Categories
WW2 RSI Armor

Improvised Armored Truck of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’

Repubblica Sociale Italiana (1944-1945)
Improvised Armored Truck – 1 Converted

An improvised armored truck, built on an unknown chassis and used by the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ (English: 1st Black Brigade) of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (English: Italian Social Republic) after November 1944 was one of the dozens of armored vehicles produced by the RSI units.

Nothing is known about the original chassis or its service, and only two photos of the vehicle exist.

The Repubblicana Sociale Italiana creation and its situation

After the end of the North African Campaign with the defeat of the Axis troops in May 1943, the popular discontent with Fascism in Italy increased. The King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, took the opportunity to regain power.

With the collaboration of some fascist generals, Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, was deposed, and a Monarchist government was created, which almost immediately tried to organize an armistice with the Allied powers.

On 8th September 1943, the signing of the armistice between the Kingdom of Italy and the Allied powers was made public, to the great surprise of the Italian soldiers. They were left completely unaware of the situation.

The Germans launched Fall Achse (English: Operation Axis), which lasted from the 8th of September to the 23rd of September 1943, occupying all the territories under Italian control in Italy, including the northern and central part of the Italian peninsula in the hands of the Axis forces.

Mussolini was freed from a secret prison on 12th September 1943 by a task force of Fallschirmjäger and transferred to Germany. There, he met Adolf Hitler and decided to found a new republic in the Italian territories not yet occupied by the Allies.

On 23rd September 1943, Mussolini returned to Italy, founding the new Repubblica Sociale Italiana with two new military corps, the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army) and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Guard), its military police.

Apart from some well-equipped and trained units, most of the Italian military forces were composed of poorly trained and equipped soldiers, mainly used by the Axis command in anti-partisan operations or to support German troops on Italian soil.

The Black Brigades

The necessity of small units located in the small cities of Italy as garrisons to stop partisan formations was great. To cover this, Alessandro Pavolini, the secretary of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano (English: National Fascist Party), proposed the creation of a paramilitary corp at the dependencies of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana to the Italian dictator, the so-called Brigate Nere (English: Black Brigades).

The reason for the constitution of the Black Brigades was to preserve the life and property of the republican fascists. Additionally, to constitute auxiliary units, well-rooted in the territory where they operated (most of the members were born and lived in the cities where they operated) used in the fight against the partisans.

During their existence, the Black Brigades were also used to help bigger units in anti-partisan operations, maintain public order in the cities and prevent partisan sabotage against important city targets.

On 26 June 1944, Mussolini approved the Decreto Legislativo Numero 446-XXII (English: legislative decree no. 446-22), which Pavolini had proposed. The Roman numeral XXII signified 1944 documentation because it was the 22nd year of the fascist government in Italy.

This order constituted the Corpo Ausiliario delle Squadre d’Azione delle Camicie Nere (English: Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts), simply known as the ‘Brigate Nere’ (English: Black Brigades), under the control of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana.

On 5 July 1944, Pavolini sent a 5-point circular to the commanders of the Black Brigades that were in the process of being constituted. It indicated the order of battle of the territorial brigades as consisting of a Brigade Command, composed of the Commander, Vice Commander, Chief of Staff, Operations Office, Information Office, Office of Personnel and Discipline, Materials Office, Administrative Office, Office Assistance-Propaganda and Press, Health Service. The Brigade Command had at its disposal three battaglioni (English: battalions), each with about 320 militiamen divided into a command and three regular compagnie (English: companies).

Each company, with 105 militiamen, was divided into a command and three regular squadre (English: squads), which consisted of a squad commander and 33 men. Each squad was divided into three nuclei composed of 11 men, including the nucleus commander. Pavolini’s circular also provided that each brigade would receive the name of a soldier that fell for the cause of Republican Fascism.

Only two Black Brigades out of about 60 created received factory-built armored fighting vehicles, the Iª Brigata Nera of Turin, with a SPA Dovunque 35 Blindato, and the XIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Marcello Turchetti’ of Mantova, with an obsolete M11/39 requisitioned from a tank crew training school.

The other brigades were equipped with trucks (of military or civil origin) that they used as transport vehicles or that they armored themselves or in civilian workshops. These improvised armored trucks were meant to help them on anti-partisan patrols or to escort columns of trucks loaded with military equipment or food.

Some examples of improvised armored vehicles used during the Italian Civil War, which broke out during the last two years of the Second World War, were the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVI° Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade) and (even if not used by a Black Brigade) the FIAT 666N Blindato of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico of Piacenza (English: 630th Public Order Company).

The 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’

After the announcement of the creation of the Brigate Nere in early July 1944, many militiamen loyal to Mussolini and his ideology arrived in the Caserma (English: Barrack) Vittorio Emanuele Dabormida in Corso Stupinigi (now Corso Unione Sovietica) in Turin. On 7th July 1944, the 1ª Brigata Nera, also known as Iª Brigata Nera (with Roman numerals), was created.

The soldiers were volunteers from other units near Turin. After the armistice, they had remained without command and were employed as police officers in Turin or the countryside. Other former Regio Esercito soldiers from other fronts had returned to their houses in Turin after the armistice and joined up, also accompanied by young fascists without military training but loyal to Mussolini and his ideology.

