Sometimes, he would have to reach over the gun breach and the recoil guard to access the shells stowed on the right side of this cramped tank hunter. The commander had a safety lever near him that prevented the gun from being fired while the loader was servicing the gun. When he was clear of the gun mechanism and a shell was in the breech ready for firing, the commander released the lever to enable the gun to be fired.
Design work on the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 started in 1939, but it was manufactured from 1943 onwards by Rheinmetall-Borsig AG in Unterlüß and by Seitz-Werke GmbH in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. It used the same 75 x 495 mm R ammunition as the 7.5 cm KwK 40 of Panzer IV medium tank and 7.5 cm StuK 40 gun fitted on the later models of the Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) assault guns. No towed version of the 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 was manufactured.
It could fire three common types of ammunition: Panzergranatepatrone 39 (Pzgr.Patr. 39) armor-piercing capped ballistic cap (APCBC) shell, Sprenggranatepatrone 37 (Sprgr. Patr. 37) high explosive (HE) shell, and different versions of the Granatpatrone 38 HL (Gr. Patr. 38 HL) high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round. The latter was an effective high-explosive anti-tank shell and could be used against soft-skinned targets as well as armored vehicles. Its armor penetration qualities were not as high as the Pzgr.Patr. 39 (APCBC) shell. When fired, the Panzergranatepatrone 39 shell had a muzzle velocity of 750 meters/second (2460 feet/second).
Depending on availability, a few rounds of Panzergranatepatrone 40 (Pzgr.Patr. 40) high velocity, sub-caliber, tungsten core armor-piercing rounds were carried in case the crew encountered heavily armored Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns. The supplies of tungsten were limited.
7.5 cm Panzerjägerkanone 39 L/48 anti-tank gun armor penetration
(The data was obtained on a firing range. The armor plate was laid back at a 30-degree angle)
Gr. Patr. 38 HL
(Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle)
The initial design of the gun mantlet was 200 kg heavier than the later design. The early vehicle was nose heavy, and this put stress on the front suspension. By changing the mantlet to a lighter model, and making adjustments to the suspension, the maneuverability of the vehicle became tolerable.
The loader had the job of rearming and firing the remote-controlled roof-mounted 360 degrees swiveling 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine gun. It was fired from inside the armored protection of the fighting compartment. A hinged gun shield could be fixed in place to protect the crewman when reloading the gun. It was aimed by looking through a periscope. Behind him, on the rear wall, there was the radio, usually a Fu5 and the on-off master power handle.
The front upper glacis plate of the Jagdpanzer 38 was designed to be 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick, sloped at 30 degrees from the horizontal. This meant that an armor-piercing (AP) round fired straight at the front upper glacis plate would have to penetrate 120 mm (4.7 inches) of armor due to the angle. The steep slope would also help increase the chance that the round would ricochet. The feared Tiger 1 heavy tank only had 100 mm (3.93 inches) thick effective frontal hull armor. The front glacis armor plate had interlocking welded joints for added strength and security. Sloping the armor meant that the level of protection could be kept high, but the costs and complexity of manufacturing the armor could be kept low. The lower front glacis plate was 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick angled at 50 degrees. This would make the effective thickness of that armor plate 78 mm (3.07 inches).
From these statistics, it would appear that the front armor of the Jagdpanzer 38 was very strong. According to H.L.Doyle, these figures are deceptive because the armor plate used was of inferior quality to the face hardened armor used on the Panzer IV and Panther tanks. The 60 mm armor on the upper and lower glacis was roughly equivalent to the 30 mm (1.18 inches) face hardened armor used on the Panzer III. It was manufactured to E22 specifications and had a hardness of 265 to 309 Brinell. However, Panzer Tracts no.9, by T.Jentz, states that the Jagdpanzer 38’s front armor was meant to be immune to most anti-tank guns, contradicting Doyle’s statements.
The upper side armor of 20 mm (0.78 inches) thickness was comparable to the 14.5 mm plate used on the front of a Sd.Kfz.251 half-track. It was made from a low alloy Siemens-Marteneit (SM) steel. It had a hardness of 220 to 265 Brinell. The tolerances on armor production were quite wide. The thicknesses of four different Jagdpanzer 38 upper glacis plates’ 60 mm (2.4 inches) thick armor were measured. They all belonged to the Wheatcroft Collection. One was built in February 1945, but the other three were built after the war as part of the G13 Swiss Contract. The thickness ranged from 62.2 mm to 64.8 mm (2.44 – 2.55 inches).
The lower hull side armor was 20 mm (0.78 inches) thick and sloped inwards at an angle of 75o. The rear armor was 20 mm (0.78 inches) thick angled at 75 degrees. The roof armor was 10 mm thick (0.39 inches). The belly armor was 8 mm thick (0.3 inches). The Schürzen side skirt armor was made from 5 mm steel plate. It was designed to protect the side 20 mm thick lower hull armor from the Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifles.
As with all other German armored fighting vehicles, improvements were continuously introduced during production to improve the performance of the vehicle and increase the speed of manufacture through simplification of its design. Some changes had to be introduced due to the problems with the supply of parts or raw materials.
The idler wheel design went through several changes. In order to reduce the amount of time it took to manufacture the rear idler wheel with twelve holes, different designs were introduced in the following order.
1. Six holes in a flat disc
2. Welded spokes with eight holes on a smooth flat disc.
3. Stamped ribs with six holes on a dish-shaped disc.
4. Six holes on a smooth flat disc.
5. Four holes on a smooth flat disc.
When Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters were damaged, the maintenance workshop would fit whatever replacement idler wheels were available in their stores. Sometimes, late version vehicles would be equipped with early version idler wheels with twelve holes. If only one idler wheel needed replacing, then there would be situations where a vehicle would have idler wheels of different types.
In April 1944, further changes were introduced. The ram’s-horn towing hooks at the front and rear of the vehicle were omitted. They were replaced by extending the side hull armor plates and drilling a hole into the metal. The flange around the gun mantlet helped transfer the weight of the gun to the upper hull glacis plate. The size of the flange was reduced to decrease the weight of the gun mantlet. The length of the rooftop 7.92 mm MG 34 machine gun hinged shield was shortened to stop it from hitting the top of the Sfl.ZF 1a periscope gun sight.
The design of the front track drive sprocket wheel was changed. To save production time, the holes were no longer drilled on the outer ring of the sprocket wheel. A different type of rear idler wheel was fitted. It had four large holes in the disk rather than twelve holes in the earlier version.
Starting in May and continuing into July 1944, more changes were ordered. To stop having to open large hatches on the rear of the Jagdpanzer 38 to access the crew compartment, the commander was given a small hatch that opened to the rear. A hatch was added on the lower right to enable access to the radiator cooling fluid filling cap. Another hatch was added to the lower left to give access to the petrol fuel tank filling cap. The heat shield around the exhaust was no longer fitted. Three ‘mushroom’ short threaded cylinders were welded to the top of the Jagdpanzer 38 to enable a two-tonne temporary crane to be mounted to help with mechanical maintenance, replacement of heavy parts, and repairs.
