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Lancia 3Ro

Kingdom of Italy/Italian Social Republic/Italian Republic (1938-1948)
Heavy Duty Truck – 12,692 Built In All Versions

The Lancia 3Ro was an Italian heavy duty truck produced by Lancia Veicoli Industriali (English: Lancia Industrial Vehicles) for the civilian market and for military service.

Its production began in 1938 in many civilian and military variants, becoming one of the most used trucks of the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) during the Second World War.

After the war, production restarted and some upgraded variants ran out the factories until 1948, 20 years after it first appeared on the market, when it was substituted by more modern trucks in the production lines. It remained in Lancia’s sales brochure until 1950.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in heavy duty truck standard configuration towing a M13/40 medium tank. In the photo, it has just passed underneath the Arch of the Philaeni (Arco dei Fileni in Italian) Tripolitania in Libya, which was built by order of Italo Balbo. Winter 1942. This monument was destroyed on the orders of Muammar Gaddafi in 1973. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

History of the Lancia Company

Vincenzo Lancia was an Italian car racer and businessman who founded the Lancia & Company car factory in 1906 in Turin with his business partner Claudio Foglin.

After some years of producing small quantities of racing and luxury cars that enhanced the brand’s reputation in Italy and Europe, World War I stopped the dreams of the founders. During World War I, Lancia’s only production plant was totally converted to the production of military vehicles at orders of the Italian Government.

After the war, Vincenzo Lancia felt the need to develop his own range of trucks in order to respond to changes in the Italian civilian and military market and also in the European civilian market.

In fact, many European car companies were physically destroyed during the war. Many others that had been converted between 1915 and 1918 from civilian to military production, may have survived, but were out of funds and forced to declare bankruptcy. Many did not have enough funds to convert the production lines from military to civilian production and were forced to declare bankruptcy. In this context, US companies, such as Ford, were doing big deals selling US-designed and built cars and trucks in Europe.

In 1921, Lancia Veicoli Industriali restarted civilian production of trucks in parallel with Lancia & Company, which restarted production of racing and luxury cars. The new post-war truck models were the Trijota and Tetrajota, 585 of which were produced until 1923 and 1924 respectively, and which were appreciated by Italian and European truckers. The Trijota was also deployed by the British Army in an armored car version. In fact, the vehicle was one of the most exported vehicles of Europe in that period, with a few hundreds sold in France and Great Britain.

The most important truck produced in that period was the heavy duty truck Pentajota (factory code Serie 254), 2,191 of which were produced from 1924 to 1933. It was really appreciated, with some hundreds bought by British companies. It became so popular on the European market due its payload capacity of over 6 tonnes, which only some much more expensive American trucks could match.

Lancia Eptajota medium truck used by the Rome Public Bus Company after 1935. It was previously a bus purchased in 1927 and retired in 1935 to be converted into a standard truck. Source: wikipedia.org

Another important model produced in the Interwar period was the Eptajota (factory code Serie 254), of which 1,827 were produced from 1927 to 1935. This vehicle was one of the first Lancia trucks that received special bodyworks, such as water or fuel carrier, ice transporter, milk delivery, and garbage truck.

The last chassis produced before the ‘Ro’ series was the Omicron (factory code Serie 256), produced as heavy-duty trucks and buses. It was 9 to 10 m long in the bus version, while the truck ones, also produced with three-axles, were even longer, at 12 m.

Lancia Omicron heavy truck in standard two-axle cargo truck. Source: auto-moto-epoca.blogspot.com

The Lancia Omicron was equipped with the Lancia Tipo 77 petrol engine with a displacement of 7,060 cm³, offering 91.5 hp at 1,600 rpm. Its maximum payload was 7.95 tonnes in the two-axles version. It was a reliable truck used by some Middle Eastern companies in the bus version on the road between Beirut (Lebanon) and Baghdad (Iraq). They were so reliable that they were retired after completing over 2 million km each.

The Omicron’s only flaw was the high petrol consumption, which led Vincenzo Lancia to decide to switch to better-performing diesel engines. The diesel engine was invented by Rudolf Diesel and first patented in 1892, but was little known. The first use of a diesel engine did not come until 1903, finding use as a ship engine. The first diesel engine for aircraft was created in 1914 but it was only in February 1936 that the first wheeled vehicle powered by a diesel engine appeared, the Mercedes Benz 260D car.

The research of reliable diesel engines was a feature shared by almost all car and truck manufacturers in the 1930s in Italy, but also in other parts of Europe. All European car companies looking for diesel engines went to Germany, where many German companies were already producing excellent high-performance diesel engines.

Almost every European car company had contracts with Mercedes-Benz, Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (MAN), and Büssing AG. However, Vincenzo Lancia was not satisfied with the engines of the big German manufacturers. All the Italian companies (except FIAT) bought blueprints for German diesel engines, with some companies buying blueprints for entire trucks, such as ALFA Romeo and Officine Meccaniche (OM).

At the beginning of the 1930s, Vincenzo Lancia signed a contract with Junkers, considered by the Italian businessman to be more advanced in the production of diesel engines.

Previous Models of the ‘Ro’ Series

After the reliable Junkers engines were chosen, Lancia needed new trucks to install them into. The first project had a license-built Junkers 2-cylinder engine produced as the Lancia Tipo 89. It had a 3,181 cm³ displacement and gave a maximum power of 64 hp at 1,500 rpm.

It powered the newly designed Lancia Ro (factory code Serie 264) heavy-duty truck, first presented at the Milan Motor Show in 1932. It was a totally new vehicle with more modern shapes that distinguished it from the Lancia trucks of the 1920s.

The Lancia Ro, an early production model with coachwork by Officine Viberti and towing an Officine Viberti medium trailer. Source: Camion Lancia

A total of 5,196 trucks were produced between 1933 and 1939 in five different series, two civilian and three military ones. It had a weight of 5.40 tonnes and a payload capability of 6.35 tonnes in the standard civilian version, while the military one had a weight of 5.30 tonnes and a payload capability of 6.45 tonnes. Its maximum speed was 35 km/h. The coachwork was primarily the work of Officine Viberti of Turin.

However, the Lancia Ro had power problems. In order to cope with the requests of increased maximum payload, a new Junkers-licensed engine mounted on a new vehicle was introduced in 1935.

The engine was the Junker 3-cylinder 6 opposed pistons version with a displacement of 4,771 cm³. It produced 95 hp at 1,500 rpm (produced under license as Lancia Tipo 90). The vehicle on which it was mounted was the new Lancia Ro-Ro (factory code Serie 265) heavy-duty truck.

This new vehicle was a failure because the Italian Royal Army was not interested in buying it, so, after a total production of only 301 vehicles for the civilian market, the construction was terminated. Lancia Veicoli Industriali wanted a common vehicle to produce simultaneously in military and civil versions to save up money and have that maximum percentage of common parts.

A Lancia Ro-Ro with an Officine Viberti short cab. This particular vehicle was produced without the frontal bumper, probably for service in the colonies. Source: Camion Lancia

This was an unfortunate destiny for a truck that had a weight of 6.9 tonnes but a payload capability of 8.9 tonnes. During the Second World War, no other Italian truck had such a load capacity.

The Lancia 3Ro

Vincenzo Lancia, not satisfied by the license-built engines, decided to develop his own four-stroke five-cylinder diesel engine in order to decrease the production costs, as the Junkers engines were expensive, and to become more independent from foreign developments. In the mid-to-late 1930s, the Junkers engines that Lancia produced under license were not powerful enough to compete with the new trucks of other companies, which made the ‘Ro’ truck series become less competitive.

The new engine, dubbed Lancia Tipo 102, was mounted on the new Lancia 3Ro (factory code Serie 464) heavy-duty truck. The prototype was presented at the 10th Milan Motor Show on 28th October 1937. The new truck was bodied by Officine Viberti of Turin, now a leader in the sector and a valuable partner of Lancia. The prototype had an innovative drop-shaped radiator grille, inspired by that of the Lancia Augusta sports car. However, this would not be used on the first vehicle series.

The Lancia 3Ro prototype at the 10th Milan Motor Show. It had a modern bodywork and a Viberti trailer. Source: Archivio Lancia

Production began in late 1937, while sales of the new vehicle began in 1938. It replaced the Lancia Ro and Lancia Ro-Ro on the production lines. Initially, two models were offered by Lancia in 1938. A civilian one with factory code Serie 464 and a military one, Serie 564. These codes were rarely used even if some sources, for the sake of clarity, define the models as ‘Lancia 3Ro 464’ and ‘Lancia 3Ro 564’.

A Lancia 3Ro poster. On the bottom, the writing says ‘Lancia & Company Automobiles Factory of Turin, S.A. Corporation’. Source: Archivio Lancia

The first version of the civilian model retained a fairly rustic bodywork in order to keep the cost low, speed up production, and make it competitive on the Italian civilian market.

Name

From 1906 to 1919, Lancia & Co. vehicles received very simple names, consisting of the horsepower delivered by the engine (Lancia 12HP, etcetera).

In 1919, Vincenzo Lancia’s brother, Giovanni, a scholar of classical languages, suggested to his brother to use the ancient Greek alphabet for the names of his cars. They first appeared during that year: the Lancia Lambda was the first, and then the previous models were renamed Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and so on. The Lambda made its debut at the Paris and London Motor Show in 1922.

Brochure for a Lancia Lambda of the 8th Series. Source: minumy.net

In the same period, the prefixes ‘Di’ and ‘Tri’ began to be adopted to represent evolutions or simply similar vehicles. The last Lancia car to adopt the Greek letters was the Dilambda, the prototype of which was presented at the 1929 New York Motor Show.

Truck names likewise received the same name treatment. The ‘Jota’ series had several variants: Dijota, Trijota, Tetrajota, Eptajota, etc. Between 1929 and 1930, Vincenzo Lancia decided to switch to the Latin language, using old place names to baptize his cars: the Lancia Augusta, Aprilia, and Ardea were the most popular. In 1931, some of these cars received ‘ad hoc’ French names when Lancia tried to sell them on the French civil market, with mixed success.

For the trucks, strangely enough, the Italian businessman preferred to maintain the Greek alphabet with the new series of trucks, the ‘Ro’ ones. ‘ϱ’ was the 17th letter of the Greek alphabet. However, strangely enough, Lancia decided to use different nomenclature for these trucks, naming the second Ro-Ro instead of ‘Diro’, and the third one 3Ro and not ‘Triro’.

Design

Chassis

The steel frame consisted of two straight spars connected by five welded and two bolted cross sections. The two bolted ones supported the engine. At the ends of each spar was a towing hook, while the rear cross-section received the hinged hook to tow trailers or artillery pieces.

Some military trucks were equipped with a winch with a capacity of 9.5 tonnes, with a 31.5 m long cable. This hydraulic winch was operated by the truck’s engine thanks to a Power Take-Off (P.T.O.) system. When necessary, the driver stopped the vehicle, would shift out of gear on the gearbox, engage the handbrake, and, via a manual override, connected the engine’s flywheel to a second driveshaft that operated the winch’s gearbox, which regulated the speed of the cable.

The Lancia 3Ro NMSP chassis. The 135 liters tank is behind the cab. Only the five welded cross sections are visible. On the last one, the hinged hook (number 1) is visible and the two towing hooks on the sides. The transmission shaft, leaf-spring suspensions and brake pulleys are also visible. Source: Manuale di Uso e Manutenzione Lancia 3 Ro
The Lancia 3Ro chassis seen from above. Source: Aldo Mario Feller

The 4.8 m long, 2.3 m wide, and 0.65 m tall loading bay was built out of wood, with 2.5 cm thick planks, for an area of 10.34 m² and an internal volume of 6.72 m³. The civilian Lancia 3Ro, weighing 5.5 tonnes, was approved by law to carry 6.5 tonnes of cargo, for a total weight of truck and cargo of 12 tonnes. However, the maximum transportable cargo came to almost 10 tonnes. The military version, with an empty weight of 5.61 tonnes and a payload capability approved by law of 6.39 tonnes, could carry 32 fully equipped soldiers on two side benches or almost 42 sitting on the floor. Other possible loads were military vehicles, such as the series L3/33, L3/35, or L3/38 fast tank (~ 3.2 tonnes), L6/40 light reconnaissance tank (6.84 tonnes), a Semovente L40 da 47/32 (6.82 tonnes) self-propelled gun, or even 7 horses.

A Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 during the loading operation of a Semovente L40 da 47/32 in Tunisia. With a length of 3.82 meters and a width of 1.92 meters, the L40 fit perfectly in the 3Ro’s cargo bay. Source: pinterest.com
An L3 tank climbing the ramps to be loaded on a Lancia 3Ro, probably in the Balkans. Source: pinterest.com

Engine and Suspension

The Lancia 3Ro stood out with its new diesel engine, designed and produced by the Turin company. The Lancia Tipo 102 diesel, 4-stroke, direct ignition, 4 valve, 5-cylinder in-line water-cooled engine, with a capacity of 6,875 cm³, delivered 93 hp at 1,860 rpm, leading to a maximum speed on road of 45 km/h. It had a 135 liters tank behind the cab. The fuel tank was connected to a license-built Bosch pump that injected the fuel in the chamber thanks to license-built Bosch injectors. The lubricant oil tank had a capacity of 10.5 liters.

