The Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 (English: SPA-Viberti AS43 Reconnaissance Car) was an Italian reconnaissance car developed for the Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) for long-range reconnaissance in the North African desert, ambushing Allied convoys, countering the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), and escorting Axis convoys on the desert roads.
Unfortunately, it entered service too late in the war to participate in the North African campaign. For this reason, the vehicle was deployed only in Italy and the Balkans.
North African Campaign and First Camionette
The Regio Esercito started the North African Campaign on 9th September 1940, fighting against the British and Commonwealth troops based in Egypt. After a few months, in January 1941, the Italian Xª Armata (English: 10th Army) was forced to retreat to Libya and take defensive positions, awaiting German help.
In that period, the Regio Esercito‘s High Command started to request the development of various new kinds of vehicles based on the experience gained in the first months of desert warfare. One of the most famous vehicles designed in that period was the FIAT-SPA S37 Autoprotetto (English: Armored [Wheeled Vehicle] FIAT-SPA S37) armored personnel carrier, based on the FIAT-SPA Trattore Leggero Modello 1937 ‘Libia’ (English: FIAT-SPA Light Tractor Model 1937), or more simply, the FIAT-SPA TL37 ‘Libia’ light prime mover.
At the same time, due to the absence of many types of special purpose vehicles, the Italian soldiers on the front tried to fill the gaps in their organic strength with improvised vehicles of two kinds: support and reconnaissance vehicles, both based on Italian built or captured trucks.
The support trucks were called autocannoni (English: truck-mounted artillery). Basically, these were just standard trucks without cab roofs and windshields with support, anti-aircraft, or anti-tank guns mounted permanently on their cargo bays.
The reconnaissance trucks were built on light lorries and were called camionette desertiche (English: desert reconnaissance cars). In Italian, the term camionetta (camionette plural) is used to designate any kind of unarmored light reconnaissance vehicle of the army or unarmored police vehicles.
One of the support truck models was the Autocannone da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA TL37. It was armed with a Cannone da 75/27 Modello 1911 field gun mounted on the modified rear side of a prime mover.
The first camionette were based, in the first stages of the war, on the FIAT-SPA Autocarro Sahariano Modello 1937 (English: FIAT-SPA Saharan Truck Model 1937), or more simply FIAT-SPA AS37, a light desert lorry developed on the TL37 chassis.
These vehicles had the advantage of being powered by a strong petrol engine and, thanks to their large tires, having great off-road mobility. The armament was usually a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 anti-aircraft gun, which was also effective against light armored vehicles, or machine guns mounted on pedestal supports.
These cheap, easy to modify, all-terrain vehicles proved themselves as really effective against the British saboteur and reconnaissance units, but also against convoys or small armored units.
In mid-1942, the Comando Militare del Sahara Libico (English: Libyan Sahara Military Command), the branch of the Regio Esercito High Command in North Africa, ordered the modification of the FIAT-SPA AS37 light desert lorries into camionette. The modifications were made by a specialized military workshop in the Hon Oasis.
One of the biggest problems encountered with the FIAT-SPA AS37 was their height, which, in flat landscapes like the desert, made it easily spottable by enemy forces. The FIAT-SPA AS37 was 2.65 m tall due to the cab and waterproof tarpaulin.
The Hon workshop then cut the cab, removing the roof, rear wall, and windshield, and lowered the chassis by a few centimeters.
In the modified cargo bay’s center, a universal support was mounted, which could be equipped with a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 or a Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935. The armament was completed with a 8 mm Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1937 (English: Breda Medium Machine Gun Model 1937) manned by the vehicle’s commander.
Probably no more than 2 FIAT-SPA AS37s were modified into camionette, tested and then delivered to the compagnie sahariane (English: saharan companies).
These vehicles gave great results and the Comando Militare del Sahara Libico probably sent a favorable report to the Regio Esercito’s High Command in Rome.
The Camionetta Desertica SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’ – the Expensive Reconnaissance Car
The Camionetta Desertica SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’ (English: Desert Reconnaissance Car SPA-Viberti AS42) was presented as a prototype at the Centro Studi ed Esperienze della Motorizzazione (English: Vehicle Study and Experience Center) in Rome on 9th July 1942.
It was a 5.62 m long, 2.26 m wide, and 1.8 m tall (with armament installed) reconnaissance car with two rows of 20 liter cans on each side, usually carrying fuel, and 4 20 liter cans on the front mudguards for drinkable water and lubricant oil.
These reconnaissance cars had a universal support in the center able to mount a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935, a Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935, or a Solothurn S-18/1000 anti-tank rifle, known in Italian service as the Carabina ‘S’ (English: ‘S’ Carbine) or as the Fucile Anticarro ‘S’ (English: ‘S’ Anti-Tank Rifle). A smaller support was positioned on the right frontal side and two more were positioned on each side on the rear. These three supports were used for 8 mm Mitragliatrici Medie Breda Modello 1937 or Modello 1938 machine guns, used for anti-aircraft and anti-personnel fire.
Less than 100 were produced and delivered before the loss of the North African campaign in May 1943. More were produced, under the new designation Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Metropolitana’ or ‘Sahariana II’ (English: Reconnaissance Car SPA-Viberti AS42 “Metropolitan”). These differed only by the absence of the first row of 20 liter cans on each side and the installation of stowage compartments for ammunition.