Further changes were made in August 1944. As a result of a redesign of the metal used in the internal and external construction of the gun mantlet, the weight of the Jagdpanzer 38 was reduced by 200 kg. Road wheels with a larger diameter center disk with thinner rims were introduced. Initially, the rim was drilled for 32 bolts around the edge, but often only 16 bolts were fitted. To help the driver exit his seat quickly in case the vehicle was hit, two handles were welded above the driver’s seat.
Production line changes were introduced in September 1944. To protect the crew from Soviet 14.5 mm anti-tank rifles being fired at the lower hull armor, the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter was fitted with Schürzen skirt armor plates. Crews found that these plates were ripped off as they brushed past bushes and trees. The front ends of the Schürtzen were bent in towards the hull to try and stop them from being torn off.
The front set of leaf springs experienced more stress than the rear set and often broke. The thickness of the front set of sixteen leaf springs was increased from 7 mm to 9 mm. The rear set of sixteen leaf springs remained 7 mm thick.
More design changes were implemented in October 1944. The design of the driver’s periscope mounting had to be altered after the early version acted as a ‘shell trap. When incoming armor-piercing shells hit the front upper glacis plate but failed to penetrate it, they would slide upwards and enter the crew compartment via the protruding cover over the driver’s periscopes, after getting caught on it. The armored cover was no longer fitted. Holes were cut flush with the glacis plate to hold the periscopes. A thin sheet metal dual-purpose sun and rain guard was installed over the holes. If a shell slid up the upper glacis plate and hit this guard, it would be ripped off but would not act as a ‘shell-trap.’
New road wheels were introduced that were riveted instead of being bolted. It had been found that some of the bolts on the earlier versions of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter’s road wheels came undone.
The red-hot glowing exhaust pipes and flames of a backfire can give away the position of the vehicle at dusk and during the night. This can result in it being spotted by an enemy artillery forward observer and calling in an artillery barrage. The cylindrical silencer was replaced with a Flamm-Vernichter (flame destroyer) exhaust.
Allied bombing disrupted the supply of ball bearings. The gun mount had to be changed. The ball bearings used in the gun mount were replaced with roller bearings. This necessitated the installation of a spring compensator to help with elevating the gun.
Filling the Jagdpanzer 38’s fuel tanks took a long time. To enable the tanks to be refilled faster, a larger nozzle with an overflow pan was fitted. Also, there had been reliability problems with the electric fuel pump, so a Solex-handpumpe manual hand pump was issued. The commander’s hatch was equipped with a head cushion.
As the cold weather arrived in November 1944, just in time for winter, a new heating plate was fitted to keep the battery from freezing. The heating inside the crew compartment was also upgraded. A better heat distribution vent was installed in the engine compartment firewall. It gave a more even heat distribution inside the vehicle. The water pump also upgraded to one that was more robust.
By changing the location of an internal stowage box to the right of the commander’s position, a further five 75 mm shells were able to be carried.
The last batch of changes started in January 1945. The Model 6 final drive had a gear ratio of 12:88. They suffered from mechanical failure due to the stresses put on them. The Jagdpanzer 38 was three tonnes over the initial design specifications. It was front heavy, and the driver regularly had to maneuver the whole vehicle to enable the gun to be aimed at a new target. In January 1945, a new more robust Model 6.75 final drive was fitted. It had a gear ratio of 10:80.
The Jagdpanzer 38 was an ambush vehicle and needed to hide. To make the crew’s task of fixing cut tree branches and bushes to the exterior of the vehicle easier, ‘U’ shaped brackets were welded to the upper front glacis plate and the side armor. Wire or string could be threaded through these ‘U’ shaped brackets and foliage tied onto it. The exact date in 1945 this feature started to be added onto vehicles under production is not known.
To strengthen the towing brackets on some vehicles, side supports were welded at the junction of the hull side armor and the front and rear armor plates. Others had the extended hull armor towing brackets removed and replaced with ‘U’ brackets welded onto the lower front glacis plate and the rear armor plate.
Did the Jagdpanzer 38 have a muzzle brake?
The answer is yes, no, then yes. A muzzle brake is designed to increase the life expectancy of a gun barrel by directing some of the explosive force of the shell gasses sideways rather than just forward. The wooden mock-up of the prototype was fitted with a muzzle brake. The early production Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters were fitted with a muzzle brake but these were removed by crews and later production vehicles did not have them fitted. It was found they produced too much dust and smoke, which gave away their ambush position. This was often fatal. The post-war Swiss G13 version had a muzzle brake fitted.
Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters left the factory painted dark sandy yellow (Dunkelgelb RAL 7028). Camouflage patterns were painted onto the vehicle when it arrived at the unit it was assigned to. In October 1944, new Jagdpanzer 38s were painted in a camouflage pattern before they left the BMM factory. It had a base color of dark sandy yellow (Dunkelgelb RAL 7028) with stripes and patches of dark red-brown (Rotbraun RAL 8017) paint and dark olive green (Olivgrün RAL 6003). Black rectangular false vision ports were painted on the upper front glacis plate to try and draw the enemy’s fire away from the driver’s periscopes.
The vehicle’s designation
The Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer during WW2. What follows is an investigation into why the Hetzer nickname is associated with this tank hunter. Many German armored fighting vehicles had very long official designations, so shorter nicknames were used to assist in recognition, for example, the Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf.E was called the Tiger. There are others, like the Ferdinand, Panther, Grille, Wespe, Hummel and many more. Some were official designations while others were unofficial and came from the soldiers using the vehicle. The German High Command even issued orders for vehicle names to be changed because they were deemed to be misleading or not suitable for a vehicle belonging to the German Army. Some of the names now used to describe Second World War German fighting vehicles arose after the war. A few were the invention of scale model kit companies.
Ein grosser Hetzer
A Romanian Army document dated April 1944 recorded the visit of two German officers: Lieutenant-Colonel Ventz from the Waffenamt (German Army Weapons Agency responsible for research and development) and Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann from German High Command OKH. They had come to inspect several vehicles including the Mareşal light tank hunter. Its design is believed to have influenced the final development of the Jagdpanzer 38. The comments of Lieutenant-Colonel Haymann were recorded in the last paragraph on the first page. He said the Mareşal would make ‘ein grosser Hetzer’ (an impressive hunter). The German word “Gross” does not only translate to big as in size. It can also mean good or impressive (Großartig). He went on to say it would be a superior adversary against the Russians.
The Jagdpanzer 38 had many different official names
The word ‘Hetzer’ has not been used during this article because it was not used officially by the German Army during WW2. It is a nickname used by some of the troops. The Jagdpanzer 38 was known by many different designations and abbreviations in official German Army and factory documents.