The unit was located until September 1944 at the Caserma Giuseppe Arimondi in Via Verdi, in Turin. Then it was moved to the Caserma Cernaia in Via Cernaia, renamed by the brigade into the Caserma Luigi Riva after the Secretary of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano, Comandante del Fascio Luigi Riva. He had been killed in a truck during a partisan ambush on 30th October 1943 on the road between Borgone di Susa and Turin, returning, together with a dozen of militiamen, from checking the damage done to the fascist headquarters in Borgone di Susa, which the partisans had vandalized.

Members of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ during a parade in Turin.Other Turin’s Repubblica Sociale Italiana units probably took part in the parade. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it

The 1st Black Brigade, like the other black brigades, received the name of a fascist killed by the partisans. The fascist from which the unit took its name was Ather Capelli, born in Ferrara in 1902. He was a great supporter of the fascist ideology and participated in the March on Rome (a fascist march on Rome leading to Mussolini’s political party coming to power in Italy) in October 1922. He became a journalist before enlistment as a volunteer for the Ethiopian War of 1935, where he was badly wounded.

At the start of the Second World War, his request to re-enlist in the Regio Esercito was refused due to war wounds. He continued his journalist career and, on 20th September 1943, became director of the ‘Gazzetta del Popolo’ of Turin (originally founded as a liberal and anti-clerical paper in the 19th century this was, by the end of the 1920s, an avowedly fascist-party-supporting paper). After 17th January 1944, he was also director of the weekly ‘Illustrazione del Popolo’, part of the ‘Gazzetta del Popolo’.

Capelli was killed in Turin on 31 March 1944 by a commando of the partisan Gruppi di Azione Patriottica or GAP (English: Patriotic Action Groups) while he was returning home from work. Giuseppe Bravin and Giovanni Pesce (a famous Italian Communist Partisan leader) were the partisans who ambushed and killed him. In retaliation, on 2nd April 1944, five prisoners held in fascist prisons were shot without trial on a nearby street.

On 25th August 1944, the creation of the unit ended. The Black Brigade was commanded, like the other black brigades, by the city’s Federale (English: Federal), in this case, Turin’s Federale Giuseppe Solaro.

It was originally composed of two battalions. The I° Battaglione (English: 1st Battalion) commanded by Major Alberto Villa had in its composition the 1ª Compagnia Mobile (English: 1st Mobile Company) commanded by Captain Carlo Orsini, the 2ª Compagnia (English: 2nd Company) commanded by Captain Alfredo Maestroni and the 3ª Compagnia (English: 3rd Company) commanded by Captain Aldo Giacone.

The II° Battaglione (English: 2nd Battalion), under the command of Major Placido Tiseo, had in its composition the Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ (English: Action Squad) and Squadra d’azione ‘Albarella’ of the Compagnia ‘EIAR’ (English: EIAR Company), composed of a couple dozens of militiamen that defended Turin and Milan’s Ente Italiano per le Audizioni Radiofoniche or EIAR (English: Italian Body for Radio Broadcasting) buildings. The Compagnia ‘EIAR’ was commanded by Captain Cesare Rivelli.

In Turin, the Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ was located in Via Arsenale 21, where the leadership of the EIAR was placed, and in Via Montebello 12, where the production studios were located.

The 4ª Compagnia (English: 4th Company) was assigned to the II° Battaglione, commanded by Captain Giovanni Consiglio. In total, the unit was composed, on 25th August 1944, of over 569 Black Shirt militiamen and auxiliaries.

Table 1: 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ units until December 1944

1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ units until December 1944
Name Commander Place Number of soldiers
Comando di Brigata Federale Giuseppe Solaro Turin 23 officers, 40 NCOs
Compagnia Comando Capitano Alessandro Sapey Turin
Daily Press “La Riscossa” Direttore Lorenzo Tealdy Turin
I° Battaglione Maggiore Alberto Villa Turin 360 soldiers
1ª Compagnia Mobile Capitano Carlo Orsini Turin 129 soldiers
2ª Compagnia Capitano Alfredo Maestroni Turin 105 soldiers
3ª Compagnia Capitano Aldo Giacone Turin 126 soldiers
II° Battaglione Maggiore Placido Tiseo ? //
4ª Compagnia Capitano Giovanni Consiglio Turin
Presidio di Pinerolo Tenente Spirito Novena Pinerolo 25 soldiers
Presidio di Buriasco Buriasco
Presidio di Chieri Tenente Giuseppe Carbone Chieri 96 soldiers
Compagnia ‘EIAR’ Capitano Cesare Rivelli Turin
Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ Tenente Vincenzo Mortillaro di Ciantro Turin 41 soldiers
Squadra d’Azione ‘Albarella’ Tenente Ventimiglia Milan
Total // Over 600 soldiers

With the continuation of the war and the influx of new voluntary recruits and guns, the unit was reorganized in December 1944. The I° Battaglione, commanded by Major Alberto Villa (after 6th March 1945, commanded by Major Alfredo Maestroni) now had the 1ª Compagnia, which had changed its name, commanded by Major Placido Tiseo, the 2ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Alfredo Maestroni, substituted in March 1945 by Captain Victor Risso and the 3ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Giuseppe Motta.