The left side of the Lancia Tipo 102 5-cylinder in-line diesel engine. Source: Archivio Lancia
The right side of the Lancia Tipo 102 5-cylinder in-line diesel engine. Source: Archivio Lancia

It had a range of 530 km on-road, with an approximate consumption of 1 liter of fuel each 3.9 km on-road. The off-road range was 450 km, with an approximate consumption of 1 liter of fuel every 3.3 km.

The fuel tank cap, curiously placed on the right side of the upholstered bench. Source: facebook.com @Autocarro Lancia 3RO – Scala 1/35

Initially, the engine had an inertial starter connected to a crank. Some vehicles produced during the war and almost all the post-war Lancia 3Ros were equipped with electric starters. On some Lancia 3Ro produced before 1946, the inertial starter was substituted by electric ones later on.

Semi-elliptical steel leaf springs were used on all four wheels. A trick Soviet soldiers used to stop Axis vehicles during the great Russian retreat was to dig holes in the roads. With temperatures below -30° degrees, the leaf spring suspensions of the trucks would break when they hit such a hole, stopping the vehicle in place. The Lancia 3Ro and a few other models of Axis vehicles did not have this problem, probably due to the quality of the steel with which they were manufactured.

The engine compartment on a Lancia 3Ro Serie 564. The original Lancia Tipo 102, in excellent condition, is clearly visible. Source: facebook.com @Autocarro Lancia 3RO – Scala 1/35

The rear-wheel drive was connected to a gearbox with 4 forward and 1 reverse gears and two-stage reductor, for a total of 8 forward and 2 reverse speeds. It had a single dry plate clutch, as on the Lancia Ro and Ro-Ro. It was built under license after a German Maybach model and was located behind the cab for ease of maintenance.

The Lancia 3Ro had expansion shoe-type brakes. The brakes were composed of tie rods that acted on the brake shoes and moved two servo conical pulleys. These used force from the transmission when the brake pedal was pressed. This meant that, in the event of a brake system failure whether the vehicle was moving or stationary, the brakes would be locked in place by the brake shoes. This system would be abandoned in favor of a hydraulic system after the war.

The brake system of the trailer was pneumatic, powered by a compressor connected to an air tank of the ‘Triplex’ type mounted on the truck. After the war, the 3Ro received new arrangements for towing 12 tonnes instead of the 10 tonnes authorized for the civilian variant. This increased the maximum weight of the loaded truck and the loaded trailer to 24 tonnes. On the military model, it was not uncommon to see vehicles carrying material for a total of almost 10 tonnes in the loading bay.

Thanks to the power of the engine, fully loaded trailers could be towed by fully loaded Lancia 3Ros even on steep roads, where other heavy-duty trucks, such as the FIAT 634N, were forced to stop. The pulley brake system worked very well on downhill slopes, braking the enormous mass of the fully loaded truck and trailers.

One of the Lancia 3Ro’s problems was the rear axle, which was composed of two load-bearing axle shafts. This meant that, in case the axle shafts broke, the Lancia would get stuck and it was very difficult to move it. Fortunately, this problem was rarely encountered and, after the war, this was replaced with a better-performing system. Civilian models produced with this axle were sometimes modified independently by the owners, replacing the axle shafts with stronger ones from other heavy trucks, such as FIAT 666Ns or Isotta Fraschini D80s.

The electrical system was a 6 volt one in the first 1,611 Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 vehicles produced, then replaced by a 12 volt system in the following models. It was linked to the Magneti Marelli D90R3 12/1100 dynamo produced by Magneti Marelli of Sesto San Giovanni. This was used to power the two front lights, the license plate and dashboard lighting, the windscreen wipers, and the horn. On the Serie 464, the 12 volt system was mounted from the start.

Prototype of the Lancia 3Ro NMSP Serie 564 at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione. It had Pirelli Tipo ‘Celerflex’ solid tires. Source: italie1935-45.com

Artillery-type forged steel rim wheels could mount various types of tires produced by the Pirelli company of Milan or the French Michelin company. These were 270 x 20” tires on the 564 MNP and Pirelli Tipo ‘Celerflex’ solid tires with a 285×88” diameter on the 564 MNSP.

For sandy soils, the Lancia could use Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires. These, thanks to their wide profile, offered good flotation on loose sand.

The vehicle was also tested with rubberless tires before the war. This is because of the lack of rubber due to embargoes placed on Fascist Italy after the Ethiopian War. During its operational life, the Lancia 3Ro was often equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ tires for sandy grounds and produced with Rayon (Raion in Italian) synthetic fibers (RAI-flex for Raion) in order to save on rubber.

Bodywork

The main bodyworker for Lancia Veicoli Industriali trucks was Officine Viberti of Corso Peschiera 249 in Turin. This partnership began with the Lancia Ro model. This Turinese company was less than 800 m from the Lancia plant in the Borgo San Paolo district in Via Monginevro 99. It was easy for Lancia to deliver the truck frames to Viberti, which bodyworked them. Officine Viberti thus became the unofficial Lancia coachworker.

The brand of the Officine Viberti factory. This brand is visible on the sides of the Viberti civilian cab. Source: facebook.com

Officine Viberti was founded by Candido Viberti in 1922; he had previously been employed by another company. After a collaboration with the Ceirano car company, in 1928, he moved his company to the Borgo San Paolo district. In that period, the company abandoned car bodyworks and began to bodywork trucks for ‘special’ use (coaches, buses, trailers, and semi-trailers).

In 1932, Candido Viberti bought the Società Anonima Industriale di Verona or SAIV (English: Industrial Limited Company of Verona) and started the production of fuel or liquid carriers in parallel. In the same period, Viberti became a valuable partner of Lancia Veicoli Industriali, for which it bodywork the majority of the civilian trucks and all the military ones.

Also thanks to this collaboration, Officine Viberti grew. From just 150 workers in 1928, the firm reached 800 workers in 1935, and then 1,517 workers and 263 employees in 1943. This was also partly due to the continuous requests from the Royal Italian Army not only for truck bodywork but also for trailers, semi-trailers, etcetera.

The Officine Viberti plant in Corso Peschiera 249, Turin, in the 1950s. Now this building is a residential house block. Source: museotorino.it

Officine Viberti equipped the civilian 3Ro trucks with wooden cargo bays covered with thin metal sheets, but some customers sometimes asked specifically for only wooden ones or only metal sheet ones. Other special cargo bays could be added on the Lancia 3Ros, such as a tilting dump-truck cargo bay, a van-style bay, cold storage, transport of perishable materials, or live animals.

In the late 1930s, due the enormous amount of work entrusted to the company, occasionally there were delays in the construction of truck bodywork (not only the Lancia ones). Thus, many customers that had ordered a truck that they needed immediately purchased ‘naked’ chassis from Lancia. They then privately got them bodied by Carrozzeria Orlandi of Modena, Cab, Zagato of Rho, near Milan, Carrozzeria Esperia in Pavia, or even Carrozzeria Caproni of Milan and Carrozzeria Zorzi. This made some vehicles quite different and with lots of differences from the ones bodied by Viberti.

A Lancia 3Ro with Carrozzeria Esperia cab and wooden plank cargo bay. Source: pinterest.com

For the bus versions, these vehicles were fitted out by companies such as Carrozzeria Garavini of Turin, Carrozzeria Macchi of Varese, Orlandi or, the most popular and common, Officine Viberti.

After the war, due to the bad financial situation and the poor state of the infrastructure of Officine Viberti, many trucks were subcontracted by Viberti. The coachwork of the Lancia 3Ro was done by other companies, such as Caproni or other brands with just some small workshops with a few workers.

For the Lancia 3Ro, Officine Viberti offered a whole range of cabs and loading bays. There were the ‘short cabs’ with two seats for truckers that had no need to make long journeys. In some vehicles, the seats were substituted with a single upholstered bench for three men.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 coachworked by Officine Viberti with a short cab of the first series and metal sheet cargo bay with higher walls and overhead storage rack. Source: italie1935-45.com

The ‘long cabs’, about 300 mm longer, had a single upholstered bench for three people and, behind the backrest, a berth. This cab came with many small modifications. The customers could request to equip the rear part with small windows with curtains or without windows. The Lancia 3Ro was the third European truck to have the provision for a berth, after the Italian FIAT 634N heavy duty truck (that could even have 3 berths if requested), its main rival on the Italian civilian market, and the French three-axle Renault AFKD super heavy duty truck (10 tonne payload) produced after 1936.

The berth was often made of wood between two sheets of molded steel, although some customers opted for the simpler solution of having the entire berth made of wood. Some owners asked for two berths, one on top of the other, with no exterior differences between single-berth cabs and two-berths cabs.

However, the Lancia 3Ro was the first truck that could permit one of the drivers to sleep while the other was driving. The FIAT and Renault vehicles only allowed the use of the berths when the vehicle was stationary.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 with Officine Viberti coachwork. It has a 1st series long cab and a heavy trailer produced by Viberti. The cargo bay and trailer had metal sheet walls. It was delivered to the Zanaboni Autotrasporti of Villanterio near Pavia. Note the marking ‘3Ro’ on the vertical hood, requested by the owner. Source: Camion Lancia

Another modification of the Officine Viberti long cab was the one used in the fuel carrier variant. Instead of a berth in the rear part of the cab, it was separate and there was a compartment to store some refueling tools and tubes with doors on the cab’ sides. This modification could probably be done on other types of trucks as well. Usually, the owner of a ‘long cab’ Lancia 3Ro that needed to travel long journeys carried only a second driver so, when one of the two was sleeping on the berth, the second one could drive. It was common that, when both the two drivers were tired, one slept on the upholstered bench, which could be used as a second berth.

The first cab versions featured a vertical front grille with an exposed radiator, vertical one-piece hood sides, single-line vertical air intakes and almost vertical windshield, all inspired by the previous Lancia Ro and Ro-Ro.

A Lancia 3Ro with Viberti’s short cab and a curious third headlight on the radiator grille, probably requested by the customer. The truck was used by the delivery company Maggiorano, which operated between the provinces of Turin, Asti, and Milan. Source: italie1935-45.com

In 1939, Officine Viberti introduced a new, more modern and elegant bodywork to increase aerodynamic performance, along with a drop-shaped radiator grille, like the Lancia Augusta luxury car. This model also had angled windscreen and more rounded shapes, exactly as the Lancia 3Ro prototype. The same thing was done by FIAT for its FIAT 634N in the same period. This new bodywork also had a short and long variant.

Lancia 3Ro with Officine Viberti long cab of the 2nd series. The cargo bay was made of wooden planks. Source: facebook.com

Another detail that not all cabs had was an overhead storage rack. The black square with a yellow or white triangle painted inside meant the truck could tow a trailer and warned drivers in its vicinity to be careful. If the rectangle was upright, the truck was towing a trailer. If it was horizontal, the trailer was not present. The triangle was only required by law on civilian vehicles.

All the Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 military trucks were bodied only by Officine Viberti.

The Officine Viberti military cab. It was definitely more rustic than the civilian ones to speed up production and save money and raw materials. The waterproof tarpaulin placed instead of lateral windows is clearly visible on the right drawing. Source: Officine Viberti
Lancia 3Ro Serie 654 cargo bay drawing. Like the cab, it was a rustic one, made of wood, openable only on the rear side. Source: Officine Viberti

Civilian Versions

The truck had a length of 7.40 m and a width of 2.5 m. Its weight was 5.5 tonnes and its payload capability was 8 tonnes meaning it could theoretically weigh up to 13.5 tonnes fully laden. This was even though the maximum weight allowed by Italian laws for these types of vehicles at the time was 12 tonnes. Thus, the permitted carried weight was a more modest 6.5 tonnes. The new Lancia’s engine guaranteed a maximum speed of 45 km/h that was enough for the 1930s standards, although by the standards of the 1940s this would have been a rather slow vehicle.

Lancia 3Ro of the 1st series with Officine Viberti short cab. Source: pinterest.com
A Lancia 3Ro of the second series, converted with Officine Viberti short cab and side-dump-truck cargo bay made of sheet metal. Source: Centro Storico FIAT

The total production of Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 was 1,307 vehicles produced until late 1941. The civilian version was homologated to tow two-axle trailers with a maximum payload of 10 tonnes.

In general, Italian truckers really appreciated Lancia’s new vehicle, which was fast, sturdy, powerful but, above all, very economical. The other Italian heavy trucks in the market at the time were the FIAT 634N, the Isotta Fraschini D80, the FIAT 666N, and the ALFA Romeo 800 (the last two entered service in 1939).