The following is an updated list of the different names and abbreviations given to the Jagdpanzer 38, followed by the source, and date of the document that was initially compiled by Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle. The term ‘Hetzer’ was a nickname and not an official designation.
leichter Panzerjäger auf 38(t) Wa Prüf 6, (7 January 1944) leichter Panzerjäger auf 38(t) Wa Prüf 6, (28 February 1944) Pz.Jäger 38(t) KTB, GenStdH/Gen.d.Art. (18 January 1944) Pz.Jäger 38(t) KTB, GenStdH/Gen.d.Art. (16 April 1944) Sturmgeschütz neuer Art Gen Insp.d.Pz.Tr. an OKH/Wa Prüf (28 January 1944) Le. Pz.Jäger (38t) Gen Insp.d.Pz.Tr. an OKH/Wa Prüf (28 January 1944) leichtes Sturmgeschütz auf 38(t) Führer Konferenz (28 January 1944) Panzerjäger 38 für 7,5cm Pak 39 (L-/48) (Sd Kfz 138/2) K.St.N. 1149 (1 January 1944) le.Pz.Jg.38t Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr.Akten (4 March to October 1944) le.Pz.Jg.38t Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 (3 August 1944) 7,5 cm Panzerjäger 38(t) Chef.H.Rüst.u.BdE, Wa.Abn. (6 April to 31 July 1944) Stu.Gesch.38(t) Chef.H.Rüst.u.BdE, Wa.Abn. (6 April to 6 June 1944) Stu.Gesch.n.Aa mit 7.5cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpf.Wg.38(t) Waffen bzw.Geräte (March 1944) Stu.Gesch.n.Aa mit 7.5cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fgst.Pz.Kpf.Wg.38(t) Überblick über den Rüstungsstand des Heeres Chef.H.Rüst.u. BdE/Stab Rüst lil. (15 May to 15 October 1944) Ie.Pz.Jäg.38(t) GenSTdH/General der Artillerie Kriegstagebuch (7 June to 30 July 1944) Stu.Gesch.38(t) GenSTdH/Org.Abt. Bericht (12 June and 28 June 1944) I.Pz.Jg.38(t) Wa Prüf 6 (23 June 1944) Ie.Pz.Jg.38(t) mit 7,5cm Pak L/48 auf Fgst Pz 38t GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (8 September 1944) le. Panzerjäger 38t GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (8 September 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 Name of Troop – GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (11 September 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 Ausf Name of regulations – GenSTdH/Org.Abt./Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr. (11 September 1944) Pz.-Jäger 38(t) (späterer Name wahrscheinlich Jagdpanzer) (probable later name Jagdpanzer) GenSTdH/General der Artillerie Kriegstagebuch (12 September 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 Gen.lnsp.d.Pz.Tr.Akten (19 October 1944 to 6 April 1945) Jagdpanzer 38 D652/63 (1 November 1944) Jagdpanzer 38 und Panzerjäger 38 (7,5cm Pak 39 (L/48) (Sd.Kfz 138/2) K.St.N. 1149 (1 November 1944) Jagdpz. 38 this style of abbreviation was used in a list as part of a combat readiness report by the Panzergrenadier Division “Feldherrnhalle”. None were shown on strength. (3 November 1944) Jagdpanzer 38, Panzerjäger 38 (m 7,5cm Pak 39 (L/48) (Sd.Kfz 138/2) Überblick über den Rüstungsstand des Heeres, Chef H.Rüst u. BdE/Stab Rüst III. (15 November 1944 to 15 March 1945) Jagdpanzer 38 WaA/Wa Prüf 6 (17 November and 19 December 1944) Hetzer The origin of this name was explained in this document as coming from the troops to denote the Jagdpanzer 38 Gen. Insp.d.Pz.Tr. Guderian. (4 December 1944) (Source: Spielberger, Jentz and Doyle) Hetzer and Pz.Jg.38(T) IX.SS.Geb.A.K (19 December 1944) Panzerjager G13 Škoda parts list document 1944 edition. Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer) Chief General Quartermaster I.A.Gschwender, Luftwaffe High Command telex (16 February 1945) Jg.Pz.38 t SS-Sturmbannführer combat readiness report. (March 1945) Jg.Pz.38 t Hetzer SS-Sturmbannfüher combat readiness report. (March 1945)
The Project Hetzer E-10 prototype design confusion
‘Project Hetzer’ was the name used by the team tasked with designing a low-profile self-propelled tank hunter with a fast, powerful 400 hp engine that would give the vehicle a maximum road speed of 70 km/h (43.49 mph). It was an Entwicklungs-Serien (developmental series) 10-tonne vehicle that was allocated the designation ‘E-10’. It did not enter production. Weight designations in E-series were not very accurate. The E-10 was planned to weigh between 12-15 tonnes.
The plans for the Jagdpanzer 38 and E-10 were discussed at a concept design meeting between the German army ordnance officers from Wa Prüf 6, and the Czech Böhmisch-Märische Maschinenfabrik (B.M.M.) company. The language barrier may have led to a misunderstanding. It is assumed the Czech company officials believed the Germans were using the name ‘Hetzer‘ when talking about their Jagdpanzer 38 and not the rival company’s E-10 project. Thus, the nickname ‘Hetzer’ became connected to the Jagdpanzer 38 but not used as an official designation.
Military historian Herbert Ackermans found in the German Archives a report dated 21 January 1944, that detailed the items on the agenda and minutes of a number of meetings about the development and production of weapons and equipment, that took place with General Friedrich Fromm, German Army High Command (OKH), between April 1943 and 21 January 1944. (Archiv Signatur RH 10/37)
Item 5 of the report dealt with Klein-Panzerjäger (small tank hunter). Major-General Beißwänger (General beim Chef der Heeresrüstung) remarked that the introduction of such designation (like ‘Klein-Panzerjäger’) was undesirable and that precise designations were required.
Oberst Crohn’s of Wa.Prüf. 6, informed those present at the meeting that the Romanian Maresal tank hunter was of no further interest to Germany as the production of the Jagdpanzer 38 has been decided upon. This also meant that Project Hetzer, Project Rutscher, and Project Sprengstoffträger mit Puppchen had been canceled.
This document provides evidence that the Jagdpanzer 38 and the Project Hetzer E-10 were treated as two separate vehicles.
The few wartime documents where the nickname ‘Hetzer’ was used
Hetzer document No.1
On 31 July 1944, Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 (743rd Tank Hunter Battalion) reported having twenty-eight Hetzers available, with an additional fourteen Hetzers expected to arrive on 3 August 1944 when the battalion would be joined by the 3.Kompanie (3rd company) near Warsaw. On 3 August 1944, the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 743 submitted a ‘strength report‘ that listed how many vehicles were operational and how many were lost, damaged or needing mechanical repair. In this and later reports, the nickname Hetzer was not used. They were given the abbreviated designation of le.Pz.Jg.38t.
Hetzer document No.2
In a Führervortrag briefing sheet, dated 4 December 1944, from German General Heinz Wilhelm Guderian, Hitler is informed that the nickname Hetzer was used by the troops to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38. Hilary Louis Doyle and Thomas L. Jentz mentions this in his Panzer Tracts book. (Found again by military historian Herbert Ackermans in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration – NARA)
8.) Erklärung Ausdruck “Hetzer.” Der kommt aus der Truppe und bezeichnet damit den Jagdpanzer 38.
8.) Declaration Expression “Hetzer.” The expression comes from the troops and refers to the Jagdpanzer 38.
This is the second page of the same report.
Hetzer document No.3
On 19 December 1944, a unit combat readiness report was submitted. It used both the abbreviation Pz.Jg.38(T) and just the nickname Hetzer when collating the figures of combat-ready Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The 22 SS-Kavallerie-Division reported they had two Pz.Jg.38(T) available. The 8 SS-Kavallerie-Division reported they had three Hetzers available. The subordinated unit to the Panzer-Division Feldherrnhalle stated they had three Hetzers available.