The II° Battaglione, under the command of Major Pagnini, had in its composition the Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ of the Compagnia ‘EIAR’, commanded by Captain Mario Porta (Squadra d’Azione ‘Albarella’ was assigned in late 1944 to the VIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Aldo Resega’ of Milan), the 4ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Duodero, the 5ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Antonio Rubatto and 6ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Spirito Novena until 28th February 1945, after which Captain Umberto Ragona substituted him. In total, on 30th March 1945, the unit was comprised of a thousand Black Shirts, militiamen, and auxiliaries.

On 2nd April 1945, Turin’s new Federale, Mario Pavia, took over the command of the Black Brigade, because Federale Giuseppe Solaro was promoted Ispettore Regionale per le Brigate Nere (English: Regional Inspector of the Black Brigades) in Piemonte. He left the Black Brigade’s command on 23 April 1945, two days before the Great Partisan Insurrection of 25 April that would free the main Italian cities from Fascist and Nazi control before the Allied armies arrived.

The vice-commander of the unit was Lieutenant Colonnello Lorenzo Tealdy, also director of the daily newspaper ‘La Riscossa’ that dealt with topics of the fascist unions in Turin and articles on the activities of the unit.

In December 1944, the Compagnia Armi Appoggio (English: Support Gun Company) was also created under the command of Captain Luigi Rey di Villerey with some armored vehicles and support guns. A new addition was also the Gruppo d’Azione Giovanile (English: Group of Young Action), also known as Compagnia ‘Balilla’. During its operational life, from mid-1944 to April 1945, the black brigade also created the Presidio di Santena (English: Garrison of Santena) in Santena, about 15 km from Turin. It was active from September to October 1944. The Presidio di Caramagna Piemonte, about 32 km from Turin, was composed of 12 Black Shirts but, at an unspecified date (before 1945), it was assigned to the Iª Brigata Nera Mobile ‘Vittorio Rocciarelli’ of Milan. The same fate be fell the Presidio di Carmagnola under Lieutenant Michele Rizzi, the Presidio di Cavallermaggiore and the Presidio di Racconigi of Captain Fortunato Troini, all reassigned to the Iª Brigata Nera Mobile.

Other garrisons were the Presidio di Moncalieri, a couple of kilometers from Turin, the Presidio di Leinì about 12 km from Turin and assigned to the II° Battaglione, the Presidio di Venaria, part of the conurbation of Turin, with 12 militiamen and an NCO under 3ª Compagnia’s command, and the Presidio di Ulzio, about 67 km from Turin, created on 25th August 1944 under command of Lieutenant Elio Triola and then Lieutenant Giovanni Ancillotti, assigned to the II° Battaglione.

Tabel 2: 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ units from December 1944 to early 1945

1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ units from December 1944 to early 1945
Name Commander Place Number of soldiers
Comando di Brigata Federale Giuseppe Solaro Turin 23 officers, 40 NCOs
Compagnia Comando Capitano Alessandro Sapey Turin
Daily Press “La Riscossa” Direttore Lorenzo Tealdy Turin
Compagnia Armi Appoggio Capitano Luigi Rey di Villerey Turin 3 officers, 4 NCOs and ~100 soldiers
Compagnia Deposito Capitano Guglielmo Gianoglio Turin
Gruppo d’Azione Giovanile also known as Compagnia ‘Balilla’ Sottotenente Tullio De Chiffre Turin
Servizio Sanitario Capitano Luigi Starace Turin 3 nurses and 2 auxiliaries
Servizio Ausiliario Femminile Tenente Anna Maria Bardia Turin
Presidio di Moncalieri Moncalieri
I° Battaglione Maggiore Alberto Villa Turin
1ª Compagnia Mobile Maggiore Placido Tiseo Turin
2ª Compagnia Capitano Alfredo Maestroni Turin
3ª Compagnia Capitano Giuseppe Motta Turin
Presidio di Venaria Venaria 1 NCO and 12 soldiers
II° Battaglione Maggiore Pagnini //
4ª Compagnia Capitano Duodero Turin
5ª Compagnia Capitano Antonio Rubatto Chivasso
6ª Compagnia Capitano Spirito Novena Pinerolo ~100 militiamen
Presidio di Chieri Tenente Giuseppe Carbone Chieri
Presidio di Leinì Leinì
Presidio di Ulzio Tenente Elio Triola Ulzio
Compagnia or Presidio di Pinerolo Pinerolo 5 officers, 87 NCOs and militiamen and 5 auxiliaries
Compagnia ‘EIAR’ Capitano Cesare Rivelli Turin
Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ Capitano Mario Porta Turin 41 soldiers
Notes Unfortunately the irregular nature of the units, and the poor record keeping that exact numbers are not known for many of the sub units.
Total // Over 1,000 soldiers

The Italian writer Marco Nava, in his book ‘1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione’, mentions that the Compagnia Armi Appoggio had in its ranks an improvised armored car on unspecified chassis, a SPA Dovunque 35 Blindato, four 81 mm mortars, a 45 mm mortar, 2 Cannoni-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935s and 2 Cannoni da 47/32 Modello 1935s, about 100 militiamen, 4 NCOs and 3 officers: Lieutenant Pessot, Lieutenant Grindato, and the company commander, Captain Luigi Rey di Villerey.