These camionette proved themselves really useful to the Axis forces in the last actions of the North African campaign, with a claimed kill ratio of 1:5. Their flaw was the cost of each vehicle. They had a 4×4 steering system and a frame in common with the Autoblinde (English: Armored Cars) of the AB series. The camionette were not expensive financially, but, for each Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS42, an Autoblinda AB41 chassis was removed from the armored car production line, decreasing the number of precious armored cars produced. Also, for this reason, a new camionetta with a different frame had to be built.
History of the Prototype
The Officine Viberti design office, thanks to the reports on the various types of improvised camionette, started development of a new reconnaissance car on the FIAT-SPA Autocarro Sahariano Modello 1937 chassis. The design was probably influenced during development by the reports on the Camionetta AS37 received in summer 1942 from the Comando Militare del Sahara Libico.
In late summer 1942, the prototype of the new vehicle, initially called Camionetta Desertica SPA-Viberti AS43, was presented at the Centro Studi ed Esperienze della Motorizzazione in Rome.
The prototype differed from the production vehicles by the presence, on the sides, of two 20 liter can supports, for a total of 10 cans transported. After the loss of North Africa, the production vehicles were modified, removing the can supports and transforming the free space into lockers where ammunition was stored.
Production and Deliveries
On 1st February 1943, a document was published by the Direzione Generale della Motorizzazione (English: General Directorate of Motor Vehicles), part of the Ministero della Guerra (English: Ministry of the War). This mentioned that the total order for the Camionette AS43 was of 180 vehicles. This could confirm the total number of 300 camionette ordered: 120 AS42 and 180 AS43.
The Officine Viberti’s documents, however, confirm the production of 167 to 169 AS43 between June 1943 to January 1946. It is necessary to add the 13 SPA-Viberti AS43 produced for the Germans with modified bodyworks and armaments to this number. If this claim is correct, the SPA and the Officine Viberti produced a total of 180 or 182 AS43s. The monthly production ratio was planned to reach 30 Camionette AS43. Nevertheless, due to the Italian industry’s poor situation in early 1943, this goal was never reached, and only 23 AS43s were delivered to the Regio Esercito before the war.
Another source claims that there were 66 Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 built, of which 23 were produced and delivered before the Armistice of 8th September 1943. This source is supported by an acknowledgement of a debt of 12 million Italian lira for the production of 63 camionette from December 1943. The debt was paid off in May 1947.
|Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 Produced and Delivered before the Armistice|
|Engine Serial Code||Chassis serial Code||License Plate||Date of Registration||Delivered to|
|100010||47269||Regio Esercito 1120B||7th July 1943||Deposito 1° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista of Vercelli on 28th July 1943|
|100011||47270||Regio Esercito 1121B||Deposito 1° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista of Vercelli on 29th July 1943|
|100012||47271||Regio Esercito 1122B||Deposito 1° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista of Vercelli on 28th July 1943|
|100014||47273||Regio Esercito 1123B||Deposito 1° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista of Vercelli on 29th July 1943|
|100017||47276||Regio Esercito 1124B||Deposito 1° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista of Vercelli on 28th July 1943|
|100018||47277||Regio Esercito 1125B||Deposito 1° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista of Vercelli on 29th July 1943|
|100016||47275||Regio Esercito 1126B|
|100022||47281||Regio Esercito 1127B|
|100023||47282||Regio Esercito 1128B||28th July 1943||4° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista of Rome on 4th August 1943|
|100026||47285||Regio Esercito 1129B|
|100028||47287||Regio Esercito 1130B|
|100020||47279||Regio Esercito 1131B|
|100025||47284||Regio Esercito 1132B||19th August 1943||Deposito 33° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista of Parma on 14th August 1943|
|100029||47288||Regio Esercito 1133B||28th July 1943||4° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista of Rome on 4th August 1943|
|100021||47280||Regio Esercito 1135B|
|100024||47283||Regio Esercito 1136B|
|100030||47289||Regio Esercito 1138B||19th August 1943||Deposito 33° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista of Parma on 14th August 1943|
|100034||47293||Regio Esercito 1139B||29th July 1943||Deposito 33° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista of Parma on 4th August 1943|
|100003||47268||Regio Esercito 1140B||19th August 1943||Deposito 33° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista of Parma on 14th August 1943|
|100032||47291||Regio Esercito 1142B|
|100057||47316||Regio Esercito 1143B|
|100071||47330||Regio Esercito 1144B|
|100070||47329||Regio Esercito 1145B|
Before the delivery of the first SPA-Viberti AS43, the units that employed the previous SPA-Viberti AS42 were composed of compagnie camionettisti (English: reconnaissance car driver companies). Each compagnia camionettisti was equipped with 24 camionette, 2 FIAT 1100 staff cars, and 8 FIAT-SPA 38R light lorries, divided into 4 pattuglie (English: Patrol Unit) with 6 camionette each. Each pattuglia was composed of 2 officers and 18 Arditi. Each Ardito was armed with a Carcano Modello 1891 rifle or a Moschetto Automatico Beretta Modello 1938 (MAB 38) pistol and dagger and was trained to use various types of explosives. At least a pair of compagnie camionettisti was equipped with a total of 10 SPA-Viberti AS43 that were probably integrated within these organic strengths.