Hetzer document No.4
The fourth document was discovered by historian Herbert Ackerman in October 2020 as he was looking at documents in the Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv (German Military Archives). It is a telex from Chief General Quartermaster I.A.Gschwender, Luftwaffe High Command addressed to the German High Command Panzertruppen Inspector. He asks when the Fallschirmjaeger Panzerjäger Abteilungen (airborne tank hunter battalion) are planned to be reequipped with Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer, what are the composition numbers and delivery dates. It was sent on 16 February 1945 and used the name Jagdpanzer 38 T (Hetzer)
Hetzer document No.5
The fifth document was a unit combat readiness report for March 1945. In the eighth line down, under the heading Pz.Abt.17 (17th Panzer battalion) there is an entry, Jg.Pz. 38 t Hetzer. It is strange why this SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) listed one Jg.Pz. 38 t in short term repair as a “Hetzer”, but later listed ten Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank hunters belonging to the Pz.Jg.Abt.Nibelungen (Anti-tank battalion “Nibelungen”) as just Jg.Pz. 38 t and did not include the nickname “Hetzer”. Seven of those ten are shown as operational, one in short-term repair, one in long-term repair, and one with transmission failure. (Source Bundesarchiv Militär Archiv)
Hetzer document No.6
The sixth document is also a unit combat readiness report dated 7 March 1945 for the attention of the German Army High Command Panzertruppen D Inspector from Kampfgruppe Panzer Korps “Feldherrnhalle”. In point 2, under the heading Pz.Jg.Abt.13 (13th Tank Hunter Battalion) there is an entry, (20 Hetzer) ready only after retraining of personnel on the Jg.Pz. 38. Earliest date 25 March 1945. Like some of the other documents it also uses both terms, Hetzer and Jg.Pz.38.
How are the words ‘baiter and agitator’ connected with the Jagdpanzer 38?
During the Second World War and when hostilities had finished, German military prisoners, engineers, and factory workers were interviewed by Intelligence officers. The Allied translators chose to translate the German word ‘Hetzer’ when it was used by the person being interviewed to describe the Jagdpanzer 38, as ‘baiter’. These words appear in U.S. Soviet, British and Commonwealth reports. The interviews were recorded in German. They also noted that the nickname ‘Hetzer’ was used to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38 and some intelligence documents used the German word Hetzer rather than the English translation.
Military Intelligence, Section 10 (M.I.10) was part of the British War Office, which would later become part of M.I.6. It was responsible for technical analysis of weapons. The original Secret documents were declassified on 22 November 1988. Multiple British army intelligence reports and English transcripts of German prisoner interrogations make use of the term ‘Baiter’ as an English translation for the German nickname ‘Hetzer’ when used to refer to the Jagdpanzer 38. These documents were collated and analyzed by M.I.10. The following extract is one such example.
In 1947, the M.I.10 used the name ‘Pz.Jäg. 38(t) – Hetzer’ under a photograph of a Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter in an official, secret, military reference book called ‘Illustrated Record of German Army Equipment 1939 – 1945, Volume III, armored Fighting Vehicles.’ The publication was a summary of all the intelligence reports that M.I.10 had collected on German vehicles. Unfortunately, there is no information in this document about the intelligence source on which naming the Jagdpanzer 38, ‘Hetzer’ was based.
Ralf Raths, the director of the German Tank Museum, whose first language is German, states that Hetzer is a German hunting term. ‘Hetzen” means to hunt your prey at high speed until it collapses or is caught. This is what wolves do in the wild. This would also cover hunting fox, deer, and hare with dogs and on horseback. The term Hetzer was applicable to the Project Hetzer E-10 fast tank hunter but not to the Jagdpanzer 38 which was a slow vehicle that only had a top maximum road speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). The popular modern phrase found on T-shirts, websites, and memes, ‘The Hetzer gonna Hetz’ is totally inaccurate. The Jagdpanzer 38 could not Hetz. It could not chase after its prey at speed. Its tactical deployment was as an ambush weapon.
Unfortunately, there is not a word in English that is a good translation of the German Word Hetzer. We have ‘hare coursing’, but ‘a coursing’ or ‘Project Coursing’ sounds wrong. There is not an overall general descriptive word in English that covers hunting fox/deer/hare/rabbit at high speed until it collapses. The verb ‘to harry’ is a hunting term but is associated with the bird of prey, the Harrier and the British fighter jet the Harrier: the ‘Harrier is gonna harry’. The ‘chaser’ would be the nearest accurate translation. ‘Project Chaser’ and ‘the Chaser’ sound correct in English: the ‘Chaser is gonna chase’. The problem with ‘chaser’ is that word does not always have a hunting association, unlike the German word Hetzer. The way a Jagdpanzer 38 operated in combat was the exact opposite of all these terms.
Many military history authors and magazine article writers translate the nickname ‘Hetzer’ as baiter or agitator. A dictionary definition of a ‘baiter’ is someone who ‘deliberately annoys or tauts another’. It is also defined as referring to a ‘malicious rabble-rousing agitator’ (This definition is where the word ‘agitator’ comes from). Both these explanations of the use of the word ‘baiter’ have caused confusion as it does not describe or hint at the tactical deployment of the Jagdpanzer 38.
There is another definition. A ‘baiter’ is a hunting term. It describes a hunter who baits a trap, lays in ambush hoping his prey takes the bait so that he can kill it. This describes the tactical deployment of the Jagdpanzer 38. They were given the job of protecting the flanks of an attack or defending a section of the front line. Crews were taught to camouflage their vehicles and hide on the edge of woodland. They would be deployed in a troop of three or more Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters and wait in ambush in a position where they had good visibility of advancing enemy units at a location they believed would be an Allied attack route.
To summarise, the Jagdpanzer 38 was not officially called the Hetzer by the Germans during WW2. Although most official wartime documents do not use the nickname Hetzer, a few did.
Starting from 20 June 1944, Panzerjäger Schulen (tank hunter training schools) started to receive Jagdpanzer 38 vehicles for crew training. A surviving Panzerjäger Schule Milowitz (Tank hunter training school at Milowitz) document showed that Jagdpanzer 38 crews were encouraged to find preselected firing positions, preferably behind an earth wall in cover, like at the edge of a wood. Once targets had been engaged and there were no more targets available, the commander was to direct the driver to change to a different location by reversing out of their current position, to avoid being hit by enemy artillery.
The Jagdpanzer 38s were assigned to independent Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilungen (Army Tank Hunter Battalions). They were to provide Infantry Divisions with a mobile anti-tank resource. When the infantry was under attack, they could be used as a resource to support the infantry’s counterattack. They were not intended to be used instead of a tank at the front of an attack in a major offensive. The guns’ limited traverse would make them liable to flank attacks.
Each of the Battalion’s three companies was given fourteen Jagdpanzer 38s, and three were allocated to the Abteilung Stab (Battalion headquarters). One vehicle per company and two of the headquarters’ vehicles were issued with long-range command and control Fu 8 radios. By February 1945, the authorized number of Jagdpanzer 38s per company was reduced from fourteen to ten. The Abteilung (battalion) approved total was reduced to thirty-eight from forty-five.
The Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 731 (731st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was formed on 2 November 1943 by Heeresgruppe Nord (Northern Army group). Between 4 and 13 July 1944, they were issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters for deployment on the Eastern Front.
Between 19 and 28 July 1944, Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 743 (743rd Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters for deployment on the Eastern Front with Heeresgruppe Mitte (Middle Army group).
In September 1944, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 741 (741st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. One company was sent to the Eastern Front, but the other two were directed to the Arnhem sector in Holland.
In February 1945, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 561 (561st Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters.
In March 1945, the Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 744 (744th Army Tank Hunter Battalion) was issued with forty-five Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters.
In December 1944 and January 1945, 295 Jagdpanzer 38s were used in the winter Ardennes offensive, the Battle of the Bulge. The two companies of Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 741 and eighteen other Heeres Panzerjäger companies were deployed in the region. A Heeres Gruppe B (Army group B) ‘combat strength’ report dated 30 December 1944 stated that 131 Jagdpanzer 38s were still operational out of their initial strength of 190. Heeres Gruppe G (Army group G) reported that it had 38 Jagdpanzer 38s still functional out of an initial total of 67.
On 16 April 1945, during the attack on Bolatice in Northern Moravia by Soviet Forces, the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the T-34-85 equipped 1st Czechoslovak Tank Brigade advanced from an area near Albertovec Farm. Two tanks were left behind just south of the farm to guard against a flanking attack. Corporal Ján Zámečník was the gunner in tank number 603. He fired on what he thought was a German machine gun nest on the edge of a wood. When it was neutralized, the crew went to examine the enemy position. They were shocked to find they had knocked out a very well camouflaged Jagdpanzer 38. The German crew had run out of fuel and main gun ammunition but had still decided to fight using the machine gun on the roof of their vehicle. The T-34-85 crew had not identified it as an enemy vehicle because it was so hard to see.
On 27 April 1945, eight T-34-85 tanks of the 3rd battalion, 1st Czechoslovak Tank Brigade advanced from the railway station at Dolni Lhota to Čavisov a village in Ostrava-City District, Moravian-Silesian Region. The attack halted as it encountered anti-tank obstacles. It was an ambush. Two tanks were knocked out, and a further three were damaged by a number of self-propelled anti-tank guns in concealed positions. The remaining tanks were forced to retreat. The Germans then made a tactical mistake. The crews of the Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters counter-attacked. They moved out of cover and into the village near the railroad station. One was knocked out before it reached the village and another was destroyed near the houses on the edge of the village. The others withdrew.
Swiss contract Jagdpanzer G13 tank hunters
The first Jagdpanzer 38 came off the production line in March 1944. By the end of World War II, the Czech company BMM had built 2,047 of them and refurbished 173 that came back to the factory for repairs. Another Czech company called Škoda started manufacturing Jagdpanzer 38s and built a further 780 by the time of the German surrender. A 91 paged 1944 Škoda parts list document was titled ‘Panzerjager G13 Ersatzteilliste’ showing that Škoda used their factory code G13 as part of the vehicle’s designation rather than the normal number 38.
After the war ended, the Swiss were looking for new armored vehicles. They placed a contract with the Czechs. The first 10 that they received were German specification Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters. The rest were new-build vehicles for the Swiss contract. Some of them used World War Two parts that were readily available. Later vehicles had newly designed parts.
One hundred and fifty-eight Swiss contract Jagdpanzer G13 tank hunters entered service with the Swiss army. Ninety-four of them were re-engined with diesel power packs. The last G13 left the Swiss army in 1970. Many were sold to museums and private collectors who converted them to externally look like Second World War German Jagdanzer 38 tank hunters.
The G13 name
G13 – It is just the internal manufacturer’s code name for the Jagdpanzer 38 in the Škoda Factory. A WW2 wartime Škoda Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer was called a G13 in the factory and on all internal documentation. G = tank hunter, 1 = light, 3 = model i.e number 3. G11 was Panzerjaeger I, G12 was Marder III.
Postwar – the 75 mm PaK 40 with a muzzle brake was used instead of the 75mm PaK 39 on Jagdpanzer 38(t). The Škoda Factory did not have access to PaK 39 guns and used the PaK 40. In the Swiss Army this tank hunter was known by the factory code G13 rather than the Jagdpanzer 38 or Hetzer name.
Jagdpanzer 38 Starr
The Starr was characterized by a rigid mount for the main gun. It was tailored for simplified mass-production, and therefore the gun recoil system was entirely eliminated. The recoil had to be absorbed by the chassis and suspensions. Aiming was entirely performed by the same transmission, but coupled to a new Tatra 8 cylinder diesel engine in development. Also, in order to cope with poor vision, the commander received a rotating periscope. The diesel prototype remained the sole one to see combat and was used during the Prague uprising by both sides. Ultimately 10 were built, but later seven were converted back as standard Jagdpanzer 38 after the war because the Starr tubes had worn out. The Jagdpanzer 38 Starr was also meant to receive later a longer L/70 gun, but it came too late to see action.
This final, transitional version had a wider hull, better side protection (50 mm/1.97 in), the same rigid gun mount as the Starr, but with the L/70 gun, and the new 8-cyl Tatra engine.
The German army needed more flame-throwing tanks for their December 1944 winter offensive in Ardennes, Operation Watch on the Rhine and the Operation North Wind in Rhineland-Palatinate, Alsace and Lorraine. Twenty Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunter chassis were fitted with a 14 mm Flammenwerfer flamethrower gun, instead of its normal 7.5 cm PaK 39 anti-tank gun. A tube was installed on the front of the flamethrower to make the vehicle look like the standard Jagdpanzer 38 in an effort to confuse the enemy.
A light recovery vehicle created especially for the Hetzer and light vehicles of its class. Between 64 and 106 (even 120) were converted until the end of the war (chassis numbers 321001-323000-323001), equipped with jack handbars, winch, steel cables, wooden support planks, and a rear hydraulic leg for a better grip. Its only armament was a single 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Rheinmetall MG 34 or 42 mounted on the front arm.
The standard command variant. Nothing really special except for a 30W FuG 8 radio set and extra whip antennas. It was still armed the same way as regular Hetzers, making it even more cramped inside.
Bergepanzer 38 mit 30 mm MK 103 autocannon anti-aircraft gun
A number of Bergepanzer 38 light armored recovery vehicles were converted into anti-aircraft Flakpanzers. They were fitted with a 30 mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MK 103 autocannon. The letters MK are an abbreviation for the word ‘Maschinenkanone’.
This weapon was originally designed to be mounted in German combat aircraft and intended to have a dual purpose as an anti-tank and air-to-air fighting weapon. This gun was also used on the five prototype Flakpanzer IV “Kugelblitz”. If necessary the gun could also be used in a ground support role against enemy troops and vehicles.