The Comando di Brigata and Compagnia Comando, all the I° Battaglione, the 4ª Compagnia of the II° Battaglione, Compagnia Armi Appoggio were positioned in Turin at the Caserma Luigi Riva in Via Cernaia. The Gruppo d’Azione Giovanile was headquartered in Turin in Via Ettore Muti (Now Via Gagliani), in the Casa Littoria.

The Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ of the Compagnia ‘EIAR’ was deployed to protect the radio buildings in Turin. The 5ª Compagnia was placed as a garrison in Chivasso, in the Caserma del Distretto Militare (English: Military District Barrack). The 6ª Compagnia was placed in the Casa Littoria in Pinerolo. It was the former 4ª Compagnia that was renamed after December 1944.

Table 3: 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ unit equipment on 30th August 1945

1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ unit equipment on 30th August 1945
Name Type Deployed In the armory Unusable Total Number Ammunition
Machine guns
FIAT-Revelli Mod. 14/35 Medium machine gun 3 3 17,200 rounds
Breda Mod. 1930 Light machine gun 3 3 2,280 rounds
St. Étienne mod. 1907 Medium machine gun 1 1 11,500 rounds
SubMachine Guns (SMGs) and pistols
MAB SMGs 16 1 17 9,440 rounds in the armory
SMGs
Sten SMGs 4 4
“Parabellum SMG” SMGs 1
“Greek and Yugoslavian SMGs” SMGs 2
7 9 16
Revolvers 48 8 56 2,505 rounds in the armory
Automatic pistols 29 3 32
Very Signal gun 2 1 3 776 rounds
Rifles and carabines
Sniper rifle 1 1
Moschetti Cavalleria TS 6.5 mm Rifle 54 1 7 62 18,915 rounds
Moschetti Alpini Mod. 91 Rifle 18 1 1 20
Fucili Mod. 91 Rifle 31 5 36 18,915 rounds
Fucili Mod. 41 Rifle 34 130 2 066
Fucile Mod. 37 6.5 mm Rifle 54 22 10 86 18,915 rounds
Fucile Mod. 38 7.35 mm Rifle 235 10 11 256 17,058 rounds
Fucile Cavalleria 7.35 mm Rifle 2 5 7 17,058 rounds
Steyr Rifles Rifle 14 4 18
Explosives
German hand grenades Hand grenade 2 38 120 without percussor 160
OTO Hand Grenade 72 38 110
Mine crates 41 41
Dynamite 9 kg in the armory
Heavy armament (in January 1945)
Mortaio da 81 Mod. 35 81 mm mortar 4 4 87 rounds
Brixia Mod. 35 45 mm mortar 1 1 Not present in the armory
Cannone da 20/65 Mod. 35* 20 mm automatic cannon 2 2 Not specified
Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 35* 47 mm support gun 2 2 Not specified
Note * These guns were deployed by the unit from January 1945

About the trucks in service with the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, not much is known. The sources claim that, on 28th July 1944, the unit captured a Bianchi medium truck (model not specified, probably a Bianchi Miles) and a Lancia 3Ro heavy-duty truck in a surprise attack against the partisans. The communist units tried to steal military equipment from freight cars loaded with fascist equipment in the Bagnolo Piemonte train station. Cpt led the fascist attack. Spirito Novena was, at the time, commander of the Presidio di Buriasco (30 km from Turin) and the 16 militiamen-strong ‘Squadra Fantasma’ (English: Phantom Team) that managed to kill 12 partisans and wound another 20. Marco Nava also claims that the Compagnia Armi Appoggio was also equipped with an improvised armored personnel carrier on the FIAT 1100 car chassis.

Members of the ‘Squadra Fantasma’ of the Presidio di Beinasco. The name of the unit was written on the flag. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it

According to an article on the Black Brigade written by Italian author Paolo Crippa on the website zimmerit.com, the 1st Black Brigade was also equipped with a FIAT 626 medium truck.

In the book ‘1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione’, the deployment of a column of vehicles of the Black Brigade “consisting of three trucks and two cars” is mentioned on 6th March 1945. This was for an anti-partisan operation during which at least 18 militiamen of the brigade were killed and probably some vehicles were lost.

A Lancia 3Ro exits the Caserma Luigi Riva in Via Cernaia. The militiamen have hung the name of the Black Brigade on the right, above the windows. It was probably the one captured from the partisans on 28th July 1944.
On board were the coffins of some of the militiamen who died in the previous days during a firefight with the partisans. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it
The coffins of the militiamen who died in a partisan attack are transported on two Lancia 3Ro and a FIAT 626 trucks in Via Roma in Turin. This was probably the same column of vehicles as in the photo above. If that is true, this is the FIAT 626 of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’. Source: pinterest.com

From photographic evidence, it is known that the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ was also equipped with some motorcycles and a 1-tonne Autocarretta OM light lorry, probably used to tow the artillery pieces of the Black Brigade.