From a document of 30th May 1943, each compagnia camionette (English: reconnaissance car company) was composed of a plotone comando (English: command platoon) with 2 command camionette equipped only with 8 mm machine guns as defensive armament and an Apparato Ricetrasmittente Radio Fonica 3M (English: Audio Radio Receiver Apparatus 3M) produced by Magneti Marelli. The personnel of the plotone comando consisted of 2 officers, 2 camionette drivers, and 4 soldiers. The squadra servizi (English: service squad) was composed of 1 NCO, 5 drivers, 29 soldiers, 1 small mobile workshop, 2 FIAT-SPA 38R light lorries, 4 motorbikes, and 1 motor tricycle.
The command platoon commanded 4 plotoni camionette (English: reconnaissance car platoons) with 2 camionette each. The personnel and equipment of a platoon had a staff of an officer, an NCO, 6 soldiers and 2 camionette drivers. In total, a compagnia camionette had an organic strength of 5 officers, 5 NCOs, 57 soldiers, 15 drivers, 10 Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43, 1 small mobile workshop, 2 FIAT-SPA 38R light lorries, 4 motorbikes, and 1 motor tricycle.
|Compagnia Camionette organization|
|Officers||NCOs||Soldiers||Drivers||Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43||Small mobile workshop||FIAT-SPA 38R||Motor tricycle||Motorbikes|
|1° Plotone Camionette||1||1||6||2||2||/||/||/||/|
|2° Plotone Camionette||1||1||6||2||2||/||/||/||/|
|3° Plotone Camionette||1||1||6||2||2||/||/||/||/|
|4° Plotone Camionette||1||1||6||2||2||/||/||/||/|
On 12th August 1943, General Augusto de Pignier, Chief of the Centro Studi ed Esperienze della Motorizzazione wrote a document about the new role of the Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 in the ranks of the Regio Esercito. In fact, the North African Campaign had been lost three months prior, and the AS43 needed a new role.
The reconnaissance cars were repurposed to perform anti-landing duties on the Italian coasts, while the heavier AS42s were deployed on anti-paratrooper duties in Southern Italy.
The document reported all the necessary data about the new role of the camionette. An important and curious note was that the general explained how to sink Allied landing craft by firing at them under the floating line.
De Pignier then suggested training the crew of the camionette to drive during the night without headlights, create hull-down positions on the shores and in the area behind to be ready to protect their homeland.
The number of plotoni camionette was reduced from 4 to 2 in this document, but the number of camionette in each platoon was increased from 2 to 4.
Chassis and Bodywork
The chassis was produced by the Società Piemontese Automobili plant at Corso Ferrucci 122 in Turin, which had also produced the TL37s and the AS37s.
As on the Camionette Desertiche AS37, the modifications to the frame of the new camionetta were similar to the ones approved by the Comando Militare del Sahara Libico. The FIAT-SPA Autocarro Sahariano Modello 1937 chassis was lowered from a ground clearance of 390 mm to 345 mm. The cab was completely modified, apart from the engine hood and the radiator grille. The side doors, the windshield, the roof, and the third seat were removed.
On the front, there was a bumper and 2 iron bars to protect the radiator. On the lower bar, a support for the engine’s ignition crank was mounted. A new frontally foldable armored plate with bulletproof Securit glass was mounted for the driver on the right side. The bulletproof glass also had a slit that could be closed to protect the glass from splinters. The shield was foldable to allow the main gun to shoot at 0° elevation on the front arch when the vehicle was in a static position.
The cargo bay consisted of a structure of electrically welded steel sections with a wooden floor and sides connected to the driving compartment. The rear wooden side of the cargo bay was protected on the inner side by a 1.2 mm thick metal sheet. On the floor of the cargo bay, there were 4 ammunition boxes. The mudguards were made of 1.5 mm thick metal sheets and the rear one had a metal bar that protected the wheel at 75 cm from the ground.
On the rear of the vehicle, there were the license plate with light, stop light, and support for the sapper tools: shovel, pickaxe, and crowbar.
To protect the crew from the elements, the vehicle could be equipped with a green-gray waterproof tarpaulin. When not used, it was rolled up on the rear side of the cargo bay. When used, it was fixed on the rear side on 2 extendable supports by means of carabiners and, on the front, to the armored shield for the driver and to a tiltable support positioned on the left side of the cab. On the center, there was an arch-shaped tube that was lifted when the tarpaulin was mounted. The sides of the vehicles were also equipped with waterproof tarpaulins with small plexiglas on the sides for the commander and driver, and another one frontally, also for the commander.
The spare wheel support was moved from behind the cab to the cargo bay’s rear to free up space. The spare wheel was placed on a new tilting support that the crew could angle backwards to allow the main gun to shoot at 0° elevation even on the rear arch. The loading bay’s sides were fixed and could not be lowered, but were wide enough to permit the installation of a 360° traverse universal gun support.