Soviet Army capture the factories
When the Red Army liberated Czechoslovakia, they conducted a stocktake of what was in production at the Škoda factories at the time they came under ‘new management’. A report was filed on the possibility of completing the vehicles found at Škoda factories. The auditor found 1,200 unfinished Jagdpanzer 38 tank-destroyers “G13” chassis. It was worked out that 150 of them could be finished from the parts available. The remaining 1,050 vehicles were 45%-60% completed and had only 78 main guns available between them. This report showed that production of the Hetzer chassis was outstripping the manufacturing capacity to build the main gun in sufficient quantities.
The Czech Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzers (several dozens were captured in and around Budapest in 1945) were designated ST-1, for Stihac Tanku or “Tank Hunter”. 249 were pressed into service. There was also a school driver version designated ST-III/CVP (50 vehicles), the Praga VT-III armored recovery vehicle and the PM-1 flamethrower tank. 50 existing Jagdpanzer 38 tank destroyers were to be modified with a flame thrower turret, but the program was cancelled.
Thanks to the great numbers of Jagdpanzer 38s built at the end of the war, it got to see service with a number of different armies during the war and after.
The only export user of the Jagdpanzer 38 was the Hungarian Army, which received about 85 vehicles between August 1944 and January 1945.
While the Soviets captured large numbers of Jagdpanzer 38s during their successful drive against the German armies, there is no evidence they put any into use. They did, however, supply some to their new allies, the Bulgarians (some 4 vehicles). Romania also captured a couple of Jagdpanzer 38s after switching sides and moving into Transylvania.
One of the most famous wartime Jagdpanzer 38s is Chwat, a single tank destroyer captured by the Poles during the Warsaw uprising that saw no combat use.
Another Jagdpanzer 38 was captured by Czechoslovakian rebels during the Prague uprising at the end of the war.
After the war, the Czechoslovakians had a number of Jagdpanzer 38s available to them left from production or abandoned on their soil. They produced 150 more and used them until at least the early 60s.
The Czechoslovaks also exported the Jagdpanzer 38 to Switzerland, which bought 158 vehicles that were in service until the 70s. Most of the current surviving Jagdpanzer 38s are actually Swiss G13s.
Overall, the vehicle was successful. It was quick to build, and cheap compared with the cost of constructing a Tiger, King Tiger or Panther tank. It was mechanically reliable, easily concealed, hard-hitting, and when used right, a hard-to-kill vehicle. A company of Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters working together, concealed in a good location, could damage or knock-out a considerable number of attacking enemy tanks.
Surviving Jagdpanzer 38
Currently, there are only 13 known surviving Jagdpanzer 38 tank hunters left. If the Jagdpanzer 38 you are looking at on display at a museum is not on this list of surviving vehicles then it is a post-war Swiss Contract G13 altered to resemble a wartime Jagdpanzer 38.
Australian Armour and Artillery Museum, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Arsenalen Swedish Tank Museum
The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK
Bruce Crompton Collection, UK
Rex and Rod Cadman Collection, UK
Private Collection, Germany
Panzermuseum, Thun, Switzerland
Polish Army Museum, Warsaw, Poland
Army Technical Museum, Lešany, Czech Republic
Kubinka Tank Museum, Russia
Fort Lee U.S. Army Ordnance Museum, VA, USA
Canadian Forces Base, Borden, Canada
Wheatcroft Collection, UK
Liechte Jagdpanzer by Walter J. Spielberger, Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Hetzer; 1944-45 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Panzerkampfwagen 38 Panzer Tracts No.18 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945 Panzer Tracts No.23 by Thomas Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle
Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Box’ at the Tank Museum, Bovington Archives
Romanian Military Museum Archives, Bucharest
British War Office Military of Intelligence M.I.10 ‘Illustrated Record of German Army Equipment 1939 – 1945, Volume III, Armoured Fighting Vehicles. ’
Hilary L. Doyle. Start from the 17 min time period https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG_mY-jSZzQ
Private correspondence with Mr. Hilary L. Doyle (1)
Herbert Ackermans document collection.
Jagdpanzer 38 specifications
Dimensions (L W H)
6.27 m x 2.63m x 2.10 m
20 ft 6.8 in x 8 ft 7.5 in x 6 ft 10.6 in
Total weight, battle-ready
7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48, 41 rounds
7.92 mm (0.31 in) M.G.34, 1,200 rounds
8 to 60 mm (0.3 – 2.36 in)
4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Praga EPA AC 2800 6-cylinder 160 hp @ 3000 rpm petrol/gasoline engine
Maximum Road Speed
40 km/h (25 mph)
180 km (111 miles)
Romanian Mareșal, 1943.
Jagdpanzer 38, the first command model built with Fgst.nr.321001 radio.
Jagdpanzer 38 “Chwat” (Brave) captured by Polish insurgents. An early production tank, Warsaw, August 1944.
Hungarian early type Jagdpanzer 38, 1944.
Early type Jagdpanzer 38 “Black 233”, western front, one of the earliest captured by the Allies.
Kingdom of Italy 1942-1945
Railway Armored Car – 20 Converted
The AB series armored cars were the main reconnaissance vehicles of the Italian Royal Army during the Second World War, with over 700 being produced between 1940 and 1945. Used on all the fronts of the war, after 1943, 120 were also used by the Germans and, after the war, by the Italian Army until 1954.
A total of 20 AB40 and AB41 armored cars were modified in 1942 to patrol the Yugoslav railways. This special version was called ‘Ferroviaria’ (English: Railway). After the war, another group of AB41 and AB43 vehicles were modified to be used to patrol the Italian railways.
History of the project
In an attempt to emulate the rapid German territorial expansion, Italy declared war on Greece in late October 1940. Due to unexpected Greek resistance, the Italian offensive was stopped and even reversed. The Italian situation in North Africa was also dire, and for these reasons, Mussolini had no choice but to seek help from his German ally. Hitler was not initially interested in the Mediterranean theater, being more preoccupied with the plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union. But, worried by the possibility of a second front being opened to the south in Greece by the British while the German forces were assaulting the Soviet Union, he reluctantly decided to send German military aid to help the Italians. The Germans quickly made combat plans for the occupation of Greece, which counted on the neutrality of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
The government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia wanted to preserve neutrality and signed the Tripartite Treaty on 25th March 1941. Two days later, Air Force General Dušan Simović, with the support of other military officers staged a coup d’etat and overthrew the government. Hitler was furious about this event and ordered that Yugoslavia should also be occupied. This event would lead to the short so-called April War, during which Yugoslavia was defeated by a coalition of Axis forces which also included Italy. After this short war, the Yugoslavian territory was divided between different Axis forces. The Italians got part of Slovenia, Kosovo, part of Macedonia, Montenegro, and parts of the Adriatic coast.
While the war was over, the Axis withdrew most forces from this area, as it was thought to be pacified. However, two resistance movements, the Royalist Chetniks and the communist Partisans, would start a general uprising against the occupying forces only a few months later. In order to suppress these two resistance movements, the Germans and Italians began once again increasing their presence in Yugoslavia, which included armored vehicles.