Part of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ equipment lined up on the Caserma Luigi Riva’s parade ground. From left to right, there is an Autocarretta produced by OM, in front of it a pair of Cannoni da 47/32 Modello 1935 and a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935, a SPA Dovunque 35, the improvised armored car and two motorcycles. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it

Design

In Northern and Central Italy, which were controlled by the Axis, German and Italian troops had about 1,000 trucks in service. These were insufficient, considering that the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano and the Wehrmacht counted about 600,000 soldiers. Few trucks were delivered to Italian units, which, in most cases, tried to compensate by capturing others from partisans or requisitioning civilian trucks.

None of the existing sources mention on which chassis the improvised armored car was built. The Black Brigade had in its ranks a FIAT 626 medium truck and the chassis of the armored car might seem similar to the FIAT 626 chassis at a quick glance.

The FIAT 626 was a cab-over-engine medium truck produced by the FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin. It was one of the first cab-over-engine trucks of the FIAT company and could not be the chassis under the Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’. The armored car seems to be based on a conventional-cab chassis in the few available photos.

FIAT 626NM at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione during Regio Esercito training. It had a similar shape with the improvised armored car of the Black Brigade, but it was a cab-over-engine truck, while the armored car was on a standard-cab chassis. Source: wikipedia.com

Thus, it is possible it was based on one of the only two other vehicles that we know that the Black Brigade had captured and probably reused, a Lancia 3Ro heavy-duty truck produced by Lancia Veicoli Industriali of Turin or a medium truck produced by Bianchi company of Milan, probably a Bianchi Miles.

Lancia 3Ro NMSP at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione during Regio Esercito training. As is clearly visible, the vehicle is too large for the dimensions of the improvised armored car of the Black Brigade. Source: italie1935-45.com

The Lancia 3Ro was an enormous vehicle, with a payload capacity of over 6 tonnes and a maximum speed of 45 km/h. It was huge, and it is improbable that the improvised armored car of the ‘Ather Capelli’ Brigade was built on its chassis. To give a comparison, the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVI° Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ was a colossus that does not match the dimensions of the improvised armored car of the unit.

The Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVI° Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’, with its huge shape. The Lancia 3Ro heavy duty truck could not be the chassis for the improvised armored car of the Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’. Source: pinterest.com

The last vehicle is the Bianchi medium truck, of which the model is not specified. During the war, Bianchi produced the Mediolanum and Miles. The latter seems more similar to the improvised armored car chassis.

Bianchi Mediolanum at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione during Regio Esercito training. Source: wikipedia.com
Bianchi Miles at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione during Regio Esercito training. It probably is the vehicle that the mechanics of the Black Brigade modified into an armored car. Source: italie1935-45.com

Two clues that make the Bianchi Miles chassis hypothesis more plausible. One is the presence of headlights fixed on the engine hood-sides. This system was rarely seen on Italian trucks, which usually had them mounted and connected on the frontal mudguards. On the Bianchi Miles, the headlights were instead connected to the electric circuit through the engine bay sides.

The Bianchi Miles

The Bianchi Miles was a conventional-cab medium truck produced by Fabbrica Automobili e Velocipedi Edoardo Bianchi (English: Edoardo Bianchi Automobiles and Bicycle Factory) in the Desio plant, near Milan, in Lombardia.

The civilian version was produced until the start of the Second World War; while the military version was produced from 1938 to 1943 for the Regio Esercito and from November 1943 to early 1945 for the Germans, who received 90 newly produced vehicles.

Bianchi Miles of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani (English: Anti-Partisan Regrouping), probably in Turin in the Fall of 1944. It tows an L3 light tank trailer and is armed with a pair of Breda Modello 1930 placed on the cab’s roof. Source: Italia 43-45, I Blindati di Circostanza della Guerra Civile

The Regio Esercito used the Bianchi truck in the majority of the campaigns where it was involved: Southern France, the Balkans, the Soviet Union, and most importantly, North Africa.

Some specialized variants were also produced, such as ambulances, buses with 23 seats, mobile bathrooms with showers for the soldiers and mobile refrigerators. In August 1943, a Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) version armed with a 25 mm Mod. 38 cannon captured from the French in 1940 was also proposed. The vehicle carried 4 gun crew members and 380 25 mm rounds. A pre-series of 20 vehicles was ordered, but the Armistice canceled the project.

A 1949 brochure of the Bianchi company showing four different versions of the Bianchi Civis 75. Source: facebook.com @Gianpaolo Pederzoli

From 1946 to 1952, an upgraded version called Bianchi Civis 75 was built, with military and civilian versions.

The cargo bay was made of wood planks 4 meters long and 2 meters wide. Only the rear side was foldable. The maximum payload was 3,000 kg, while the loaded truck weighed 6,500 kg. For the transport of troops, 6 cross benches could be set up.

A post war build Bianchi Civis 75. One detail that suggests it is a post-war production is the Fabbrica Automobili e Velocipedi Edoardo Bianchi symbol on the radiator grille. Source: italie1935-45.com

Engine and suspension

The Bianchi Miles was powered by a Mercedes-Benz MDU 35 M diesel engine produced under license by Bianchi, equipped with a manual inertia starter. The engine delivered 65 hp at 2,000 rpm and was powered by a pump and injectors manufactured under license from Bosch.