Lancia 3Ro vs other Italian Heavy Trucks
Truck model Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 FIAT 634N FIAT 666N ALFA Romeo 800 Isotta Fraschini D80
Unloaded weight 5,500 kg 6,360 kg 5,770 kg 5,000 kg 5,500 kg
Maximum payload 6,500 kg 6,140 kg 6,240 kg 7,000 kg 6,500 kg
Engine power 93 hp at 1,860 rpm 75 at 1,700 rpm 110 hp at 2,000 rpm 108 hp at 2,000 rpm 90 hp at 1850 rpm
Maximum speed 45 km/h 37 km/h 56.8 km/h 37 – 49 km/h 34 km/h
Range 530 km 400 km 465 km 500 km 380 km

The 3Ro was competitive with the first two trucks. The FIAT model 634N entered service in 1931 and was really heavy, at 6.36 tonnes, and permitted the transport of only 6.14 tonnes of cargo and had some problems when fully loaded on mountain roads due to the 80 hp engine. The FIAT 666N was modern and powerful but had a lower cargo payload. The Isotta Fraschini compared similarly in some aspects, as the truck had the same weight and payload capacity as the Lancia, but had a higher fuel consumption and higher costs due to a more refined structure. Only the wealthiest truckers or companies could afford such a vehicle.

Regarding the competition between 3Ro and ALFA Romeo, the ALFA vehicle was far better due a lighter weight of just 5 tonnes, which permitted a payload of 7 tonnes and a more powerful engine that guaranteed a top speed of 49 km/h with reductors. The problem was the absence of a berth for long journeys. The same issue existed with the FIAT 666N. It weighed 5.77 tonnes and could load 6.24 tonnes of cargo with a maximum speed of 56.8 km/h. The main problem with these last two vehicles was a series of laws passed in the Kingdom of Italy in 1937 that outlined the main characteristics required for all future civilian or military trucks. The Lancia 3Ro, fortunately, avoided being covered by the new laws, probably because the project was already almost finished in 1937.

This new law was passed for three main reasons:
Firstly, Italy was a rapidly growing nation with numerous companies producing dozens of different models of trucks. Standardization would lead companies to produce vehicles very similar to each other and with common parts, increasing the production capacity.

Secondly, there was also the problem of embargoes placed on Italy and the policy of autarky, or the aspiration of Italian leaders to be economically independent from foreign countries. Unified truck standards would certainly have helped to avoid wasting resources. An example was wheel rim size. After 1935, due the embargoes placed for the invasion of Ethiopia, Italy had little rubber with which to produce tires. If all the trucks had the same rim diameters and sizes, the companies that produced tires produced one-size tires adaptable on all trucks.

Thirdly, and probably the most important reason, was the unification of civilian and military truck standards, which meant that, in case of war, civilian trucks could be requisitioned for war needs.

With Regio Decreto (English: Royal Decree) N° 1809 of 14th July 1937, the so-called Autocarri Unificati (English: Unified Trucks) were born. For heavy trucks, the maximum weight did not to exceed 12,000 kg, of which at least 6,000 kg had to be of payload, with a diesel engine with a minimum road speed of 45 km/h. The ALFA Romeo 800 and FIAT 666N were the first trucks designed under the Regio Decreto N° 1809 rules.

This led Italian truckers to be reluctant to purchase this type of truck (the Autocarri Unificati rules also applied to medium trucks), as it was clear that, within a few years, the Kingdom of Italy would enter the war and, therefore, that FIAT 666N and ALFA Romeos would surely be requisitioned first. So, despite their better features, Italian truckers preferred to continue buying Lancia 3Ro or less performing vehicles that theoretically would not be requisitioned in case of war.

The Italian heavy duty trucks produced before the war, the competitors of the Lancia 3Ro. From top left clockwise: the FIAT 634N 2nd Series on FIAT’s Lingotto plant’s roof, the prototype of the ALFA Romeo 800 outside the ALFA plant of Milan, Isotta Fraschini D80, and the last one, the FIAT 666N with Officine Viberti’s cab. Sources: pinterest.com, italie1935-45.com, facebook.com, Archivio Pasquale Caccavale with modification by the author

The Italian truckers nicknamed the Lancia 3Ro the ‘Lancia Trairò’, a pun between the Italian word ‘Traino’ (English: Towing), pronounced ‘Trài·no’, and the name of the vehicle, which in Italian is pronounced ‘Lancia Tré-Rò’.

Starting in 1940, fenders were painted white because of the regulations imposed by the so-called darkening laws. These rules dictated that motor vehicles and bicycles had to travel with their headlights partially covered to avoid being spotted by enemy planes that flew almost undisturbed in the Italian skies at night. The white band on the mudguards and on the hood made it possible to notice the few vehicles that were allowed to drive around at night.

A Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 produced after 1939 with Officine Viberti’s long cab. The white bands on the mudguards and on the hood are clearly visible. Source: italie1935-45.com

The diagonal stripe painted on the radiator grille indicated the type of transportation license. If red, it was for the owner’s account, if white, for other individuals.

Special Variants

Like the Lancia Ro, the Lancia 3Ro was available in many special versions for civilian and army needs. It was produced as a standard duty truck, fuel or non-flammable liquid carrier, animal carrier, bus, and recovery truck.

Lancia also developed a methane gas-powered version of the Lancia Tipo 102, the 102G. It was used mainly in the bus versions (Factory code Serie P566), but a small series of standard Serie 464 were also equipped with this engine type and sold to companies that traded methane gas.

One of the Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 with methane gas engine. It was delivered to the Smercio e Applicazioni Metano Società Anonima of Turin, as painted on the Viberti short cab door (together with the phone number of the company). Turin, March 1940. Source: italie1935-45.com

The version with a water or fuel tank was adopted for the Serie 464 and for the Serie 564, produced by Officine Viberti, with a capacity of 5,000 liters. It was mainly used in North Africa to transport fuel or water. A trailer with the same capacity produced by Officine Viberti could be attached to it, for a total of 10,000 liters. A civilian variant was also equipped with a Società Anonima Industriale di Verona fuel tank. These versions had an impressive fully loaded weight of more than 15 tonnes, about 6 tonnes for the empty truck, trailer of unknown weight, and 10 tonnes of water or other liquids.

Lancia 3Ro with long cab and tank produced by Officine Viberti and a Viberti trailer. This particular truck, with a total capacity of 10,000 liters of fuel, was used by the Lancia Veicoli Industriali plant in Turin to refuel freshly produced trucks. The white lines on the fenders were painted to operate during the night. Source: italie1935-45.com
A civilian 2nd series Lancia 3Ro with Viberti-SAIV fuel tank. Source: italie1935-45.com

Some Lancia 3Ros received some strange and relatively unknown special bodyworks. To give an example, in 1948, the Municipality of Pavia ordered an unknown number of Lancia 3Ros for the transportation of garbage bins. Is not clear if the Pavia Municipality asked for a specific model or if it was a decision taken by Lancia, but the vehicles that Lancia delivered were on the 3Ro P3 variant, specially developed for bus bodyworks. These became the first Lancia trucks with cab-forward configuration, 7 years before the appearance of the first ‘official’ cab-forward Lancia Veicoli Industriali’s truck, the prime mover Lancia Esatau A that entered in the market in 1955.

One of the Lancia 3Ro PL3 converted for the transportation of garbage bins for the Pavia Municipality, ready to be delivered. The cab was a Viberti one. Source: Camion Lancia

After the war, at least one Lancia 3Ro PL3 was converted into a food truck. Nothing is known about it, but it was probably converted from an old bus in the late 1950s or early 1960s. However, it seems it is a strange and curious homemade version.

A Lancia 3Ro PL3 (also seen on the plaque of the radiator grille) converted into a food truck, probably from a former bus. Source: forum.camperonline.it

Another interesting garbage variant of the Lancia 3Ro appeared in a scene of ‘Ladri di Biciclette’, an Italian film of 1948. In these scenes, at least 2 Lancia 3Ros of the Municipality of Rome that were used by dustmen are clearly visible. These particular vehicles had a rounded bodywork produced by an unknown workshop.

One of the Lancia 3Ro converted into a garbage truck for Rome’s municipality appeared in the film Ladri di Biciclette (English: Bicycle Thieves). Source: Ladri di Biciclette

Officine Viberti also produced a small series of 3Ro Serie 464 with a towing hook and winch, meant to be used as recovery trucks. Some of these were used by the Trucchi company in the Turin countryside.

A Lancia 3Ro recovery truck with Officine Viberti’s early model short cab and overhead storage rack. It was produced in 1939 for the company Trucchi. Source: Centro Storico FIAT

Bus Versions

In 1939, Lancia Veicoli Industriali proposed the lowered chassis Lancia 3Ro P (P for Passo – Wheelbase), factory code Serie 266 and Lancia 3Ro PL (Passo Lungo, English: Longer Wheelbase) for the civilian market. These were 7,860 mm long compared to the 7,400 mm of the standard series.

Lancia 3Ro P bodied by Carrozzarie Macchi-Baratelli with a trailer. This particular model was used as a standard articulated bus and entered service in 1941. Source: Fondazione Negri
Lancia 3Ro P bodied by Officine Viberti. This vehicle was used as an intercity coach. Source: italie1935-45.com

These versions of the Lancia 3Ro were designed to tow a trailer in order to increase the passenger capacity. The Lancia 3Ro P, bodied by Officine Viberti, carried 32 passengers plus the driver, with the trailer taking the capacity to over 50 people. In 1940, 78 Lancia 3Ro P chassis rolled off the assembly lines, almost all bodied by Officine Viberti.

Bus on Lancia 3Ro P2 chassis with coachwork by Carrozzeria Garavini of Turin for the Società Biellese Autolinee (English: Biella Bus Company), here in front of Garavini’s workshop. Source: italie1935-45.com

In 1942, Lancia Veicoli Industriali proposed a cab-over chassis version of the Lancia 3Ro called P3 (and P3L for the long wheelbase version), code Serie 466, of which 142 were produced. In parallel, a conventional engine forward chassis called Lancia 3Ro P2 (and P2L) was introduced. In total, 611 Lancia 3Ro were produced of the three Passo Lungo variants between 1939 and 1950.

A Lancia 3Ro 3PL with coachwork by Officine Viberti, utilized by the coach company that connected Lucca to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana in Tuscany. Source: Officine Viberti
Another Lancia 3Ro P3 working as a city bus in 1948. Source: Centro Storico FIAT

Military Versions

The military model was only bodied by Officine Viberti. The following versions were produced: troop transport, animal or equipment transport, tractor for heavy artillery pieces (mainly 90 mm anti-aircraft cannons and 149 mm howitzers), quadruped carrier variant for cavalry divisions, mobile workshop, fuel and liquid carrier, ammunition carrier, tank transporter, and also truck-mounted artillery for a wide range of artillery pieces.

A Lancia 3Ro NMP Serie 564 in its standard cargo truck configuration. This is a colorized photo of the Lancia 3Ro manual printed by the Royal Army in 1941. Source: Manuale di Uso e Manutenzione per Autocarro Pesante Lancia 3Ro

Rear and front view of two different Lancia 3Ro NMP, license plate ‘Regio Esercito 102155’ and ‘Regio Esercito 72012’. On the two vehicles, the tires were of the Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ type. Sources: italie1935-45.com

This model differed from the civilian version by having a length of 7.25 m and a width of 2.35 m, a wooden cargo bay, and 2 horizontal bars to protect the vertical radiator. On the upper bar, a white line was factory-painted, on which, after delivery, the army license plate was painted in red and black.

Other differences were an inertia starter motor under the radiator grille, doors with fixed windows, acetylene headlights on the sides of the windshield, a wooden floor, and only the rear side of the cargo bay openable.

The Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 was delivered starting in 1938, one year after the Serie 464 went into production. A prototype was produced and presented to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (English: Motorization Studies Center), the military department which examined new vehicles, in early 1938. After testing, it was quickly accepted into service in the Italian Regio Esercito as the Lancia 3Ro MNP (for Militare; Nafta; Pneumatici – Military, Diesel, Tires) version with standard tires and the Lancia 3Ro NMSP (for Militare; Nafta; SemiPneumatici – Military, Diesel, Solid Tires) with solid rubber tires. Apart from the difference in the type of tires, which changed the vehicle’s performance, the truck models were identical.

Each truck probably cost more than 65,000 Lira. This was the price for the earlier military variant of the Lancia Ro. In 1938, Lancia Veicoli Industriali planned that its maximum production rate would be 150 heavy-duty trucks (Ro and 3Ro) per month.

The unloaded weight was 5.61 tonnes for the Lancia 3Ro MNP and 5.89 tonnes for the Lancia 3Ro MNSP. The maximum speeds were 45 km/h for the MNP and 41.7 km/h for the MNSP.

According to Lancia sources, a total of:

Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 Production
Year Number
1938 177
1939 657
1940 2,646
1941 3,162*
1942 1,643
1943 1,205
1944 51
1945 1
Total 9,542
Notes * Maximum production rate of 260 Lancia 3Ros per month

After three different bombing raids of the Lancia plant in Turin, in October 1942, production of the Lancia 3Ro was entrusted to the Lancia Veicoli Industriali plant in Bolzano, in the Trentino Alto Adige region, where it remained until the end of the war.

