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WW2 Italian SPG Prototypes

Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41

Kingdom of Italy and Italian Social Republic (1942-1945)
Truck-Mounted Dual Use Artillery – 1 Prototype Built

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

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

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

The North African Context

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autocannoni da 90/53

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design

The SPA Dovunque 41 Truck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engine and Suspension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ammunition

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

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

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

The Autocannone da 90/53 su SPA Dovunque 41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Specifications

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

Sources

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

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