The maximum speed was 64 km/h and the maximum range was 350 km thanks to the main fuel tank, with a capacity of 70 liters and the reserve tank of 15 liters placed behind the dashboard, which fed the engine by gravity. This guaranteed that, in the event of a malfunction of the fuel pump, the truck could reach a workshop for repairs. This system saved many drivers from breakdowns in the middle of the desert.

The Bianchi-copied Mercedes-Benz MDU 35 with Bosch electric starter. It also has the transmission mounted. Source: italie1935-45.com

The brake system was a two-disc dry clutch and could be disassembled independently of the transmission for easier and quicker maintenance. The Bianchi Miles had four gears and one reverse. A pneumatic servo brake pedal operated the hydraulic drum brakes.

The Miles had one 12-volt circuit powered by a 90-watt Magneti Marelli dynamo that served two front headlights, the license plate light, windshield wipers, an electric horn, and dashboard lighting.

The suspension consisted of leaf-springs on each wheel but, in the rear axle, were mounted in couple.

Armament

The improvised vehicle was armed with a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 gas-operated air cooled automatic cannon developed by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche of Brescia.

This was first presented in 1932, and, after a series of comparative tests with autocannons produced by Scotti, Madsen, and Lübbe, it was officially adopted in 1935. The Regio Esercito adopted it as a dual-use automatic cannon. It was a highly effective anti-aircraft and anti-tank gun and, in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, some Panzer Is were modified to accommodate this gun in their small turret to fight the Soviet light tanks deployed by the Republicans.

From 1936 onward, the gun was produced in a vehicle mount variant and was installed in L6/40 light reconnaissance tanks and AB41 and AB43 medium armored cars.

A Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 was used by Italian troops to defend a military convoy in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Source: italie1935-45.com

It was produced in the Breda plants in Brescia and Rome and by the Terni gun factory, with a maximum average monthly production of 160 autocannons. The Regio Esercito used more than 3,000 in all the war theaters. Hundreds were captured and reused in North Africa by the Commonwealth troops, who greatly appreciated its characteristics.

After the armistice of 8th September 1943, a total of over 2,600 Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini and Breda 20 mm automatic cannons were produced for the Germans, who renamed it ‘Breda 2 cm FlaK-282(i)’.

It had a total weight of 307 kg with its field carriage, which gave it 360° traverse, a depression of -10° and an elevation of +80°. Its maximum range was 5,500 meters. Against flying aircraft, it had a practical range of 1,500 meters, and against armored targets, it had a maximum practical range between 600 and 1,000 meters.

The muzzle velocity was about 830 m/s, while its theoretical rate of fire was 240 rounds per minute, which dropped to 200 – 220 rounds per minute in practice.

A Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 in the Donbass region during the Second World War, defending a railway. Source: italie1935-45.com

It was fed by 12-round clips on the field version and 8-round clips in the vehicle version. The type of clips used on the improvised armored car of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ is unknown, as is the number of clips transported in the vehicle.

Modification and Operational use

The Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino or ARET (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin) produced artillery pieces, and small armored plates and helped develop some armored vehicles before the Armistice, such as the FIAT 665NM Scudato.

After the Armistice, it changed its name to Arsenale di Torino and its primary tasks also changed. In addition to producing artillery pieces, it specialized in the production of armored plates for improvised vehicles that it also converted in its depots or that the units mounted themselves at their barracks. An example of improvised vehicles built by it were the SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ of the Xª Flottiglia MAS, which received armored plates that were mounted on the chassis by workers from one of the Turin’s FIAT factories, and the two armored vehicles delivered for the defense of the Alto Commissario per il Piemonte (English: High Commissioner for Piemonte) Paolo Zerbino that were assembled in the Arsenale di Torino.

The SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ during a parade on 29th October 1944 on Via Roma, Turin’s main street. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

If the vehicle was really built on the Bianchi Miles chassis captured to the partisans on 28th July 1944 by the ‘Squadra Fantasma’, it means that the vehicle was transferred from Buriasco to Turin, where it was delivered to the Arsenale di Torino in the weeks after. The transformation probably required a lot of time. One source claims that the vehicle was delivered to the Black Brigade only in November 1944.

It is logical to suppose that the armor was made of steel plates recovered by the units from various sources, with a thickness from 5 mm to 8 mm, as on other improvised armored vehicles produced in that period. The frontal engine compartment was protected frontally with an armored grille for the radiator, while vertical armored plates protected the sides.

The improvised armored car with some militiamen around it. This behemoth was probably rarely used due to its weight, which likely caused many mechanical failures. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it

From photographic evidence, the armored car’s windshield was left unprotected, quite a questionable choice. It is plausible that the windshield had an openable shield with a driver slot that could be raised when a gunfight was imminent.

The only existing photo of the armored car’s side shows that the armored plates just behind the driving compartment were welded in a different position for an unknown reason.

The turret, of small dimensions, was trapezoidal-shaped with a square base. The gunner, probably the only crewmember that sat in the turret, had a hatch on the turret’s top, opening towards the front. From the poor quality photos of the vehicle, it is not clear if the turret top had a small periscope to check the battlefield from inside the vehicle.

It seems the gun had a limited elevation and depression and it seems that it did not have a coaxial machine gun. This is probably because the Breda gun mounted in the turret was a standard field one (recognizable by the differences in the barrel) that was not equipped with supports for a coaxial machine gun. The space in the turret interior was really cramped, and the loading operations were probably difficult.