During the war, first the Royal Army and then the Germans and the Italian Social Republic requisitioned most of the civilian Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 to reuse them for military purposes. These are easy to identify due to their civilian-style cabs that differed from the military ones.

A Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 with a Officine Viberti long cab in service with the Regio Esercito in Corsica. It was requisitioned from a private owner or from the Lancia plant to be quickly repainted, replated and put in service with the Italian Royal Army. Source: facebook.com @Curzio Cobetti

One of the main special variants was the Autofficina Mobile Modello 1938 (English: Mobile Workshop Model 1938). As the name suggests, these were standard Lancia 3Ro trucks equipped with tools and spare parts to repair Italian vehicles. These mobile workshops, composed of two trucks, one with machinery tools and the second with spare parts, were assigned to the Italian divisions and followed them on the front. After any battle, the damaged vehicles were transported to the rear lines, where the mechanics of the mobile workshops could repair them. The Lancia 3Ro were modified into mobile workshops by Officine Viberti but the number of vehicles converted was really limited. The Italian Royal Army preferred to use different vehicles, such as the old Lancia Ro. Apart from the prototype based on a Serie 564 MNSP, it seems that very few were produced. The few workshops produced remained in service after the war until the first years of the 1950s.

The Autofficina Mobile Modello 1938 on Lancia 3Ro NMSPs. The vehicle on the left was the spare parts carrier, while the one on the right was the one in which the machinery tools were transported. Source: Officine Viberti
Lancia 3Ro NMSP license plate ‘Regio Esercito 81715’ in working position at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione during test. Source: italie1935-45.com

For operations in Africa, the Lancia 3Ro Tipo Libia (English: Libya Type) was created, even if it was probably produced in small numbers. It essentially was a standard Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 with the cab left open and without a windshield, windows, and roof. It had a water tarpaulin to protect the driver and vehicle’s commander. Another characteristic feature was the cargo bay’s walls, which were shorter than the standard 650 mm ones. It had a different radiator grille and it probably also had a fuel tank with more capacity to extend the range.

Lancia 3Ro Tipo Libia blueprint. Source: Semicingolati, Motoveicoli e Veicoli Speciali del Regio Esercito Italiano 1919-1943

Another vehicle was the Lancia 3Ro fuel carrier or non-flammable liquid carrier. It was used mainly in North Africa as a fuel carrier. Its tank could carry a total of 5,000 liters of fuel or water. The liquid carrier truck could also tow a tank-trailer produced by Viberti or SAIV with the same capacity as the truck.

The Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 water carrier with tanks produced by Officine Viberti. The trailer was on a standard Rimorchio Unificato Medio also produced by Viberti and with the same capacity of the truck’s tank. Source: Archivio Viberti

The fuel carrier variants were also extensively used by the Italian Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) and Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy) to refuel planes and warships.

Two Lancia 3Ro fuel carriers during a refueling operation. In the background, two Spica-class torpedo boats are visible. Unfortunately, it is impossible to identify to which Italian Army branch the trucks belonged to because the license plates are unreadable. Source: David Zambon

For the transport of water or fuel, the Serie 546 could be equipped with two removable 2,000 liters tanks loaded on the cargo bay. These tanks did not require any modification to be fitted to the vehicle and were easy to remove, allowing the transport version to be even more versatile.

A Standard Lancia 3Ro NMSP, probably at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione of Rome, loaded with a 2,000 liters tank. Source: italie1935-45.com

An example was converted into a mobile command office and donated to German Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, commander of the Deutsches Afrikakorps or DAK (English: German Africa Corps) in 1941. Unfortunately, not much is known about this variant. However, the Desert Fox did not appreciate its characteristics and, after a short use of the Lancia, changed vehicles and used an AEC ‘Dorchester’ 4×4 Armored Command Vehicle captured from the British forces.

The Lancia 3Ro NM mobile command office in a depot, probably the Officine Viberti one in Turin. It had Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires. Source: instagram.com @Forza Italiana

Some Lancia 3Ros were modified by the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente near Genoa as ammunition carriers. These vehicles received box-shaped metal ammunition racks. Two different versions were created. The prototype had a single box of large dimensions, for a total of 210 90 mm rounds placed on the rear part of the cargo bay, permitting 8 gun crewmembers to take a seat on the front section. It was presented in March 1941, but the series models were slightly modified. The series variant had eight separate boxes with a total of 216 rounds. Between the boxes, placed on the sides of the cargo bay, a small corridor remained. There, a total of eight seats for soldiers were positioned.
These ammunition carriers were created to transport rounds for the Italian 90 mm Autocannoni (English: 90 mm Truck-mounted artillery) groups that were used in North Africa. A total of 64 Lancia 3Ro ammunition carriers were ordered by the Regio Esercito. It is not known if all were delivered.

One of the ammunition carrier variants that could transport 210 rounds for the 90 mm Cannone da 90/53 Modello 1939 anti-aircraft gun. Source: fondazioneansaldo.com

Gasoline Version

During the war, a gasoline version of the engine was developed. This version was renamed Lancia Tipo 102B (B for Benzina – Gasoline). This engine was modified to work with cheaper and more available gasoline and delivered 91 hp. The majority of the 52 Lancia 3Ro produced for the Germans between 1944 and early 1945 were equipped with petrol engines. The Lancia Esarò (factory code Serie 627) medium truck, a ‘light’ version of the Lancia 3Ro developed in 1941, received an identical engine but with lower horsepower, the Tipo 102B, delivering 80 hp, coupled to the same transmission as the Lancia 3Ro. In 1946, 12 unfinished Lancia Esaròs received the Lancia Tipo 102 diesel, but giving out only 81 hp. In total, 398 Lancia 3Ros with petrol engines were produced during the war.

The lighter Lancia Esarò. Source: wikipedia.com

Trailers

The Lancia 3Ro, in both military and civilian versions, could also tow two-axle trailers of the Rimorchi Unificati (English: Unified Trailers) type. These were produced under the same rules as the Autocarri Unificati. The Rimorchio Unificato Medio (English: Medium Unified Trailer) had a length of 4.585 m, a width of 2.15 m, a height of 1.75 m, an unloaded weight of 2.1 tonnes and a payload capacity of 5.4 tonnes for a total weight permitted by law of 7.5 tonnes. The Rimorchio Unificato Pesante (English: Heavy Unified Trailer) had a length of 6.157 m, a width of 2.295 m, and a height of 1.920 m. Its unloaded weight was 3.3 tonnes and had a payload capacity of 10.7 tonnes, for a total weight of 14 tonnes.

These trailers had twin wheels, a compressed air braking system connected to the cabin by flexible cables, a spare wheel, openable sides and, curiously, the triangular trailer connector could be mounted on the front or on the rear side in order to tow the trailer from both sides. These Rimorchi Unificati were produced by the ubiquitous Officine Viberti, Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche (English: Italian Company Ernesto Breda for Mechanical Constructions) or more simply Breda, Officine Meccaniche Umberto Piacenza (English: Umberto Piacenza Mechanical Workshops) of Cremona, Carrozzeria Orlandi of Modena, Carrozzeria Strafurtini, Carrozzeria Bartoletti of Forlì, and Sauro.

Before the war, the maximum weight of the Lancia 3Ro truck and trailer fully loaded was not to exceed 22 tonnes, 12 tonnes of the truck, and 10 tonnes of the trailer. After the war, the maximum came to 24 tonnes, 12 tonnes each.

During the war, Officine Viberti and Carrozzeria Bartoletti developed two different variants of Rimorchi a Ralla Unificati Grandi per Trasporto Carro M13 (English: Large Slewing Bearing Unified Trailers for M13 Tank Transport), more simply known as the Rimorchi Unificati da 15T (English: 15-tonne payload Unified Trailers) developed for tank transport.

Carrozzeria Strafurtini and Officine Viberti also developed a particular type of trailer that was discarded by the Italian Royal Army after long tests due to difficulties in production. This delayed the start of production of the Rimorchi Unificati da 15T, for which the Viberti ones won the contract. In fact, the Viberti trailer was accepted in service only on 24th March 1942.

The Viberti trailers had a payload of 15 tonnes and were designed specifically to be towed by heavy trucks for the transport of medium tanks and self-propelled guns. These two-axle trailers had a 5.7 m length, 2.4 m width, height of 2.02 m, and an unloaded weight of 3.75 tonnes, with a maximum total weight of 18.75 tonnes.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 of the first series with an Esperia short cab and Orlandi medium unified trailer. It was used by Trasporti Vanzetta de Santis transport company of Bolzano. Source: italie1935-45.com
A civilian-origin Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 with Viberti‘s short cab and metal sheet cargo bay towing a Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15T with a Carro Armato M13/40 loaded on. The crew of the tank is resting on the cargo bay. Under the radiator grille, the electric ignition is visible. Unfortunately, the unit’s name is not readable. North Africa, date unknown, but probably 1941. The tank was of the VIII Battaglione Carri M13/40 of the 132° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista assigned to the 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’. Source: David Zambon

It could carry any tank of the ‘M’ series (M13/40, M14/41 or M15/42) and any self-propelled gun on their chassis (Semovente M40, M41 or M42 da 75/18) for a total weight of loaded truck and loaded trailer of almost 30 tonnes. Even if not fully loaded, the Lancia 3Ro could tow even 2 or three trailers at the same time. In fact, it was possible to correct the turning radius of the trailers to allow several trailers to be towed together by a single truck.

The Lancia 3Ro was probably also capable of towing the Rimorchio Porta Carri Armati P40 (English: P40 Tank Trailer), with a length of 13.6 m, a width of 2.76 m, a height of 0.5 m, an unloaded weight of 10.26 tonnes and a payload capacity of 30 tonnes. The Italian Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) and Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy) also used some Lancia 3Ro to tow some airplane trailers or to transports bombs or torpedoes to the airfield.

A Lancia 3Ro with short cab and metal sheet cargo bay produced by Officine Viberti of Turin towing a Reggiane Re. 2000 fighter aircraft. The total weight of the unloaded aircraft was 2.08 tonnes. Source: Archivio Govi

Service

Brief Operational Service

The Lancia 3Ro, in civilian and military variants, had great off-road capabilities. In North Africa, due to these characteristics, it earned the nickname ‘Re del Deserto’ (English: King of the Desert).

An example of the great off-road performance of the Lancia 3Ro heavy duty truck. This unloaded Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 is climbing a high-angle hillside while towing a Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15T. Only a few truck models during the whole duration of World War Two had similar off-road characteristics. Photo taken somewhere near Sollum, June 1942. Source: David Zambon

The Lancias were assigned mainly to the autoreparti pesanti (English: heavy vehicles units) assigned to logistic units and usually transported ammunition, food, and other supplies from ports (for North Africa) or railway stations (for the Russian and Balkan fronts) to the front line, which could be several hundred kilometers away.

The 34° Autoreparto Pesante (English: 34th Heavy Vehicles Unit), assigned to the 2° Autoraggruppamento (English: 2nd Motorized Group) deployed in the Soviet Union, had the task of connecting the battlefront with the rear line. When it arrived from Italy, it had a total of 3,160 trucks and, in a few months, from 1st July 1942 to 31st December 1942, it lost 883 trucks, 28% of the total, to various causes.

A Lancia 3Ro and a FIAT-SPA 38R light lorry advancing in the African Desert near Sidi el Barrani in 1940. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

Each Italian division had some heavy-duty trucks to tow the artillery pieces or the tanks of the division. The exact number of heavy-duty trucks changed for each division type. An armored division had a theoretical number of 246 heavy-duty trucks, which theoretically increased to 258 in June 1942. In 1942, an Italian motorized division had in service a theoretical number of 861 trucks (light, medium, and heavy), prime movers, and staff cars. The 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ (English: 101st Motorized Division) had 61 heavy duty trucks of all variants during the same year. An infantry division in North Africa had a theoretical organic strength of 127 heavy trucks, 28 SPA Dovunque medium trucks, and 72 FIAT-SPA TL37 light prime movers.

A Lancia 3Ro Series 464 of civilian origin helped to cross a muddy road on the Eastern Front by a captured Soviet agricultural tractor. 1942. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato
Lancia 3Ro of a convoy marching towards the front, 25 kilometers from Stalino (now Donetsk) in Ukraine in spring 1942. In the foreground are some Soviet civilians.

During the Second World War, many Lancia 3Ros were abandoned during the catastrophic Axis retreats in the Soviet Union and North Africa. Sometimes, these were fully operative trucks abandoned for lack of fuel or other parts. The Allied troops, particularly the British, reused them due to their robustness, power, and load capacity. There were trucks captured and reused by the Soviets in the Soviet Union as well.