Even if the main can racks were modified, the vehicle could transport a total of 6 20 liter cans on the mudguards: two for each rear mudguard, and one for each frontal mudguard. The cans were intended for drinkable water, lubricant oil, and fuel, but were rarely transported on the vehicles that were all deployed in Europe, where it was not necessary to extend the already long-range of the vehicle.
The driver was on the right and, under his seat, he had a small storage compartment, while the vehicle commander was placed on the left. Between the seats was a rack for the machine gun’s ammunition. Other machine gun ammunition was stored on the sides, over the lockers.
Engine and Suspension
Like the FIAT-SPA AS37, the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 had all-wheel drive.
The front wheels had independent coil spring suspension coupled with hydraulic shock absorbers, which guaranteed great comfort on rough terrain. The rear wheels had inverse leaf springs coupled with hydraulic shock absorbers. The rear leaf spring was reinforced compared to the one of the FIAT-SPA TL37 light prime mover or the FIAT-SPA AS37 due to the new role of the vehicle.
The engine was a more powerful version of the 52 hp SPA 18LT used on the FIAT-SPA AS37, the SPA 18VT 4a Variante, 4-stroke, 4-cylinder, petrol engine delivering 73 hp (or 75 hp, as sources offer differing values) at 2,000 rpm.
The gearbox had 5 gears plus reverse and was mounted behind the clutch, on the vehicle’s center. Behind the gearbox was the tire compressor. The Camionetta AS43 had hydraulic brakes.
Developed as a super long-range desert reconnaissance car, the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 was equipped with two 120 liter fuel tanks between the fenders, under the lockers. The 240 liters of petrol guaranteed a range of 750 km. With the 6 20 liter cans mounted on the mudguards, the range extended to 1,120 km. On the prototype, with the unmodified can supports for 10 more 20 liter cans, the range was of 1,700 km.
The frame had a wheelbase of 2,500 mm, the same as on the FIAT-SPA TL37 ‘Libia’ and all the vehicles developed on its chassis. The Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 frame weighed 2.62 tonnes (without fuel, cooling water, oil, etc.), the empty vehicle weighed 3,500 kg, while the fully equipped and battle ready weight was 5 tonnes.
The maximum speed of the battle loaded Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 was 68.5 km/h, while the maximum slope was 45°, more than the previous vehicles produced on the previous chassis.
The tires also used on the AB41 were produced by the Pirelli factory in Milan, as were almost all the tires on Italian vehicles. Pirelli produced several tires for the 24″ (60 cm) rim used on the FIAT-SPA TM40 prime mover, SPA Dovunque 41 heavy duty truck, and many other vehicles and armored cars.
The Tipo ‘Artiglio’ 9 x 24″ (22 x 60 cm) and Tipo ‘Artiglio a Sezione Maggiorata’ pneumatics were used for continental terrain and the Russian steppes. Tipo ‘Libia’ 11.25 x 24” (28.5 x 60.96 cm), Tipo ‘Libia Rinforzato’, and Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ 11.25 x 24″ were used for sandy soils and Tipo ‘Raiflex’ were for universal use. The Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ tires were produced with Rayon (Raion in Italian) synthetic fibers (RAI-flex for Raion) in order to improve strength with cross ply.
The main armament of the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 was a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 anti-aircraft automatic gun or a Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935 anti-tank/support gun.
Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935
The anti-aircraft gun was developed by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche (English: Italian Ernesto Breda Company for Mechanical Constructions) in 1935 as an anti-aircraft gun, but showed itself powerful enough to deal with light armored vehicles, such as armored cars and light tanks. In its field version, it had a crew of five, while on the camionetta, the number of operators was decreased to two: gunner and loader. The gunner was seated behind the gun and the loader was seated in the cargo bay. The driver would probably occasionally help to load the gun to speed up reloading.
The maximum anti-aircraft range was 1,500-2,000 m, while against ground targets, the maximum range was 5,000 m and the effective range decreased to about 2,500 m.
This gun was one of the best light automatic guns of its era, with a total weight of 330 kg and a theoretical rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute. The practical rate of fire dropped to about 300 rounds per minute due to the presence of a single loader in the cargo bay. The maximum elevation was +80°, while the depression was -10°.
Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935
The Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935 was nicknamed ‘Elefantino’ (English: Little Elephant) by Italian soldiers. This gun was originally designed by the Austrian Böhler company and found use with various nations. The Regio Esercito, for example, used over 3,200 units which had been produced under license by various companies between 1937 and 1945. The main producers were Breda of Brescia, Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino or ARET (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin), Arsenale Regio Esercito di Piacenza or AREP, and Ansaldo (only for tank use).
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. It had a total dismounted weight of 108 kg, while the barrel weighed 64.5 kg.
The Italian Army High Command, satisfied by its performance against enemy tanks in Spain, considered it a reliable anti-tank gun. Despite its performances in the Spanish Civil War, from 1940 onward, it became less adequate because the armor of the enemy tanks became thicker.
Its maximum range was 7,000 m, but it was effective up to 4,000 m for infantry support and about 800-1,000 m for anti-tank fire. Its compact mounting and short recoil of just 20 cm were perfect for mounting on a small vehicle, such as the camionetta. Thanks to the small dimensions of the rounds and the automatic breech, the gun could reach, with well trained crews, a rate of fire of 28 rounds per minute, even if for a short time.