The absence of slots on the sides of the turret suggests that the commander could only check the battlefield through the gun sight and probably from the small periscope mounted on the turret roof.

The barrel of the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda mounted on the vehicles (upper) and the one mounted on the other supports used by the Italian armies (lower). Source: italie1935-45.com

Only a slot was placed on the superstructure side, allowing the driver and commander to check the sides of the vehicle. A large rectangular access door seems to have been placed on the superstructure side, just under the turret, and probably another access door was placed on the rear side, such as on armored personnel carriers. This meant that, in case of emergency, the crew could enter or exit the vehicle quickly. Behind the turret, there was a transport compartment for some militiamen of the Black Brigade. From the images of the vehicle, it is visible that the rear part of the roof, behind the turret, was slightly higher than the other parts of the roof.

The SPA Dovunque 35 Blindato and the improvised armored car of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ in the Caserma Luigi Riva’s parade ground. From this angle, the armored car side is visible, showing off the side door. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it

The crew was probably composed of four militiamen. The driver was probably on the right side of the driving compartment and the commander on the left. In the turret was the gunner, who operated the 20 mm automatic cannon, while a loader was also probably transported to facilitate the loading operations. At the rear, there were probably some benches for four to six fully equipped soldiers or enough space for a spare wheel and ammunition racks.

Operational Service

Nothing is known about the use of the improvised armored car and the armored personnel carrier SPA Dovunque 35 Blindato, even if the armored car was used for at least 5 months by the Black Brigade.

From November 1944 to April 1945, the units of the Black Brigade stationed in the Caserma Luigi Riva, where the vehicle was located, took part only in public order activities, where a vehicle with its characteristics was not needed.

The official documentation never mentions the service of the Compagnia Armi Pesanti, so it is currently impossible to know how they were used. On 13th November 1944, a “vehicle” (according to one source) of the Black Brigade was involved in a skirmish against partisans in Moncucco Torinese, a few kilometers from Turin. On this occasion, a militiaman, Secondo Casetta, was killed.

After 18th November 1944, some companies of the Black Brigade, supported by a couple dozen of the Compagnia ‘EIAR’ supported the Presidio di Caramagna in an anti-partisan operation that was a total failure. Only 13 deserters and partisans were arrested.

Starting 29th November, a company of the Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, composed of about seventy soldiers under the orders of Captain Amilcare Villani, took part in one of the phases of Operation ‘Koblenz’ in the provinces of Asti and Alessandria. Turin’s militiamen, reinforced by elements of the Vª Brigata Nera ‘Carlo Lidonnici’ of Cuneo, about 150 men in all, were aggregated to a company of the German SS-Polizei Regiment 15. Turin’s Black Brigade members raked the villages of Baldichieri, Villafranca, San Paolo, Savi, Castelnuovo Don Bosco and Murisengo, where the unit was stationed for a few days.

From Murisengo, the company moved to Felizzano and took part in the roundup operations in the area of Nizza Monferrato. Near Monastero Bormida, the unit captured numerous partisans who had escaped from the previous anti-partisan operation. On 10th December 1944, the company returned to Turin. The troopers did not suffer any losses during the entire operational cycle.

On 18th January, militiaman Bartolomeo Vittone was captured and killed. He belonged to the company of Pinerolo. For this reason, on 5th February 1945, 45 militiamen, under the orders of Captain Novena, made a raid in Villafranca Piemonte, where some of those responsible for the murder of Vittone were hiding.

After having surrounded a block, the Black Brigade’s militiamen entered into a lodging, capturing three young men armed with pistols and belonging to the partisan’s IV° Brigata Garibaldi (English: 4th Garibaldi Brigade). During the same operation the troopers, after a brief firefight that killed Giulio Maritano, former captain of the Royal Army, captured Ettore Carando, Chief of Staff of the partisan brigade, and Leo Lanfranco, political commissary of the Garibaldi formation. Before returning to Pinerolo, the soldiers also managed to capture the commander of the partisan police of the IV° Brigata Garibaldi, Enrico Carando.

In this operation, men from Caserma Luigi Riva were deployed, but nothing is known about the armored vehicles.

Between 19th and 20th February 1945, the Compagnia di Pinerolo, together with units of the Gruppo Esplorante (English: Exploring Group) of the Divisione Granatieri ‘Littorio’ (English: Grenadier Division), took part in a vast anti-partisan operation in the area of Torre Pellice, Bagnolo Piemonte and Campiglione.

The operation led to the discovery of the command of the 105ª Brigata Garibaldi ‘Carlo Pisacane’ (the partisans also used the names of fallen patriots for their units). Numerous partisans were captured during the operation, among them some well-known brigade leaders and 60 rifles, 8 submachine guns, 2 machine guns, as well as a considerable amount of ammunition and explosives. No losses were suffered by the unit or the militiamen of the Divisione Granatieri.