Lancia 3Ro in the hands of the British 7th Armoured Division in the North African desert. The new proprietors renamed it ‘Tiny Tim’. Source: o5m6.de

On the Russian front, the Lancia 3Ro was mainly used for the transport of materials of the Alpine divisions of the Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia (English: Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia) that was then renamed ARMata Italiana in Russia or ARMIR (English: Italian Army in Russia). In this campaign, it proved to be a reliable vehicle. Even during the harsh Russian winters, the engine was reliable and performed well in very low temperatures that did not allow other Italian and German vehicles to move.

Some Italian veterans claim that the Soviet soldiers usually destroyed all the logistical vehicles that they captured from the Axis troops during the Don Offensive and the subsequent retreat from Russia, ramming over them or shooting them with tanks. Eventually, however, they began to appreciate the qualities of some vehicles, putting the Lancia 3Ro and FIAT 626 that they were able to capture back into service, while destroying the Opel Blitz and FIAT 634N, which they considered performed less well.

A Lancia 3Ro plated ‘Regio Esercito 82260’ of the Gruppo Battaglioni Camicie Nere ‘Leonessa’ of the 5ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Cosseria’ on the Eastern Front. In front, two Italian and two German officers. 1942. Source: Come il DIamante

In North Africa, the Lancia was one of the most common heavy duty trucks of the Italian Royal Army, used for all tasks.

Due to the delay in the delivery of tank trailers, they were often used to tow tanks that were damaged or had mechanical failures. This task put strain on the trucks due to the sheer size of the tanks.

German, Partisan, and Repubblica Sociale Italiana Service

After 8th September 1943 and the armistice with the Allies, Lancia Veicoli Industriali stopped production until Germans entered the Bolzano and Turin plants, transforming them into ‘War Auxiliary Factories’. The production was quickly resumed and the Lancia 3Ros were built for the Germans and kept the same bodywork until order 7967/8153. This order, dated 5th April 1944, provided for the delivery of 100 trucks with the Einheits (English: Unity) cabs.

Lancia 3Ro with Einheits cab. It was probably powered by a Lancia Tipo 102B petrol engine. Source: italie1935-45.com

This cab, designed by the Germans, was made of hardboard planks on a parallelepiped wooden frame. It was very easy to mass produce, cheap, and adaptable to many Italian trucks, such as the FIAT 626, the SPA TM40, and the Lancia 3Ro.

Standard Lancia 3Ro heavy duty truck and a FIAT 666NM in German Service, probably in Eastern Europe. Source: pinterest.com

According to German sources, the German Army Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht, and Kriegsmarine branches, but also the Todt Organization and Polizei units put back into service a total of 772 Lancia 3Ro between January 1944 and February 1945. These numbers are far more than the production declared by Lancia in the same period, 52 were produced between 1944 and 1945.

Lancia 3Ro P used by a Luftwaffe unit after the Italian Armistice. Somewhere on the Eastern Front, 1944. Source: italie1935-45.com

It can be assumed that the German sources were in error, and 772 did not represent the vehicles that were newly delivered by Lancia Veicoli Industriali, but trucks that had previously belonged to the Italian Regio Esercito or private companies and were requisitioned or captured by the Germans. All Lancia 3Ros were assigned to units under the command of the Oberkommando Sud-Est, commanding the Balkans, and Oberkommando Sud-Ouest, commanding Italy.

A Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 captured from the Germans and reused by the Partisans in April 1945 to liberate the city of Turin. A 7.7 mm Breda-SAFAT medium machine gun was placed on the cab’s roof. The car near the truck was a FIAT 1100 armed with a Breda Modello 1930 light machine gun. Some Turin citizens that have risen against the Nazi-Fascist forces in the city are also present. Source: Archivio della Città di Torino
Lancia 3Ro previously in service with the German Kriegsmarine (shown on the license plate WM -7881), probably during the partisan parade after the Great Partisan Uprising of 25th to 28th April 1945 in Piazza del Duomo in Milan. It has the name of the Partisan brigade that captured it, the Brigata ‘Remo Servadei’, created from a battalion of the 81ª Brigata Garibaldi volante ‘Silvio Loss’. One of the Partisans sitting on the roof, on the left, is armed with a Villar Perosa light machine gun, a relic of the First World War. Source: affariitaliani.it

During the German occupation, 10 gas-powered Lancia 3Ro GT (GT for Gassificatore Tedesco – German Gasifier), factory code Serie 564 GT, were also produced. These trucks were like the ones produced with the Lancia Tipo 102G engine, but were instead equipped with a German-built gasifier and the Einheits cab.

Some were retained by Lancia Veicoli Industriali, which used them to connect its plants of Turin, Bolzano, Cismon del Grappa, and Padova. The drivers transported men, materials, and information to supply the various Italian Partisan units from Piemonte to Trentino Alto Adige regions and vice versa.

One of the Lancia 3Ro GT used by Lancia Veicoli Industriali, used to transport materials from its plants. It had an Einheits cab. On the side, the writing ‘LANCIA & C. TORINO’ and the number 26. Source: Camion Lancia

Some units of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (English: Italian Social Republic), the Italian Fascist Republic created in late September 1943, and some Partisan brigades also used the Lancia 3Ro during the bloody civil war that broke out in northern Italy between 1943 and 1945. The Repubblica Sociale Italiana had its regular army, called Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (English: National Republican Army), and its military police, the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR (English: National Republican Guard).

In Turin, in April 1944, not only the workers but the managers of the Turin plants made a deal with the Partisans to supply the fighters with lubricants, fuel, spare parts, financial assistance and, in some cases, also some entire vehicles. The numbers of vehicles delivered are not known. There were no new Lancia 3Ros supplied because they were being produced in Bolzano, but spare parts for such vehicles may have been delivered to the Partisans from the Turin plant.

A Lancia 3Ro of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ exits the Caserma Luigi Riva in Via Cernaia, Turin. On board are the coffins of some of the militiamen who died in the previous days, during a firefight with the Partisans. Source: spazioinwind.libero.it

The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group), one of the better-equipped units of the RSI, had a total of 60 Lancia 3Ros in its ranks during its operational life. All were produced before the Armistice. Some other units were equipped with Lancia 3Ros, such as the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ (English: 1st Black Brigade) of Turin, the 36ª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade) of Lucca, and the Comando Provinciale GNR (English: Provincial Command of GNR) of Piacenza. The vehicles of these units were also produced before the Armistice.

Armed and Armored Versions

Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro

The Lancia 3Ro heavy duty truck was also extensively used for truck-mounted artillery vehicles, such as the Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro (English: 100 mm L.17 truck-mounted artillery on Lancia 3Ro chassis). This was a standard Lancia truck modified by the workshops of the 12° Autoraggruppamento Africa Settentrionale (English: 12th North African Motorized Grouping). The cab was modified, removing the roof and windshield and adding a support in the center of the cargo bay, on which a Obice da 100/17 Modello 1914 gun was mounted. It was also equipped with two 50-round racks behind the cab and optionally a 8 mm Breda machine gun for anti-aircraft defense. In total, only 16 were converted. The first four were assigned to the 14ª Batteria Autonoma (English: 14th Autonomous Battery) that supported the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’ (English: 132nd Armored Division), but they were destroyed by friendly fire on 1st December 1941.

An Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro in firing position in the Libyan desert. Source: o5m6.de

The last 12 produced, assigned to another three batteries, were assigned to the Raggruppamento Celere Africa Settentrionale (English: North Africa Fast Regroupment) in early 1942. In January 1943, the surviving vehicles were assigned to the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ (English: 136th Armored Division) until their total destruction.

Autocannoni da 47/32 su Lancia 3Ro and Lancia 3Ro armed with Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935

A Lancia 3Ro of the 4ª Divisione fanteria ‘Livorno’ armed with a 20 mm Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935. On the truck’s right, a FIAT 634N is armed with a machine gun and, in the background, are another two Lancia 3Ros, one armed with a machine gun. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

Another two guns mounted in North Africa on the Lancia 3Ros were the Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935 support gun and the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 anti-aircraft gun. Usually, the Lancias were left unmodified and these guns were loaded in their cargo bays thanks to the 11 m² area, which could accommodate the gun, the gun crew and some ammunition. The Autocannoni da 47/32 su Lancia 3Ro used by the IV° Battaglione Controcarro Autocarrato ‘Granatieri di Sardegna’ (English: 4th Motorized Anti-Tank Battalion) were modified, removing the cargo bay’s sides and mounting the guns on a 360° traverse support.

An Autocannone da 47/32 su Lancia 3Ro in North Africa. The cannon, seven soldiers, and some wooden crates are loaded into the huge cargo bay. Source: Istituto Luce

Autocannone da 90/53 Lancia 3Ro

The only officially produced autocannoni on Lancia 3Ro chassis were the ones armed with the powerful 90 mm Cannone da 90/53 Modello 1939. They were modified by the Ansaldo-Fossati Plant in Genoa to mount the powerful 90 mm anti-aircraft gun.

These autocannoni were developed for anti-aircraft and anti-tank purposes and 120 were converted, 30 on the Lancia 3Ro chassis and 90 on the Breda 52 chassis.

A Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 with ‘Regio Esercito 112939’ registration plate ready to be converted in an Autocannone da 90/53, probably outside the Ansaldo-Fossati plant. Source: army1914-1945.pl

These vehicles were assigned to 12 Groups with 2 batteries each, used in North Africa and Southern Italy. These vehicles had some problems caused by the heaviness of the gun and the recoil stress. In order to deal with these, the chassis was reinforced and manual jacks were adopted to lift the vehicle off the ground.

Autocannone da 90/53 Lancia 3Ro in North Africa in 1942. Source: Gli Autoveicoli Tattici E Logistici dell’Esercito Italiano fino al 1943 Tomo II

The increase in weight of the vehicle decreased the already moderate speed of these heavy trucks and the manual jacks forced the crew to exert a high physical effort and increased the times to get ready to fire and to leave the fire position, especially in dangerous situations.

GNR Armored Vehicles

The armored variants were improvised vehicles. All of the known ones were produced in workshops by Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana units.

The most famous one was the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the 36ª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’, modified by Arsenale di Piacenza (English: Arsenal of Piacenza). This was an armored truck equipped with a Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini da 20/70 Modello 1939 on a 360° rotating turret, an 8 mm Breda Modello 1937 medium machine gun in a spherical support in the cab and two 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 medium machine guns in spherical supports on the sides.

The Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the 36ª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’. Source: pinterest.com

It was only used in anti-partisan operations, first in Piacenza and then in Turin’s countryside. This armored truck became more known after the events of 25th April 1945, when there was a great Partisan insurrection. All the Italian Partisans of Northern Italy entered the main cities, such as Milan, Turin, and Genoa, occupying the main buildings and principal infrastructure, preventing German sabotage and waiting for the Allied arrival. The Lancia 3Ro Blindato, together with other vehicles full of Fascist militias, tried to reach Valtellina to surrender to Allied forces.

On 26th April, the 36ª Brigata Nera joined a convoy of Republican forces (178 trucks, 4,636 soldiers, and 346 female auxiliaries) that was moving to Como. From Como, the brigade and the Lancia 3Ro Blindato moved to Menaggio to escort Benito Mussolini to Merano. During the night of 26th to 27th April, a column of German Luftwaffe FlaK units arrived in Menaggio, which, along with the Italian vehicles, resumed the march to Merano, with the Lancia at the head of the column.

Inside of the armored behemoth, together with the crew, were transported Benito Mussolini, his lover Clara Petacci, and some military and political Fascist leaders.

On the same day, the column was stopped on the highway that runs along Lake Como at a checkpoint of the 52ª Brigata Garibaldi ‘Luigi Clerici’ (English: 52nd Partisan Brigade). The partisans only allowed the German trucks and FlaK cannons to continue, so Mussolini, dressed as a German soldier, got into a German Opel Blitz, which turned onto the road to Merano. The armored truck was then involved in a firefight between the Fascist and Partisan forces. During the skirmish, it was damaged and abandoned.

Other armored vehicles on the Lancia chassis are less known and only few details are known. The first one was used by the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Turin. It was armed with a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 on the cargo bay and had armored plates on the sides. The second one was used by the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico (English: 630th Public Order Company) of Piacenza. The only thing that is known about this vehicle is that it was armored. Nothing is known about the service or fate of these two vehicles.

Post-War Lancia 3Ros

In late 1945, the Bolzano plant and probably also the Turin one resumed the production of the Lancia 3Ro, both for the civilian market and for the army.

A Lancia 3Ro NT produced starting from an incomplete military model in 1945. It had Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ tires and civilian Officine Viberti short cab, but with a military engine compartment and a civilian cargo bay with metal sheets. The side windshields were substituted with waterproof tarpaulins. Source: italie1935-45.com

Initially, very different models grouped under the factory code Serie 564 NT and commercial name Lancia 3Ro NT. They first came off the assembly line in early 1946. These vehicles were hybrids between Serie 464 and old German production Serie 564. This was because, after the war, the warehouses of Bolzano contained dozens of incomplete trucks or parts for the military versions. In order to not waste time, they restarted production of trucks with these parts diverted for the production of civilian versions. These odd vehicles had military chassis, gasoline engines replacing the diesels, and elongated axle shafts, since the civilian version was wider than the military version (2.5 m instead of 2.35 m). In these vehicles, even for the civilian trucks, only the windshield was mounted. The side and rear windows were rarely mounted, substituted by waterproof tarpaulins or transparent materials. This was done because little glass produced at the time was delivered with priority to the construction companies that were rebuilding buildings in Italian cities.