Other Main Armaments
After the Armistice, the German soldiers of the Luftwaffe and of the Wehrmacht captured a certain number of Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 and produced a small lot of slightly modified vehicles. The vehicles captured by the Germans after the Armistice were often rearmed with German FlaK 38 anti-aircraft automatic cannons that had larger magazines compared to the Italian ones (30 round magazines vs 12 round clips) and guaranteed an increased rate of fire.
At least an AS43 deployed by the Germans after the Armistice was armed with a Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta Fraschini da 20/70 Modello 1939 (English: Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 20 mm L.70 Automatic Cannon Model 1939), but it is probable that more than one was armed in this manner.
This automatic gun shared similar characteristics to those made by Breda. The gun was gas-operated and had a theoretical rate of fire of about 500 rounds per minute. However, this dropped to 250 rounds per minute in practice. Its maximum firing range was 5,500 m against ground targets and 2,000 m against flying targets.
The secondary armament was one Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1937 (English: Breda Medium Machine Gun Model 1937) mounted on a gooseneck support on the left side of the cab and used by the commander for anti-personnel fire or to fire against low flying enemy planes.
This gun was developed after the specifications issued by the Ispettorato d’Artiglieria (English: Artillery Inspectorate) in May 1933. Different Italian gun companies started working on the new machine gun. The requirements were a maximum weight of 20 kg, a theoretical rate of fire of 450 rounds per minute, and a barrel life of 1,000 rounds.
The Comitato Superiore Tecnico Armi e Munizioni (English: Superior Technical Committee for Weapons and Ammunition) in Turin issued its verdict in November 1935. The Breda project won. A first order for 2,500 units of the Breda medium machine gun was placed in 1936. After operational evaluation with the units, the weapon was adopted in 1937 as the Mitragliatrice Breda Modello 1937.
The weapon was famous for its robustness and accuracy, despite its annoying tendency to jam if lubrication was insufficient. Its weight was considered too large compared to foreign machine guns of the time. It weighed 19.4 kg and its tripod had a weight of 18.8 kg, making this weapon the heaviest medium machine gun of the Second World War. The practical rate of fire, which was about 200-250 rounds per minute, was considered a bit low. The machine gun was fed by 20-round rigid strips. After firing, instead of ejecting the spent casings like all firearms, the Breda Modello 1937 reinserted it into the rigid strip to facilitate the recovery of reusable spent casings.
The machine gun shot 8 x 59 mm RB cartridges developed by Breda exclusively for machine guns. The 8 mm Breda had a muzzle velocity between 790 m/s and 800 m/s, depending on the round type. The armor piercing rounds could penetrate 11 mm of non-ballistic steel angled at 90° at 100 m. Even if there is no photographic evidence, as on other Italian vehicles, the Breda Modello 1937 could be substituted with the Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1938 (English: Breda Medium Machine Guns Model 1938) with the same action and cartridges of the Modello 1937, but especially developed for armored vehicles. It had a shorter barrel, pistol grip, and top curved 24-round magazines.
On the right front mudguard, a support for the machine gun tripod was fixed by means of butterfly screws. In fact, the Breda could be quickly dismounted and deployed in a fixed position by the crew on the ground.
On the Camionette SPA-Viberti deployed by the Germans, especially the Luftwaffe ones, the Italian machine guns were dismounted and substituted with Mauser MG15 aircraft machine guns recovered from damaged German planes deployed in the Italian peninsula or Balkan airfields. These 7.92 x 57 mm Mauser medium machine guns guaranteed an increased rate of fire thanks to their ammunition belts.
The Breda automatic cannon could fire various kinds of caliber 20 x 138 mm B armor piercing and high-explosive rounds of Italian production, but also those used by the German FlaK 30 and FlaK 38 cannons and the Solothurn S18-1000 anti-tank gun, increasing the anti-tank capacity of the cannon. With the Granata Perforante da 20 mm Modello 1935 Italian armor-piercing bullets, it could penetrate a 38 mm armor plate angled at 90° at 100 m and a 30 mm armored plate at 500 m. With German Pz.Gr. 40 ammunition, it could penetrate a 50 mm armor plate angled at 90° at 100 m and a 40 mm armored plate at 500 m.
On board the Camionetta, 960 20 mm rounds were transported in 12 round clips, for a total of 80 clips. Of these clips, 8 sat in each ammunition box on the floor, for a total of 384 rounds. The other 48 clips were transported in the side lockers, 12 per side.
|Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 ammunition|
|Name||Type||Muzzle Velocity (m/s)||Projectile Mass (g)||Penetration at 500 meters against an RHA plate angled at 90° (mm)|
|Granata Contro Aerei da 20 mm Modello 1935||HEFI-T*||830||140||//|
|Granata Perforante da 20 mm Modello 1935||API-T**||832||140||27|
|Panzerbrandgranatpatrone – Phosphor||API-T||780||148||//|
|Note||* High-Explosive Fragmentation Incendiary – Tracer
** Armor-Piercing Incendiary – Tracer
*** High-Explosive Fragmentation – Tracer
**** Hyper Velocity Armor-Piercing Incendiary – Tracer
The 47 mm gun could fire different types of ammunition: Proietto Perforante da 47 Modello 1935 (English: 47 mm Armor Piercing Round Model 1935) and Modello 1939, Cartoccio Granata Dirompente da 47 modello 1935 (English: 47 mm High-Explosive Round Model 1935) and 2 different High-Explosive Anti-Tank rounds: the Effetto Pronto and the Effetto Pronto Speciale that, however, were rarely deployed.
|Proietto Perforante da 47 Modello 1939 Armor Piercing Round|
|Distance (m)||Penetration of vertical armored plates|
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.