The introduction of the AB40
After the occupation, the initial Italian armored force in Yugoslavia consisted of two groups of light tanks: the 1° Gruppo Carri ‘L’ ‘San Giusto’ (English: 1st Light Tank Group) station in Karlovac and the 2° Gruppo Carri ‘L’ ‘San Marco’ (English: 2nd Light Tank Group) stationed in Trebinje and Dubrovnik. These groups were each equipped with 4 squadrons, with a total of 61 L3 light tanks. In order to better protect their positions in Yugoslavia, in July 1941, the 31° Reggimento di Fanteria Carrista (English: Tank man Infantry Regiment), which also was equipped with the L3, was also sent to Yugoslavia. These units were mostly deployed to protect the Adriatic coast territories. Meanwhile, in Slovenia, the Italians initially did not expect any serious opposition. But, in June 1941, the communist movement began to be active even in Slovenia, which forced the Italians to pay attention to this part of the front as well. The Italian high command in Yugoslavia issued orders for the troops to arm and armor their trucks and to arm nearly all personnel.
In 1942, new armored equipment was brought to Yugoslavia by the Italians. This included the flamethrower version of the L3, the L3/38, and new types of armored cars, like the SPA-Viberti AS37, FIAT 626NM, FIAT 665NM Scudato, and AB41 armored cars.
The Italians employed a tactic of forming a large number of well-defended strong points. Their defenses often discouraged Partisans from attacking them. At the same time, they were left isolated and unable to efficiently coordinate attacks or defenses against the Partisans. This tactic led to an overextension of the supply lines. These strong points were also highly dependent on well-defended supply lines (like roads or rails), which were often prone to Partisan attacks. The rail tracks and trains were favorite targets of the resistance fighters. For the protection of these strong points, it was proposed to use armored trains and armored draisines to be used in the occupied territories of Yugoslavia. Interestingly, the rare AB40 was also operated there by the Italians.
The sabotage carried out by Yugoslav partisans, which increasingly hit sensitive targets such as bridges, communication points, and railways considerably slowed down the convoys and supply columns directed to the strong points controlled by Italian soldiers. The Regio Esercito (English: Italian Royal Army) was forced to find a solution quickly. It was first proposed to use armored trains and armored draisines to protect convoys heading for the Italian strong points, It was immediately clear that, although it was a good idea, building entire armored trains would take too long, and the army did not have the time necessary.
The order to build armored trains was given to Ansaldo, which began the development of new railway vehicles, while FIAT proposed to use the AB series armored cars, which were very useful for Italian soldiers to patrol the occupied territories.
In order to design this railway version, FIAT engineers asked for help from the experts of FIAT Ferroviaria, a subsidiary of FIAT which produced trains. After a very short time, it was decided to replace the tires of an AB40 with slightly modified steel wheels used by the Italian locomotives. Other minor modifications were made and, in January 1942, the AB40 ‘Ferroviaria’ was presented to the High Command of the Italian Royal Army. A few days later, some vehicles were taken from the Centro di Addestramento Autoblindo (Eng: Armored Car Training Centre) of Pinerolo and modified in the nearby FIAT factory of Turin. In total, in less than a month, 12 armored cars of the AB series were converted. These were eight AB40s that the Regio Esercito considered unsuitable for the reconnaissance role and were, in fact, used for training, and four AB41s that were used in armored car companies and command platoons.
In the months before the Armistice of September 1943, another order was placed for the conversion of 8 more AB41s.
In the mid-30s, the Royal Italian Army realized that the Lancia 1ZM armored cars produced during the First World War were by now poorly armed, poorly protected, and performed poorly off-road. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, some Lancia 1ZMs were sent to Spain to support General Francisco Franco’s army. After their use in battle, it was clear to the Italian High Command that, although still efficient as support vehicles, they could no longer carry out reconnaissance activities. In late 1937, the Royal Army decided to issue an order for the development of a new armored car for long-range reconnaissance.
In the 1930s, the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana or PAI (English: Italian Police in Africa), the police corps in charge of the security of the Italian colonies, still used the old Lancia 1ZMs, which were not very suitable for desert use, and also handcrafted armored cargo trucks to face the anti-imperialist resistance in Libya and Ethiopia. After testing light tanks with little success, in 1937, the PAI command autonomously requested the development of an armored car prototype for long-range reconnaissance.
FIAT and Ansaldo cooperated to produce two prototypes with many compatible parts that could meet the requirements of the Italian Royal Army and the Italian African Police. After almost two years of development, the two prototypes were presented in Turin on May 15, 1939. One of them was tested in East Africa, while the other one remained in Italy. For mass production, it was decided to unify the two vehicles, which later became the AutoBlinda Modello 1940 (English: Armored Car Mod. 1940), more commonly known as the AB40.
From the beginning, the AB40 was evaluated as being poorly armed. When production began, it was decided to develop a version armed with a 20 mm cannon. 24 AB40s were produced until March/April 1941 plus 5 pre-series vehicles and two prototypes. The next version was the AB41 which had the same hull and the turret of the light tank L6/40. About 600 of this new version were produced for the rest of the war, until 1945.
The AB40 was designed for reconnaissance and not combat, so it had 9 mm armor all over the structure and turret. Another interesting feature were the dual driving controls, with one driver at the back and one at the front. This allowed the vehicle, in case of involvement in a firefight, to withdraw from combat without complicated maneuvers.
The crew consisted of four soldiers: front driver, vehicle commander/gunner, rear driver on the left and rear gunner on the right.
For the AB40, the armament was composed of two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns in the turret and another Breda Mod. 1938 mounted in a ball bearing on the rear plate. This latter gun was removable and usable on an anti-aircraft support which was not always supplied to the crews. The ammunition stack was 2,040 rounds in 85 magazines of 24 rounds each, kept in the racks on the sides of the hull.
The radio equipment of the first vehicles produced was unknown. In March 1941, the RF3M radio produced by Magneti Marelli began to be installed. The vehicles with the radio apparatus of the first type are recognizable because they had the radio antenna on the right side.
The suspension was quite advanced. The vehicle had four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering, with independent shock absorbers on each wheel which gave excellent off-road mobility. The engine was a FIAT SPA ABM 1 6-cylinder water-cooled inline petrol engine developing 78 hp. This engine was designed by FIAT and produced by its subsidiary SPA in Turin. The AB40 had a speed of 80 km/h on road, while the range was about 400 km.
The AB41s received the new Mod. 1941 turret, armed with a 20/65 Breda Cannon Mod. 1935 caliber 20 mm and a Breda Mod. 38 coaxial machine gun and new racks that allowed the transport of 456 20 mm bullets. The last modification was the introduction, due to the weight increase from 6.8 to 7.4 tons, of a more powerful version of the SPA ABM 1 called ABM 2, which was able to deliver 88 hp of power.
Due to production problems of the new engine, many armored cars were equipped with ABM 1 engines and Mod. 1941 turrets, giving birth to AB40/41 hybrids. These armored cars, impossible to distinguish externally from the normal AB41, had a slightly lower top speed and range than the AB41 due to the lower engine power.
FIAT chose to keep the AB’s dual driving arrangement for the railway version, which allowed for a change of direction without turning the vehicle. Another vehicle of the type was the Autocarretta Ferroviaria Blindata Modello 1942 (English: Armored Railway Light Lorry Model 1942), based on the chassis of the Autocarretta OM36DM, a small truck suitable for the transport of about 900 kg of material, of which 20 were produced in late 1942. This particular vehicle did not have a double drive and, in order to drive at normal speeds backward, it needed to be lifted by a hydraulic jack and turned manually by the crew members. This was dangerous during possible ambushes by partisans.