Lancia 3Ro NT just rolled off the production line in July 1945. It has a Officine Viberti long cab without lateral windows and the second type radiator grille. The rear tank was produced by Viberti-SAIV for non-flammable liquids. The coating is opaque because, at that time, the only coatings available were military ones. Source: Camion Lancia

In 1946, a new model came out, the Lancia 3Ro C (C for Conformità – Conformity), factory code Serie 564C. It had an electric starter, a new servo-braking system of more modern conception and a ‘full floating’ rear axle instead of the load-bearing axle shafts. It was followed after a year by the Lancia 3Ro C2 (factory code Serie 564C/2) with reinforced tires.

Lancia 3Ro C produced in 1948, coachwork by Carrozzeria Orlandi of Modena and used by the private transport company Borgondo Autotrasporti of Vercelli. Source: italie1935-45.com

The Lancia 3RO C2 with Officine Viberti’s long cab and with new tires. The cargo bay was modified for sheep transport. It had only one tire on the rear axle due to the light payload. Behind it is a medium unified trailer also modified for sheep transport and with single tires. The truck had two headlights under the bumper, probably a particular request of the customer. Sources: Camion Lancia and facebook.com

In the table below are the total production numbers of Lancia 3Ro trucks in all variants. These numbers come from the Lancia Archives, in which it was not specified which company bodyworked the vehicle. In the Serie 564, the Lancia 3Ro converted into ammunition carriers and Autocannoni are also counted.

Lancia 3Ro
Model Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 Lancia 3Ro MB Lancia 3Ro GT Serie 564 GT Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 NT Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 C Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 C/2
Production Years 1937 – 1945 1938 – 1948 1943 – 1944 1943 – 1944 1945 – 1946 1946 -1947 1947 – 1948
Number of vehicles produced 1,307 9,491 398 10 1,302 1,884 in total
Engine Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp Lancia Tipo 102B, 5-cylinder, petrol, 91 hp German-built Gasifier Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp
Maximum speed 45 km/h 45 km/h 44.8 km/h 40 km/h 45 km/h 45 km/h
Lenght 7.40 m 7.25 m 6.50 m 6.50 m 7.255 m 7.255 m 7.52 m
Empty weight 5,500 kg 5,545 kg 5,300 kg 5,300 kg 5,450 kg 5,450 kg
Payload capacity 6,500 kg 7,365 kg 6,700 kg 6,700 kg 6,600 kg 6,600 kg
Max trailer weight 10,000 kg over 10,000 kg 10,000 kg 10,000 kg 12,000 kg 12,000 kg

The Lancia 3Ro C versions remained in production until 1948, bodied mainly by Officine Viberti along with Orlandi and Caproni. The military versions were only bodied by Officine Viberti. In mid-1947, the Lancia Esatau, factory code Serie 846, came into production. This new powerful vehicle developed on the basis of the Lancia 3Ro entered production to replace it. It was equipped with a 122 hp Lancia engine and had a top speed of 58 km/h.

The Lancia Esatau with long cab and iron cargo bay produced by Officine Viberti in 1949. Source: Ufficio Storico FIAT

This vehicle did not receive the attention that was hoped for due to poor power, range, and overall costs.

In Italy, after the war, the Azienda Recupero Alienazione Residuati or ARAR (English: Company of Recovery and Alienation Survey) was entrusted with the task of reconditioning and selling military vehicles confiscated from the enemy or abandoned by the Allied armies on Italian territory after the Second World War. This led many truckers at the time to prefer to buy cheaper second-hand military trucks (of any nationality) at lower prices than a new expensive vehicle.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 in van configuration produced for the Gondrand Traslochi moving company of Rome. Source: Camion Lancia

Some of the reconditioned vehicles sold by the Azienda Recupero Alienazione Residuati were Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 which were sold to companies, the Italian Police Corps, and private customers that used them, in some cases, until the early 1970s.

Lancia 3Ro used by private individuals in the 1950s. It had a Officine Viberti-style civil long cab produced probably by another workshop. The engine compartment was of the first type, so it was probably converted from a Serie 564 into a civil truck by the ARAR. Source: facebook.com

The father of the author of the article, who became a mechanic specializing in repairing truck brakes in 1975, recounted he had the opportunity to repair Lancia 3Ros in his early years of work in the city of Turin. Obviously, the 3Ro was totally obsolete after more than 30 years of service, but it was still adequate for carrying out secondary jobs, such as working as a snow plow vehicle or service truck for the Municipality of Turin, which used it to transport food in case of natural disasters, to transport the gigantic Christmas tree that was put in the center of the main square of Turin every year, and to transport the masons of the municipality to construction sites.

Surprisingly, when the Esatau was presented, many truckers preferred the old Lancia 3Ro to the Esatau, and Lancia was forced to produce them for another year and a half, until 1948. The early Esatau models were then upgraded with more powerful engines and other small modifications that lowered the overall costs. The first variant of Lancia Esatau and its military version, called Lancia 6Ro, were quickly replaced by other heavy-duty truck models with more powerful engines and overall better characteristics.

Lancia 6Ro with short cab and wooden plank cargo bay produced by Officine Viberti after the war. Source: pinterest.com

The last 3P and 3PL buses based on the Lancia 3Ro came off the assembly line of the Lancia plant in Bolzano in 1950. That year, the Lancia 3Ro definitively disappeared from the sales catalog of Lancia Veicoli Industriali. The Lancia 3Ro remained in service with the new Esercito Italiano (English: Italian Army) until 1964 as a medium truck, maintaining a high mobility and load capacity, outclassing even modern US-built vehicles produced in the 1950s.

Lancia 3Ro towing Cannoni da 90/53 Modello 1939 and carrying troops in the Via dei Fori Imperiali during a parade in Rome after the war. Source: italie1935-45.com
Lancia 3Ro compared to other Lancia Veicoli Industriali vehicles produced post-war
Model Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 C and C/2 Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 Lancia Esatau Serie 864 Lancia 6Ro Serie 864 M Lancia Esatau Serie 864 A
Production Years 1946 – 1948 1938 – 1948 1947 – 1953 1949 – 1958 1955 – 1957
Number of vehicles produced 1,884 9,491 3,894 (all variants) 1,527 1,252
Engine Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp Lancia Tipo 864, 6-cylinder, diesel, 122 hp Lancia Tipo 864, 6-cylinder, diesel, 122 hp Lancia Tipo 864, 6-cylinder, diesel, 132 hp
Maximum speed 45 km/h 45 km/h 53 km/h 53.8 km/h 51.9 – 58.9 km/h
Lenght 7.255 – 7.52 m 7.25 m 8.3 m 7.76 m 7.35 m
Empty weight 5,450 kg 5,545 kg 6,580 kg 6,300 kg 7,400 kg
Payload capacity 6,550 kg 7,365 kg 7,420 kg 5,700 kg 6,600 kg
Max trailer weight 12,000 kg over 10,000 kg 14,000 kg 14,000 kg 18,000 kg

Conclusion

The Lancia 3Ro was one of the best heavy-duty trucks produced in the Kingdom of Italy between the late 1930s and late 1940s. Although there were vehicles with superior features, the Lancia was the perfect combination of power, cargo capacity, and, most importantly, cost. It was one of the trucks preferred by Italian truckers for its ease of driving and low fuel consumption. It continued to be produced after the war and saw service for many years after.

With its military variants, it proved to be almost unstoppable, being used on all fronts with very few complaints from the military truck drivers, who used it for every task. Even opposing armies appreciated it, and when they managed to capture one in good condition, they immediately put it back into service with a new coat of arms.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in green camouflage.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in standard desert camouflage.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in service with the Italian Army in the Balkans.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in North African desert, 1940.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in Lybia in 1941.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in North Africa in 1942.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 loaded.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in German Service.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 with Einheits cab in German service.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 with Einheits cab in three tone camouflage.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 converted in mobile workshop.
Autocannone da 90/53 su Lancia 3Ro in firing position.

Lancia 3Ro Blindato.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 7.25 x 2.35 x 3 m
Weight, empty 5.61 tonnes
Payload capability 6.39 tonnes
Crew 3 in the cab
Propulsion Engine: Lancia Tipo 102 diesel, 5-cylinder, 6,875 cm³, 93 hp at 1,860 rpm with 135 liter fuel tank
Speed Road Speed: 45 km/h
Range 530 km
Production 12,692 in all versions

Sources

newsauto.it

Semicingolati, Motoveicoli e Veicoli Speciali del Regio Esercito Italiano 1919-1943 – Giulio Benussi

Gli Autoveicoli Tattici e Logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943, Tomo 2 – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano,

Gli Autoveicoli del Regio Esercito nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale – Nicola Pignato

Ruote in Divisa, I Veicoli Militari Italiani 1900-1987 – Brizio Pignacca

Il Grande Libro dei Camion Italiani – Sergio Puttini and Giuseppe Thellung

Storia Illustrata del Camion Italiano – Costantino Squassoni and Mauro Squassoni Negri,

Macchina e Rimorchio, Storie di Uomini e di Camion – Beppe Salussoglia and Pascal Vayl,

Profumo di Nafta, Uomini e Camion sulle Strade del Mondo – Beppe Salussoglia and Pasquale Caccavale
Storia Illustrata dell’Autobus Italiano – Massimo Condolo

Gran Turismo, L’avventura dei Carrozzieri Italiani di Pullman – Carla Dolcini

Camion Lancia – Massimo Condolo

Immagini ed Evoluzione del Corpo Automobilistico, Volume II (1940-1945) – Valido Capodarca

Storia della PAI, Polizia Africa Italiana 1936-1945 – Raffaele Girlando

…Come il Diamante, I Carristi Italiani 1943-45 – Sergio Corbatti and Marco Nava

Autocarro pesante Lancia 3Ro Notiziario Modellistico 3/97 – Claudio Pergher

Autocarro Pesante Unificato Lancia 3Ro, Le Poids Lourd Italien – Nicolas Anderbegani,

Trucks & Tanks Magazine n°38, 2013 I ‘Musoni’ Lancia 3Ro, Esaro, 6Ro ed Esatau 864 – Marco Batazzi

Autocarro Militare 3Ro, Istruzioni per l’Uso e la Manutenzione, V edizione, Lancia & C. 1942

Autocarro 3 Ro NT, Istruzioni per l’Uso e la Manutenzione con Supplemento per Autocarro 3 RO MB, Lancia e C. November 1945

Categories
Cold War Italian Armor

AB41 in Italian Republic Service

Italian Republic (1945-1954)
Medium Armored Car – Unknown Number Operated

After the Second World War, the surviving AB41 armored cars, formerly of the Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army), were put in service with the new Esercito Italiano (English: Italian Army), the Polizia di Stato (English: State Police), and the Arma dei Carabinieri (English: Arm of Carabinieri).

Their presence and operational service was greatly reduced with the entry into service of British and US production armored cars, despite the fact that they still performed their work very well.

Alongside the AB41s, some powerful AB43s were also used.

Some AB41 of the 1° Reparto Celere in Rome during a parade for the Police Corp’s foundation anniversary on 18th October. Rome 1951.Source: pinterest.com

Italian Units Situation after the War

After the Second World War, Italy was largely abandoned by Allied troops which only left a small amount of troops on the peninsular territories, but they abandoned thousands of trucks, armored cars, tanks, and guns all around Italy.

The vehicles stored in depots were: Allied destroyed vehicles abandoned, Axis destroyed or damaged vehicles or intact vehicles donated by Allied forces to Italy before leaving the Peninsula. Many British and US were abandoned because it was more expensive to bring the vehicles back than build new ones.

Thousands of GMC, Dodge, and Bedford trucks, T17 Staghound and Humber Mark IV armored cars, and other vehicles were put in service with the Esercito Italiano, Corpo dei Carabinieri Reali (English: Royal Carabinieri Corps) and the Corpo degli Agenti di Pubblica Sicurezza (English: Public Safety Agents Corps).

Former Axis vehicles were found in the Captured Enemy Materials (CEM) Camps placed all over the Italian peninsula. These camps were full of damaged or intact Italian and German vehicles, captured in Italy and abandoned by the Allies after cataloging them and in the case of the armed vehicles, destroying gun barrels or cannon breeches to render them unoperational. Here, the new Italian Army and police corps found hundreds of trucks that were put in service in their ranks.

Italian Political Situation after the War

The Kingdom of Italy was one of the nation’s worst off in the post-war period. Five years of war, including two within its borders, had destroyed 40% of buildings with about 500,000 civilian and military losses during the war out of about 43 million inhabitants before the war.