On the Camionetta, 160 47 mm rounds were transported, of which 60 in the 4 ammunition boxes on the floor and the others in the side lockers, 50 per side.
For the 8 mm machine gun, there were 100 20 round clips, for a total of 2,000 rounds placed between the driver and commander’s seats and over the lockers.
X Reggimento Arditi
In 1942, the Regio Esercito’s High Command decided to create a battalion-sized unit of Arditi (translatable as ‘The Daring [Ones]’) directly under command of the Regio Esercito’s High Command. This battalion originally had 4 companies, of which only 3 were formed.
On 26th April 1942, the battalion was created. Recruitment started on 15th May 1942 and the training was done in Santa Severa, near Rome. The location was chosen because in the area there were some flat and rough terrains, similar to the ones that the soldiers had to operate on in North Africa. Also in the area there were saboteur and paratrooper training schools.
A company was composed of paracadutisti (English: paratroopers) that trained at the Tarquinia Paratrooper training school, another company composed of nuotatori (Literally: swimmers, meaning marine saboteurs) trained in Pola, now Croatia, while the last company of camionettisti (English: reconnaissance car drivers) trained in Santa Severa.
On 20th July 1942, the Regio Esercito’s High Command ordered a second battalion to be formed by 1st August of the same year and the 2 battalions were grouped in the X Reggimento Speciale (English: 10th Special Regiment). The name of the regiment was then changed to X Reggimento Arditi (English: 10th Arditi Regiment).
The companies were renamed 101a Compagnia Paracadutisti (English: 101st Paratrooper Company), 102a Compagnia Nuotatori (English: 102nd Marine Saboteurs Company), and 103a Compagnia Camionettisti (English: 103rd Reconnaissance Car Drivers Company) for the renamed I Battaglione (English: 1st Battalion). The II Battaglione (English: 2nd Battalion) had the new 111a Compagnia Paracadutisti (English: 111th Paratrooper Company), 112a Compagnia Nuotatori (English: 112th Marine Saboteurs Company), and 113a Compagnia Camionettisti (English: 113th Reconnaissance Car Drivers Company).
In February 1943 the III Battaglione (English: 3rd Battalion) with 121a Compagnia Paracadutisti (English: 121st Paratrooper Company), 122a Compagnia Nuotatori (English: 122nd Marine Saboteurs Company), and 123a Compagnia Camionettisti (English: 123rd Reconnaissance Car Drivers Company) was also created, but this last battalion would never become operative.
In May 1943, in anticipation of an Allied attack on the Italian peninsula, the first 2 compagnie paracadutisti were grouped into the new IV Battaglione (English: 4th Battalion) and were substituted in the I Battaglione and II Battaglione by the 110a Compagnia Speciale and the 120a Compagnia Speciale (English: 110th and 120th Special Companies).
Shortly before the Armistice of 8th September 1943, the 122a Compagnia Nuotatori was transformed into a compagnia camionettisti and another company was created in Viterbo: the 133a Compagnia composed of soldiers of Benito Mussolini most loyal soldiers.
The I Battaglione was deployed in North Africa (103a Compagnia Camionettisti), while the other 2 companies were sent to Sardinia, all equipped with Camionette Desertiche SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariane’.
With the loss of North Africa, the 112a Compagnia Nuotatori and the 113a Compagnia Camionettisti of the II Battaglione were sent to Sicily, equipped with Camionette Desertiche SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariane’.
The first company to receive the new Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 was the 122a Compagnia Camionettisti, which had serious shortages in equipment and vehicles. It was sent in August 1943, with 8 AS43, to Rome to perform public order duties. In the book Dal TL37 all’ AS43 written by Pignato and Cappellano, it is mentioned that the 133a Compagnia was equipped with 2 SPA-Viberti AS43 for training purposes, but it is not clear if it was in Santa Severa, Rome or Viterbo when the Armistice was made public.
On 8th September 1943, the X Reggimento Arditi was scattered all over the place: the I Battaglione was in Sardinia, the II Battaglione and 2 companies of the IV Battaglione were in Santa Severa for reorganization after the Sicilian defense, while the 111a Compagnia Paracadutisti and the 122a Compagnia Camionettisti were in Rome for public order duties.
Not a single Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 was deployed against the German forces during the Defense of Rome that ended on 10th September 1943.
Repubblica Sociale Italiana Service
After the Armistice, the Regio Esercito was disbanded, with over a million taken prisoner. Mussolini then founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic) under German control. Some soldiers still loyal to Benito Mussolini immediately joined the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army) and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Guard).