In the ‘Ferroviaria’ version, the armored car was only modified externally. First of all, the steel wheels of the FS ALn 556, an Italian locomotive produced by FIAT Ferroviaria that entered service in 1938, were adapted to the armored car. On each fender, a box full of sand connected to the armored car’s braking system by a ‘Bowden’ cable (the same used on bicycle brakes) was mounted. When the braking system was in operation, some sand was released through a tube coming out from under the box’s floor and flowed on the rails increasing the grip of the steel wheels on the rails.
Four slightly raised skids were mounted in front of the wheels to prevent small objects, such as stones and branches, from slipping between the wheels and derailing the vehicle.
Much importance was given to the possibility of patrolling both railways and roads. On the hubs that supported the two spare wheels on either side, three fixing pins were added to mount a second spare wheel on each side. A steel cable was mounted on the superstructure to prevent the wheels from freeing themselves from the supports due to strong jolts. The steel cable was hooked to the superstructure when not needed. In order to prevent the cable from cutting the tires due to the tension, a wooden wedge was put on the wheels.
The modified AB40 and AB41 armored cars were used to form platoons consisting of 5 vehicles. These were used by the 2° Raggruppamento Genio Ferrovieri Mobilitato (English: 2nd Group of Mobilized Railway Engineers) stationed at Sušak, east from the Croatian city of Rijeka. By mid-1942, the AB40s were operating in the area of Western Slovenia, Gorskog Kotara, Like, Krajine Primorske, and Dalmatia. These were used to protect the vital rail supply system. They were usually acting as train escort and support vehicles or for close proximity reconnaissance.
In July 1942, during the anti-partisan Operazione ‘Aurea’ (English: Operation ‘Golden’) near Biokov, the Italians also operated at least six AB armored cars (possibly the rail version).
In 1943, the Italians increased their presence in the area with more armored trains and by increasing the number of rail armored cars to 20 (which precise types were used is not clear). During the first half of 1943, the Litorina Blindata railway locomotive, with a diesel engine produced by Ansaldo and equipped with two M13/40 medium tank turrets armed with two 47 mm cannons, 6 machine guns, two 45 mm Brixia mortars and two flamethrowers Mod. 1940, was introduced. These were meant to support the units operating the AB rail armored cars stationed in Sušak. These were used to patrol areas in Slovenia and Croatia.
During 1943, the Partisans made over 120 attacks on the Sušak-Karlovci area. Of these, six attacks were aimed at the Italian armored trains. Interestingly, due to poor knowledge of the precise name of the AB40/41 rail armored cars, in Partisans documents these were simply called small railroad armored cars. In late February 1943, one railroad armored car was reported to have struck a Partisan mine near Ogulin.
During the night of 22nd August 1943, due to a Partisan mine, No.3 armored train and an armored car (most likely an AB) were heavily damaged. The explosion was so powerful that the shockwave knocked off the rail track, the locomotive, several wagons, and the supporting armored car. The last use of the Italian armored formation (including 4 armored cars) in Slovenia was in early September 1943 against the Partisans in the area of Krvava Peč and Mačkovec. If the Germans operated the modified AB 40/41 in its rail protection role after 1943 is not clear. The German forces stationed in Slovenia in 1944 and 1945, due to increased Partisan activity, relied more and more on armored trains for troop and supply movements. It is possible that some ABs were still operational and used by the Germans at that time. In a Partisan attack on the German trains, one ‘rail tank’, which may have been an AB, was destroyed on 8th January 1945.
After the capitulation of Italy, their units still located in Yugoslavia found themselves in a state of chaos, as all fighting sides were racing to capture their territories and weapons. The Germans were anticipating the Italian capitulation and launched Fall ‘Achse’ (English: Operation Axis) to seize the Italian Balkan held territories as fast as possible. They managed to disarm 15 Italian divisions in Albania and Greece and 10 more in Yugoslavia. The Germans captured many Italian AB armored cars, which were usually given to reconnaissance units, like the Aufklärungs-Abteilung 171 (English: Reconnaissance Battalion) and some police units.
The Yugoslav Communist Partisans were also quick to take advantage of the situation and captured a large number of Italian prisoners and weapons. During the period of 8th to 25th September 1943, the Partisans managed to capture at least over 7 armored cars. Sadly, it is difficult to determine the precise type of these cars, as the Partisans had trouble naming them properly in the sources, but we can assume that some were of the AB series. These armored cars were used against the Germans with some success until October, by which time most were either destroyed or hidden due to lack of fuel, spare parts, and ammunition. They also captured some Litorine Blindate, which were used to assault some Italians strongpoints before being destroyed by partisans to avoid being captured by the Germans.
Even the forces of the German puppet state of the Independent State Croatia managed to capture some weapons from the Italians, which included 10 armored cars. Partisan reports stated that the Croatian capital Zagreb was defended, from late 1943, by units equipped with ‘special’ armored cars (with some 7 to 10). These were described as being able to be driven in either direction (backward or forward) and had a turret. By this description, it is highly likely that at least some were of the AB series. In addition, at least one AB41 was operated by the Croat forces around the city of Varaždin.
After the end of the Second World War, the new Esercito Italiano (English: Italian Army) employed some AB ‘Ferroviaria’ in its Railway Engineering units called Reggimenti Genio Ferroviario. These were an unknown number of AB41s survivors of the war converted into ‘Ferroviaria’ and at least eight standard AB43s that were built after the war. These later vehicles had been taken from the army and modified in 1946 at the Arsenale di Torino (English: Turin Arsenal) that four year early had produced the ABs that went to fight in Yugoslavia.
These railway armored cars remained in service with the Italian Army until late 1960s and, like all the vehicles of the time, they were repainted in NATO Green and received new plates. In October 1961 the Arsenale di Piacenza (English: Piacenza Arsenal) rearmed three AB43s with 12.7 mm Browning M2HB removing the 20 mm autocannon.
One AB43 ‘Ferroviaria’ survives and is preserved at the Museo della Motorizzazione in Cecchignola near Rome.
At least one AB rail armored car was operated after the war by the new Yugoslav People’s Army. The precise use and fate of this vehicle is unknown, but, by 1955, nearly all available captured armored vehicles were earmarked for scrapping. It is possible that the single AB was also scrapped at that time due to insufficient firepower and lack of spare parts.
The AB ‘Ferroviaria’ vehicles were produced to make up for the lack of armored trains in service in the Italian Royal Army. Fundamental for the patrols of railroads, preventing sabotage, and avoiding ambushes on the Italian supply trains, these special armored cars were used extensively even after the armistice of September 1943 by the Germans, who also reused them as normal armored cars. They also saw service post-war with the new Italian Army.
AB40 ‘Ferroviaria’ specifications
5,20 x 1,92 x 2,29 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready
4 (driver, gunner, second driver and rear machine gunner)
FIAT-SPA ABM1 6 cyl, 78 hp with 145 l tanks
three Breda 38 by 8 x 59mm machine guns with 2040 rounds
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