The Italians no longer trusted the Italian Government after dozens of years of Fascist rule and the bloody civil war of the last two years of war that, especially in northern Italy, had created great ideological rifts in the population.

The royal family of Savoia which had ruled over the nation since 1861, and had for longer in the preceding Kingdom of Sardinia, had become associated by the majority of Italians to the hardships and sufferings of Fascism and war. On 2nd June 1946, in the first votes using universal suffrage in Italy, the population had to decide the future of the nation, monarchy or republic. The republic option won with a small majority, but peace was far from arriving.

The industrial situation in the years after the Second World War was tense, with many strikes, riots, and even some armed factory occupations by the workers who demanded more rights and increased wages.

Peasants also went on strike for similar reasons with many striking and violent reprisals. Even the partisans, the true liberators of the nation together with the Allied troops, on several occasions, after the war, protested with arms against some actions of the Italian government that went against them.

Another serious problem that often involved the use of violence was the Italian police force. Due to the clauses of the 1947 Peace of Paris, the Esercito Italiano was greatly limited, with a maximum of 185,000 men and 200 tanks. The Allied powers, however, feared that the proximity to the Warsaw Pact nations to the east and the presence of still armed partisans of communist ideology would cause a coup that would overthrow the government, as had happened in Czechoslovakia in 1948. To prevent a situation like this, in the peace treaty of 1947, the Police and Carabinieri were not subject to war restrictions, and to all intents and purposes, the Police became a civilian police force organized and equipped as a military corps.

Design

The Medium Armored Car AutoBlindo Modello 1941 (English: Armored Car Model 1941) or more simply AB41, was an Italian armored car developed by FIAT and Ansaldo of which 667 were produced during the Second World War. Scores were captured and reused by many nations that participated in the conflict.

The AB41 was armed with a 20 mm L/65 Mod. 1935 automatic cannon produced by Breda and two 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 medium machine guns, one coaxial and one in a spherical support on the rear of the vehicle. It was developed as a long-range reconnaissance vehicle for the Regio Esercito and the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (English: Police of Italian Africa), the Italian colonial police.

It had an operational range of 400 km thanks to the 195 liters of petrol and a maximum velocity on road of 80 km/h. It had a number of particular characteristics, including a double driving position, one at the front and one at the rear, allowing the armored car to be driven by two different drivers who could take over driving by simply lowering a lever. This permitted this fast armored car to disengage from an enemy skirmish only by lowering a lever in the narrow mountain roads or African villages in which it fought.

It had all-drive and all-steering wheels systems giving excellent off-road performances to the vehicle. It was also equipped with a powerful 60 km range radio with a 7 meters full-extended antenna on the left side.

During the war, many AB41s were abandoned by the Germans or Italian Fascist troops and were captured by Italian Partisans or Allied troops that rarely reused them and more often abandoned them in some depots where the enemy captured material was stocked.

Operational Use with the Italian Republic

After the war, the MLI Battaglione Carristi Autieri (English: 1051st Tank Driver Regiment) in Padova, a detachment of the Centro Addestramento Carristi (English: Tanker Training Center), under British command in Rieti, the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin), and the Parco Veicoli Efficienti ed Inefficienti per Officina Riparazioni Mezzi Corazzati (English: Efficient and Inefficient Vehicle Fleet for Armored Vehicle Repair Shop) in Bologna received some AB41s from the CEM camps and from other origins that were then restored, rearmed, and delivered to new units.

AB41 of one of the three Reparti Celeri of the Polizia di Stato in 1947. It was not equipped with the radio antenna, and unfortunately, the plate is unreadable.Source. polizianellastoria.it
Colorization by Johannes Dorn

AB41 and AB43 armored cars, light tanks of the L3 series, L6/40 light reconnaissance tanks, and even M13/40 medium tanks were recovered and given with priority to the Public Order units of the Corpo dei Carabinieri Reali and Corpo degli Agenti di Pubblica Sicurezza. In October 1945, the only armored vehicles of the Italian Army units were Bren and Loyd carriers used only as prime movers. After the proclamation of the Italian Republic in 1947, these were renamed into Arma dei Carabinieri (English: Carabinieri Wing) and Polizia di Stato (English: State Police) respectively.

The Polizia di Stato officers all came from the Regio Esercito, Polizia dell’Africa Italiana, Italian paramilitary militias (such as border guards, port and railroad militias, etc.), former Italian soldiers that had fought in the Allied ranks, and former Partisans, all of which were already trained to a certain degree.

The Arma dei Carabinieri officers all came from the Regio Esercito or previous police corps, while the Esercito Italiano was composed of former Regio Esercito or Co-Belligerent Army or new recruits.

Polizia di Stato

In 1946 and 1947, the I° Reparto Celere in Rome, II° Reparto Celere in Padova, and III° Reparto Celere in Milan (English: 1st, 2nd and 3rd Fast Departments) were created.

In 1948, the Reparti mobili (English: Mobile Departments) from the I° Reparto Mobile of Turin to the XX° Reparto Mobile of Cesena were also created. In February 1948, the Polizia di Stato had in service 200 armored cars plus another 100 bought in 1950. The majority were Humber Mark IV, T17E1 Stanground, and other British or US produced vehicles, but some were also AB41 and AB43 armored cars.

These 300 armored cars were assigned in 45 compagnie mobili (English: mobile companies), 11 nuclei celeri (English: fast companies), 16 sottonuclei celeri (English: fast platoons), 14 compagnie autoblindo (English: armored car companies), and 27 sezioni autoblindo (English: armored car sections) of the 20 reparti mobili and the 3 reparti celeri or of independent units.

Two AB41s of the Polizia di Stato, license plates: ‘POLIZIA 2563’ and ‘POLIZIA 7026’ without markings but with a cop sleeping during a turn guard. The two armored cars seem to be in adequate condition. The radio antennas were removed.Source: polizianellastoria.com

Each reparto mobile and reparto celere had in its ranks a compagnia autoblindo (English: armored car company) composed of one plotone motociclisti (English: motorcyclist platoon), and 2 or 3 plotoni autoblindo (English: armored car platoons) with a total of 8 or 12 armored cars.

In the late 1940s and in the early 1950s, there were many strikes by workers in Italy, demanding better working conditions. They often ended up occupying entire factories for days, slowing down the country’s economy and creating quite a few inconveniences for the political establishment and factory owners.

Some AB41s of the I° Reparto Celere of Rome waiting to start their engines for a parade in Rome in 1950. Note the presence of half-lowered antennas painted white and the painted width-limit indicator. The first vehicle (plated ‘Polizia 8237’) also had a headlight, new horn and siren, and all the crew members were wearing Italian tank crew uniforms.Source: polizianellastoria.it

The Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI) (English: Italian Communist Party) supported workers’ strikes and trade union struggles and gained more and more support among the population. The situation caused concern in the Italian state, which feared a coup. In fact, many leaders of the PCI had been partisans during the war and some of them were on good terms with members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). For example, Enrico Berlinguer and Palmiro Togliatti, two of the leading figures in the Party at the time, were received by Stalin himself during a visit to the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. This was the reason why priority was given to equipping the public security forces with armored cars and even tanks, even at the expense of the new Esercito Italiano (English: Italian Army).

The AB41s plated ‘Polizia 8237’ and ‘Polizia 7301’ of the I° Reparto Celere during a parade on 18th October 1953 in Rome for the anniversary of the Police Corp’s foundation. The AB41 plated 7301 was of the last production batch and retained the hooks for 20 liters can support on the fenders. They had new sirens on the left side, new horns on the right side, and a headlight placed where there was the commander periscope. Antennas and width-limit indicators were painted white and are present on the frontal armor alongside the Police’s coat of arms.Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

In June 1945, the Squadrone ‘F’ of the Corpo di Liberazione Nazionale (CIL) (English: National Liberation Corps) allied with the US forces, now renamed Squadrone Speciale da Ricognizione ‘F’ (English: Special Reconnaissance Squadron) in which some AB41s were deployed was disbanded together with the Reconnaissance Squadron of the Brigata Partigiana ‘Maiella’. The armored cars were probably donated to the Esercito Italiano or the police units.

The Polizia di Stato units equipped with AB41s were deployed in Padova, Rome Turin, and Udine. The city of Trieste, historically belonged to Italy, after the war was disputed between Italy and Yugoslavia. It was considered a contested area and was garrisoned by British and Yugoslav troops until 1953 when riots between the Italian and Yugoslav populations led to several dozen deaths.

Italy could not intervene but sent army and police troops to the border while diplomacy was running its course. On 5th October 1954, an agreement was signed and Trieste became Italian again.
In 1953-54, during the Trieste Crisis, the Italian Government deployed its forces along the border with Yugoslavia. Among these were the AB41s of the 2° Raggruppamento Celere from Padova’s II° Reparto Celere. These were the first that reached Trieste on 26th October 1954, when Trieste returned to Italian control.

At least three armored cars AB41 of an unknown Reparto Celere in 1950, during a break. These were not equipped with radio antennas and were probably in service with the 2° Reparto Celere of Padova.Source: polizianellastoria.it

The unit was used to escort vehicles and buses from Trieste to the other Italian cities to protect them from any type of threat until a police corp was created in the city.

After 1954, the AB41s were withdrawn from service, and almost all of them were scrapped, though a couple were sold to museums and private collectors.

Arma dei Carabinieri

In Autumn 1945, the Battaglione Mobile dei Carabinieri (English: Mobile Battalion of the Carabinieri) was created with an armored car company, a motorcyclist company, and 3 motorized companies. In April 1946, thanks to the newly repaired vehicles, the Battaglione Mobile dei Carabinieri was reorganized with a command company, a compagnia motocorazzata (English: armored/mechanized company) composed of a command platoon, 3 armored cars platoons and a motorcyclist platoon, and 3 mechanized companies.

In 1948 the Battaglione Mobile dei Carabinieri was reorganized again with three compagnie autotrasportate (English: motorized transported companies) and a compagnia motocorazzata with a total of 12 armored cars, probably the majority of the AB series, and 3 British troop carriers.

At the time, there were 13 battaglioni mobili (English: mobile battalions) and 29 nuclei autocarrati (English: motorized companies) deployed in the Italian peninsula.

There is little information about the Carabinieri service of these armored cars. The Carabinieri units were badly equipped after the war because after the Second World War. Even though the units were deployed all over Italy, but because of the losses suffered in the war and the few replacements received, the Carabinieri played only a secondary role in the security of Italy in the immediate aftermath of the war, and were mainly employed in operations against brigandage in southern Italy. A good example of this is the Legione Carabinieri in Palermo in 1947 which was still operating with an armored car of German origin abandoned in 1943 and restored to running condition.

Esercito Italiano

The AB41s in the new Esercito Italiano were completely replaced by Allied-built armored cars, mainly 3-axles M8 Greyhound heavy armored cars and T17 and T17E1 Stanground of US origin and Humber medium armored cars of British origin.

An AB41 after restoration outside the Arsenale di Torino in the late 1940s. It had non-original tires of British or US production.Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

In summer 1946, the Italian infantry division ranks were organized and each division was equipped with 60 British Bren and Loyd carriers, 11 medium armored cars, and an imprecise number of scout cars for the artillery units.

In 1947,the cavalry units assigned to the Italian infantry divisions were also reincorporated. The 1° Reggimento ‘Nizza Cavalleria’ was created in Pinerolo in February 1947, and in July 1948 was equipped with 50 Bren and Loyd carriers and 17 armored cars of unspecified models. The Scuola di Cavalleria (English: Cavalry School) that trained the drivers of the AB series during the war was in Pinerolo, so it is logical to suppose that at least among some of these 17 armored cars present in 1948 were some old AB41s.

It would have been a similar situation with a number of other regiments, including:

  • 2° Reggimento ‘Piemonte Reale Cavalleria’ founded in Merano but transferred to Florence with 11 armored cars and 60 British carriers
  • 3° Reggimento ‘Savoia Cavalleria’ of Milan with 36 British carriers and 10 armored cars in July 1947 and 51 British carriers, 14 armored cars, 4 scout cars, and even 2 Stuart light tanks in 1949.
  • 4° Reggimento ‘Genova Cavalleria’ of Albenga, then transferred to Albanuova with 19 armored cars of unspecified model in 1948.
  • 5° Reggimento ‘Novara Cavalleria’ was the only regiment of which the exact model of armored car has been recorded and was equipped with 11 T17 and T17E1 in December 1947.
Another AB41 restored by the Arsenale di Torino in 1950. It was a ‘Ferroviaria’ with steel wheels for railway patrols. Besides the armament, which was not present, and the antenna, which was not the original, the rest it is identical to a Second World War ‘Ferroviaria’. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

By late 1949, not a single AB41 or AB43 had survived in the ranks of the Italian infantry. Only the motorized and armored divisions had some few in their ranks. The only units that maintained the AB41s were some infantry regiments deployed as public order units. These armored cars were in service with the mixed armored platoons or company of these second-line units until 1954, when they were reorganized into three squadroni di cavalleria blindata (English: armored cavalry squadrons) assigned to Bologna, Florence, and Genoa with 2 plotoni carri armati, one with M5 and M5A1 Stuart light tanks and another with Italian-produced tanks, and 2 plotoni autoblindo with eight M8 Greyhounds.