Some vehicles were recovered from former Regio Esercito depots or barracks and deployed by the Italians and by the Germans. The Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ (English: Battalion) of the Xª Divisione MAS (English: 10th MAS Division) had an armored Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 called SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata in late 1944 and early 1945. They probably recovered it from Vercelli, where 8 Camionette AS43 were delivered before the Armistice. It is also possible that the vehicle was delivered directly by the Officine Viberti plant.
It was probably modified by workers in one of the dozens of factories of Turin, such as FIAT, SPA, or Officine Viberti. The armored plates used on the vehicle were most likely donated to the battalion by the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino, renamed by the new fascist government as Arsenale di Torino. At that time, it was responsible for the production of improvised armored vehicles for some Fascist units in the Turin area, among other things.
It was armed with a total of 3 Mitragliatrici Medie Breda Modello 1937 and light armor, sufficient to barely withstand the bullets of small arms.
Very little is known about this vehicle that was deployed in Locana, Piemonte, on 29th November 1944, in anti-partisan operations in that area. In early 1945, the Xª Divisione MAS was sent to Veneto, north-east Italy, to fight against the Yugoslavian Partisans. The armored reconnaissance car surely followed the division in Veneto, but traces of it are lost after this.
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Lioness Armored Group) deployed 2 to 4 (sources vary on the exact number) armored personnel carriers based on the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 called SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotette.
The bodywork was left unchanged, but an armored superstructure was added to protect the crew and the 6 soldiers transported. Its armament was composed of 2 Mitragliatrici Medie Breda Modello 1937, one mounted frontally, another on the rear.
A SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta was lost in Santo Stefano Roero in Piemonte on 8th March 1945. It was set aflame by a partisan ambush. Its commander, Lieutenant Berneschi, tried to slow down the partisans while his men were getting out of the vehicle to take cover, but was killed shortly after.
The vehicle was totally destroyed by the fire or by the partisans the next night, when the fascist forces retreated. Another SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta was surrendered to US soldiers when the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ surrendered to the Allied forces on 5th May 1945.
In the book Storia dei Reparti Corazzati della Repubblica Sociale Italiana 1943-1945, written by Paolo Crippa, the Italian author mentions a XXXVIa Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade) veteran’s testimony. Militiaman Piero Sebastiani recounts that in Autumn 1944, the Prefecture of Verona donated to the unit a camionetta that was “…equipped with a Breda 38 machine gun and an armored shield…”. It could have been a Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 that was previously owned by the Autoparco della GNR (English: GNR’s Vehicle Depot) of Verona.
There is no photographic evidence of this vehicle and, therefore, it is impossible to confirm the presence of a camionetta in this Black Brigade. Due to the absence of documents, it is also impossible to verify when this vehicle was delivered to the XXXVIa Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’. The Black Brigade was one of the better-equipped Black Brigades of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, equipped with a Lancia 3Ro Blindato and armored trailers, a FIAT 1500 Berlina Blindata armed with a Mauser MG42, this camionetta, and a FIAT 626NM armed with a twin machine gun mount (the exact caliber is not clear).
The total number of vehicles deployed by the Germans is impossible to clarify. Many Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 were rearmed by German units with 2 cm FlaK 38 and Mauser MG15 guns. A total of 13 vehicles were produced with particular specifications ordered by the German Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (English: General Inspector of the Armed Forces).
These vehicles differed from the original ones by the addition of foldable iron sides on the cargo bay. These sides could be used as backseat for the crew during marching and lowered to ease reloading and to increase the working space for the crew.
When lowered to 0°, they had 2 diagonal bracings per side that held them in position. From the original blueprint, it is noticeable that the tarpaulin position was also changed, but there are no images of a modified AS43 for the Germans with waterproof tarpaulin installed.
The only existing images of these German AS43s show them equipped with a Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1939, but it seems that they were intended to be equipped with German 2 cm FlaK 38. In fact, from the original drawing, supports for 30 round magazines, for a total of 10 transported, 4 on each side and 2 on the rear, can be seen on the outer sides of the foldable iron plates. These racks were not present on the German AS43 equipped with Scotti-Isotta Fraschini automatic cannon.
The camionette armed with 2 cm FlaK 38 were deployed by the Sicherungs-Abteilung (English: Safeguarding Department) of the Transportkorps Speer. It was organized in motor transportation battalions and regiments, supported by depot, repair, engineering, signal, safeguarding, and medical units. The Transportkorps Speer was assigned to the Organisation Todt (English: Todt Organization). The organization was responsible for a huge range of engineering projects, both in Germany and in occupied territories.
The Sicherungs-Abteilung was used to escort columns for the majority of its service but, in the last months of the war, its armored and armed vehicles were also deployed in anti-partisan operations.
Part or all the 13 AS43s produced for the Germans were delivered to the Fliegerabwehrkanonen Erdkampf Schule Sued (English: Southern Anti-Aircraft Ground Fighting School) in Spilimbergo, near Udine. It was a training school for anti-aircraft crews, in which they improved their anti-tank training with anti-aircraft guns. In fact, its commander was Joseph Prentl, one of the first officers that deployed the 8.8 cm FlaK 37 against enemy tanks.