On 28th February 1945, by order of the Command of the 5ª Divisione Alpina (English: 5th Alpine Division), a platoon of the Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ (unknown if the improvised armored car was deployed) and the entire three company-sized XXXVIª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade) of Lucca were transferred to Cavour and Bricherasio in Turin’s province. Lucca’s black brigade had in its ranks 225 officers, NCOs, militians and auxiliaries (in March 1945) and the Lancia 3Ro Blindato. These forces, together with a company of the 5ª Divisione Alpina, took part in a police operation in the countryside east of Saluzzo. Divided into small units, the fascists searched the hills of the area assigned to them without finding any trace of partisan formations. The fascist forces also stopped several civilians who had taken refuge in the mountains to escape compulsory enlistment in the RSI armies or to escape forced enlistment as workers in wartime factories. The operation ended on the evening of 28th February.

On 25th April 1945, the new commander of the Black Brigade, Mario Pavia, ordered all the remaining soldiers to concentrate in the barracks at Via Cernaia, where about 300 militiamen arrived. Units of the 1ª Compagnia ‘Arditi’ of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ with some armored vehicles converged on the Caserma Luigi Riva.

In the morning of 26th April 1945, the partisans began the occupation of some factories in Turin and of the railway stations of Porta Nuova and Porta Susa. These were recaptured the same day by units of the Black Brigade, of the GNR and of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’.

In the afternoon of the 26th of April, from the nearby barracks of the Polizia Ausiliaria (English: Auxiliary Police) in Via Cernaia, where the agents had joined the partisans, a heavy firefight started against the barracks of the Black Brigade. Four tanks of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ and three armored cars, probably two of the ‘Leonessa’ and probably the improvised armored car of the ‘Ather Capelli’, supported by a platoon of soldiers of the brigade attacked the building in the late afternoon. After having broken through the main door with cannon fire, the armored vehicles and the squad broke into the building.

The agents and the partisans fled, leaving about ten dead on the ground, while the fascists suffered only a few injuries.

Throughout 27th April 1945, the fascists kept the partisans as far away as possible from the area where the republican units were concentrated. In order to break the resistance of the men of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, the partisans started to hit the barracks of Via Cernaia with artillery and mortars. Due to their inexperience with similar weapons, the shells did not cause casualties.

Towards evening, Colonel Cabras, commander of the GNR, gave the order to implement the plan ‘Esigenza Z2B’, which provided for the concentration of the republican units in Valtellina. The forces taking part in the retreat had to concentrate in Piazza Castello the same evening.

The column moved from Piazza Castello around 1 am on 28th April 1945. The armored vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ were located at the head and tail of the column, while the units of the ‘Ather Capelli’ formed the rear guard.

The column traversed Turin without being involved in clashes. A barricade at the bridge over the Dora was broken through by the armored vehicles. Once on the Turin highway, the column continued to Chivasso and then proceeded along the state road to Cigliano, where it stopped to avoid being hit by the Allied air force. The night after, the column moved towards Livorno.

Colonel Cabras, commander of the column, having ascertained the impossibility of continuing towards Valtellina, gave the order to continue north and reach the area of Strambino Romano, where the bulk of the German and Republican units coming from the western Alpine front were already concentrating. In Cascine Romane, the units stopped. The first American troops arrived in the area on 5th May 1945 and the fascist troops surrendered to them without resistance.

Conclusion

The improvised armored car of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, was one of the dozens of improvised vehicles produced by Repubblica Sociale Italiana units during the last years of the Second World War. Its service is unknown but was probably limited, as were other similar vehicles.

It is one of the less known improvised vehicles of the war. In comparison, similar vehicles, such as the FIAT 666N Blindato of the 630ª Compagnia OP of Piacenza or the Lancia 3Ro Blindato that were deployed with the same tasks, have better detailed operative histories.

Its service was probably also limited due to the vehicle’s weight, which probably exceeded the 6.5 tonnes of the truck + load of the standard military Bianchi Miles version. Due to the vehicle’s weight, it was probably often under repairs due to mechanical failures.

Due to the critical situation of the RSI units in the last stages of the Second World War, it was probably problematic for the unit to find the necessary spare parts to keep it operational.

Autocarro Blindato ‘Ather Capelli’. Illustration made by Godzila.

Sources

1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione – Marco Nava – E-book

36^ Brigata Nera “Natale Piacentini”: Una Documentazione – Leonardo Sandri – E-book

Relazione Circa l’Attività della Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli” Partito Fascista Italiano – Corpo Ausiliario delle Camicie Nere – E-book

Italia 43-45, I Blindati di Circostanza della Guerra Civile – Paolo Crippa – Tankmaster Special. Italian and English editions Volume 4th, July 2014

Le Brigate Nere: Una Documentazione Struttura – Organigrammi – Operazioni 2^ Edizione – Leonardo Sandri – E-book

Associazione Nazionale Combattenti e Reduci. 2019. Le Brigate Nere, La Ather Capelli di Torino. https://www.combattentiereduci.it/notizie/le-brigate-nere-la-ather-cappelli-di-torino Access date: 28th Jun. 2022.

I^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli” TORINO. https://spazioinwind.libero.it/bnere/brigate/athercapelli-i.htm Access date: 28th Jun. 2022.

Reparti Corazzati della Polizia Repubblicana e Brigate Nere http://www.zimmerit.com/zimmeritpedia/italia_rsi/ITALIA_RSI_MUTI.html Access date: 28th Jun. 2022.

One reply on “Improvised Armored Truck of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.