The German training school was also equipped with various other kinds of captured Italian vehicles, including some tanks and self-propelled guns that were deployed, together with its students, against the partisans in Friuli Venezia Giulia in the last months of war.
An unknown number of Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 were deployed by the Italian Polizia di Stato (English: State Police) after the war. They were AS43s captured or delivered intact to the Allied forces or new vehicles that were produced by Officine Viberti to end the production contract of 180 AS43 stipulated with the Regio Esercito before the war. The last vehicle was delivered on 26th January 1946.
The only source that mentions their service is Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, but nothing more is known apart that they were assigned to the Reparti Celeri (English: Fast Departments) of the Polizia di Stato. These units had the task of intervening quickly where there was a need for public order, for help after natural disasters, or in case of a clash with a foreign army or organized guerrilla. There are no pictures of Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 in service after the war.
The Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 prototype was painted in Kaki Sahariano Chiaro (English: Light Saharan Khaki) for desert environments. Even if the few images of the prototype at the Centro Studi ed Esperienze della Motorizzazione are without waterproof tarpaulin, it is logical to suppose that it was also in desert camouflage.
The production vehicles were painted at the Officine Viberti in Continentale (English: Continental) camouflage. This 3-tone camouflage had as its base the Kaki Sahariano Chiaro, partially covered with dark green and reddish brown spots. Interestingly enough, even the internal sides of the cargo bay were camouflaged. In this version, the tarpaulin was in green-gray camouflage but, on some vehicles, the tarpaulin was also painted with Continentale camouflage scheme.
The Germans painted some of the captured vehicles in dark green with darker green or black stripes.
The Polizia di Stato vehicles were probably repainted in Amaranth Red, a reddish rose shade used at the time on all the police vehicles.
Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43
Two to six Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 armored cars were produced by the Officine Viberti plant. The first draft of this project of the design office of Officine Viberti dates from 18th January 1944. The last modification is dated 3rd April 1944, while the first photos of operational vehicles are from May of the same year.
It was equipped with an armored superstructure in which, at the top, an Autoblinda AB41 turret armed with a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 and a coaxial Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1938 was installed.
A Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43 was employed during a fight with the partisans in Valtellina, Lombardia, on 27th April 1945. The column in which it was deployed was ambushed by the partisans. The armored car ended up in partisan hands after the clash, along with other vehicles of the fascist column. These were used in the following days, until 2nd May 1945, in the area of the Mortirolo Pass, at 1,852 m above sea level, where an attack by a Fascist unit was feared.
SPA-Viberti AS43 Ambulanza Scudata
The SPA-Viberti AS43 Ambulanza Scudata was a project of an armored ambulance designed by Officine Viberti together with the Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43.
It had an armored superstructure partially in common with the Carrozzeria Speciale, but also with the older FIAT-SPA S37 Autoprotetto. In fact, the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 and the FIAT-SPA TL37 shared the same frames, even if heavily modified.
It remained a paper project, but, from the original information that can be found in the Officine Viberti archives, it could carry a total of 2 stretchers and a crew of 3 or 4 healthcare personnel.
The Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 was a successful vehicle of the Italian industry. Even if the first project was intended for long-range desert reconnaissance and sabotage, the production vehicles ended up operating in Europe, where they performed without noteworthy reliability issues.
Its off-road capabilities were extraordinary, as was its sturdiness. Another interesting feature was the frame that could be easily modified into various kinds of armored fighting vehicles.
It could be used in various roles, such as patrolling shores to counter possible landings or on small mountain paths to counter the Italian and Yugoslavian partisans. Thanks to its 20 mm automatic cannons, it had the possibility of engaging light armored vehicles and planes or, with the 47 mm gun, it could support infantry attacks and counter light armored vehicles.
Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 Specification
|Size (L-W-H)||4.83 x 2.06 x 2.20 m|
|Weight, battle ready||5 tonnes|
|Crew||4 soldiers (driver, commander, gunner, and loader)|
|Engine||SPA 18VT 4a Variante, 4-cylinder, petrol engine, 73 hp at 2,000 rpm and 240 liters tanks|
|Armament||one Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 or a Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935. One 8 mm Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1937 or Modello 1938|
Le Camionette del Regio Esercito. FIAT-SPA AS/37, SPA-Viberti AS/42, FIAT-SPA AS/43, Desertica 43, i Reparti che le Impiegarono – Enrico Finazzer and Luigi Carpetta – Gruppo Modellistico Trentino – 2014
Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II – Ralph A. Riccio – Mattioli 1885 – 2010
Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Volume Secondo, Tomo II – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano – Ufficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito – 2002
Semicingolati, Motoveicoli e Veicoli Speciali del Regio Esercito Italiano 1919-1943 – Giulio Benussi – Intergest Publishing – 1976
Andare Contro i Carri Armati, L’Evoluzione della Difesa Controcarro nell’Esercito Italiano dal 1918 al 1945. – Filippo Cappellano and Nicola Pignato – Gaspari Editore – 2008
Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery in Action – Ralph Riccio and Nicola Pignato – Squadron Signal Publications – 1971
Storia dei Reparti Corazzati della Repubblica Sociale Italiana 1943-1945 – Paolo Crippa – Marvia Edizioni – October 2022