At least eight AB43s and an unknown number of AB41s were converted after the war into the ‘Ferroviaria’ (English: Railway) version. This version, developed to patrol the Yugoslavian railways against the Yugoslav Partisan sabotages during the war, was readapted for the Reggimenti Genio Ferroviario (English: Railway Engineering Regiments) of the new Esercito Italiano. The adaptations were performed by the Arsenale di Torino which was one of the companies that examined and re-commissioned hundreds of light and heavy vehicles and artillery for the Italian Army.

While the AB41 and AB43 armored cars were withdrawn from the Police, Carabinieri, and Italian Army service in 1954-55, the Reggimenti Genio Ferroviario’s ABs were withdrawn only in the mid-1960s. The last ones were rearmed in 1961 with 12,7 mm Browning M2 Heavy Barrel heavy machine guns instead of the 20 mm automatic cannon. It had less penetration capabilities, but its rate of fire and muzzle velocity was superior. The armored car could also transport more 12,7 mm ammunition boxes.

An AB41 of the last production batch (recognizable by the new muffler) converted to ‘Ferroviaria’ after the war. It was restored by the Arsenale di Torino.Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

Camouflage and Markings

The AB41s of the Italian Polizia di Stato were painted entirely in amaranth, a reddish-rose shade of red. This coating was chosen after the war for all the Corpo degli Agenti di Pubblica Sicurezza vehicles because at the time sirens were hardly ever used and a red vehicle was more visible in the city traffic. Another reason for this particular color was because this particular shade of red covered all the camouflage schemes previously used on the vehicles now in the police ranks.

In the first few years, each unit applied the coat of arms independently, for example, without mentioning which unit it belonged to or which company. From 1949, the coat of arms were modified, and all the vehicles had “Reparto Celere di P.S.” (P.S. for Polizia di Stato) painted in white on the side, and a small number painted white in a circle indicating to which compagnia autoblindo it belonged to. On the front fenders, two rectangles, one with “Celere” written, meaning it belonged to a reparto celere, and on the other, the city where it was used, were painted.

An AB43 used by the Nucleo Celere of the Rome capitol police. Even if it differs in unit, the markings were the same. Note that for parade purposes the wheel rims and the mud guard sides were painted white.Source: polizianellastoria.it

The Polizia di Stato coat of arms, an eagle with open wings, and a crown were painted on the front armored plate. It was adopted in 1919 by the Corpo della Regia Guardia per la Pubblica Sicurezza, basically the Italian Police. The latin motto ‘Sub Lege Libertas’ (English: Under Legality, Freedom”) was written alongside the eagle. The registration plates were painted directly on the armor, on a white painted line.

Italy 1950, three police officers of a Compagnia Autoblindo of a Reparto Celere, probably the Rome ones, are posing with their vehicle after a training exercise. The symbol painted on the armor is the Polizia di Stato coat of arms and the Latin motto is “Sub Lege Libertas” (English: Under Legality, Freedom).Source: polizianellastoria.it
Colorization by Johannes Dorn

The Arma dei Carabinieri AB41s were probably painted in olive drab as the US vehicles. This was probably done because there was a lot of paint leftover in Italy by US troops. The vehicles also receive a small Italian flag on the left front fender and right rear fender and a military identification code on the other two fenders. The Arma dei Carabinieri was a paramilitary corps under Esercito Italiano so they received the military plates registered with EI (Esercito Italiano).

The Esercito Italiano’s AB41 were painted in olive drab or other dark green shades. Their coat of arms differs from unit to unit. Not all the vehicles received military plates painted in white or military identification code.

Conclusion

The AB41 had performed excellently during the Second World War, but with the advent of the post-war era, and available and cheap Allied-built armored cars, it was quickly withdrawn from frontline service and used by the Police Corps for public order and by the Italian Army as a railway vehicle.

The few AB41s barely survived the ‘monopoly’ of allied vehicles until the early 1950s. Although surpassed in armament and performance, the AB41s remained to represent the elegance of the Italian vehicles until the early 1960s as vehicles for the railway engineers.

AB41s of the I° Reparto Celere. Illustration by Godzilla.

AB41 Specification

Size (L-W-H): 5.20 x 1.92 x 2.48 m
Weight, battle-ready: 7.52 tonnes
Crew: 4 (front driver, rear driver, radio operator/machine gunner, and commander/gunner)
Engine: FIAT-SPA 6-cylinder petrol, 88 hp with 195 liters tank
Speed: 80 km/h
Range: 400 km
Armament: Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 (456 rounds) and Two Breda Modello 1938 8 x 59 mm machine guns (1,992 rounds)
Armor: 9 mm Hull Turret: Front: 40 mm Sides: 30 mm Rear: 15 mm
Production: 667 in total, unknown in Italian Republic service

Sources

Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume III, Tomi I and II – Nicola Pignato

Italian Armored and Reconnaissance Cars 1911-45 – Filippo Cappellano and Pier Paolo Battistelli

https://polizianellastoria.wordpress.com/

Categories
Cold War Italian Armor Modern Italian Armor

B1 Centauro

Italy (1989-Present)
Wheeled Tank Destroyer – ~493 Built

Two B1 Centauros of the 19° Reggimento “Cavalleggeri Guide” in UN white as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) during multinational training exercise “Steel Storm” with other vehicles in Shama, Lebanon, 24 February 2015. Source: rassegnastampamilitare.com

The concept of a fast tank destroyer for the Italian Army was conceived during the Cold War in order to replace some vehicles then in Italian service, such as the then obsolete M47 Patton. Such a vehicle was also meant to support the slower M60A3 Patton and Leopard 1A2 tanks in the defense of Adriatic coast areas (where the armies of the Warsaw Pact could have landed if war had broken out), defend the rear lines from paratrooper landings as well as to attack Armored Fighting Vehicles that had broken through the NATO lines towards the heart of Italy. The Consortium IVECO-FIAT – OTO-Melara (CIO) at that time was working on projects for new light Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV). In order to save on costs on the project, CIO tried to create a tank destroyer starting from the Fiat 6614 and 6616 prototypes, armed with a 90 mm cannon in turret on a modified hull.

Prototype

In 1983 and 1984, CIO presented the Esercito Italiano – EI (Eng. Italian Army) three different prototypes. Two were IFVs using a 4×4 configuration, the AVL 6634 (Armored Vehicle – Light) and the AVM 6633 (Armored Vehicle – Medium) developed from the Fiat 6614. The last one was a 6×6 tank destroyer armed with a GIAT CN90 F4 (French: CanoN de 90 millimètres Modèle F4 – English: 90 millimeters gun F4 Model) 90 mm low pressure gun in a new OTO-Breda turret, the AVH 6636 (Armored Vehicle – Heavy).

The AVL 6634 prototype was accepted and, after some modifications, became the 4×4 VBL Puma (Veicolo Blindato Leggero – Eng. Light Armored Vehicle). The AVH 6636, however, was not accepted and the Italian Army began thinking that developing a wheeled tank destroyer instead of a new light tank that supported the MBTs would save lots of money. The army requested that the vehicle should mount a standard Main Battle Tank (MBT) 105 mm cannon instead of the 90 mm one.

The AVH 6636, The vehicle derived from the Fiat 6616 armed with a 90 mm cannon. Source: forumwarthunder.com

In order to speed up the development and production of the vehicle, the High Command of the Army decided to spend most of the research budget available on this project by slowing down or canceling the development of other vehicles, such as the MBT C1 ARIETE and the OF-40.

In order to meet the needs of the Italian Army, the turret was redesigned and it was realized by CIO that a six-wheeled hull was no longer able to withstand the weight of the new turret and the new cannon. Thus, the CIO technicians ‘stretched’ the hull, adding another wheel axle and transforming the vehicle into an 8×8. This was the first prototype of the B1 Centauro. It was lightly armored but fast, wheeled and armed with a powerful cannon equivalent to those of first-line MBTs in service during this period.

The fourth prototype of the B1 Centauro, without the thermal sleeve, different muzzle brake and other small differences from the pre-series vehicles. Source: btvt.com

At the end of 1984, the first nine prototypes were ready. After long tests of firing stability, moving through rough terrain and protection (one was destroyed in shooting and mine resistance tests at a shooting range in Sardinia in 1986), the new vehicle was presented to the Italian Army High Command. The presented prototype of the wheeled tank destroyer was armed with the Cannone OTO-Melara 105/52 gun and would become the B1 Centauro. The first pre-series model was shown for the first time in 1987 at Monteromano, in the north of Rome, during an exhibition of new Italian weapon systems, along with the VBL Puma 4×4 and the C1 ARIETE MBT, at the time called “TRICOLORE”.

Adopted in 1989 with the name ‘B1 Centauro’, the tank destroyer was delivered to Italian Army regiments only in 1992 due to financial problems and some changes. Production for the Italian Army ended in 2006 and saw 400 vehicles produced, of which 141 are no longer in active service. The Ejército de Tierra (Eng. Spanish Army) has 84 vehicles designated VRCC-105. In August 2008, the Royal Guard of Oman made an order for 9 vehicles of a second version with a different turret armed with a 120/45 mm gun and a 650 hp engine. In 2014, the 141 B1 Centauros decommissioned by the Italian service were sold at a favorable price to Jordan.

A B1 Centauro of the 3º Reggimento “Savoia Cavalleria” during the training exercise “Iguana” with the Brigata Paracadutisti “Folgore”, the 2º Reggimento Genio Pontieri and the United States 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team Airborne. Photo taken after the crossing of the Po River of a B1 supported by the Italian paratroopers. Italy, October 2015. Source: esercito.difesa.it.

Design

Armament and ammunition

The Centauro remains, along with the Japanese Type 16 MCV and the United States M1128 MGS, the only tank destroyer adopted which uses a 105 mm cannon. There are other wheeled vehicles armed with 105 mm cannons in use around the world, such as the Taiwanese CM-32, the Chinese Type 11, the Finnish Patria AMV, the Canadian LAV-105, the Austrian Pandur ll, the Swiss MOWAG Piranha, the French AMX-10RC, and others, but these are primarily meant for other duties and tank destroying forms a secondary role.

The Centauro’s main armament consists of a 105 mm L.52 high-pressure cannon, the Cannone OTO-Melara da 105/52 LRF (Low Recoilless Fitting) produced by OTO-Breda of La Spezia. This gun offers the same firepower as some of its Western-influenced contemporary tanks, such as the Leopard 1, the M1 Abrams, the Merkava ll and the AMX-30. The cannon can shoot different types of ammunitions produced in Italy and all NATO standard ammunition types: two APFSDS-T (Armor Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot – Tracer) shells which use tungsten instead of depleted uranium, the M735 and the DM33, the M456 HEAT-FS (High Explosive Anti-Tank – Fin-Stabilized) round and the HESH (High Explosive Squash Head) M393 round. In addition, it can fire the L-28 and L-35 rounds of the British Royal Ordnance L7 cannon from which the cannon was developed.

The cannon of one B1 Centauro of the 3º Reggimento “Savoia Cavalleria”. Source autotecnica.org.

The cannon has 14 ready-to-use rounds placed on the left side of the turret basket and another 26 in the hull, in two removable 13-round side racks. Beginning from the first production vehicles, the barrel of the cannon is covered by a thermal sleeve, to prevent distortions, and with a smoke extractor, which prevents smoke from entering the fighting compartment after firing, intoxicating the crew.

At the end of the barrel, over the ‘pepperbox’ muzzle brake, there is a characteristic multi-chamber flame arrester that reduces the recoil by 40% and reduces the muzzle flash, making the shot harder to observe by the enemy. The main gun elevation is from -6° to +15°, and the turret can make a 360° turn in 11 seconds. A rate of fire of 8 rpm can be achieved and the gun is stabilized on three axes for precise shooting even when driving over rough terrain.

The secondary armament consists of two or three 7.62 mm Beretta MG42/59 or Rheinmetall MG3 machine guns. One is coaxial to the gun and the others (which can be shielded) are on anti-aircraft mounts on the roof, operated by the vehicle commander and by the loader. The ammunition for the machine guns consists of 4,000 rounds in 16 belt magazines.

The big difference between the Rheinmetall MG3 and the Beretta MG42/59 (both derived from the German Mauser 7.92×57 mm MG42 rechambered for 7.62×51 NATO) is the rate of fire. The Beretta MG42/59 mounted on the Italian vehicles is less maintenance intensive due to the wear of the slower rate of fire of 800 rounds per minute, while the Rheinmetall MG3 has a rate of 1,300 rounds per minute and, in prolonged combat, there is a risk of overheating the barrel. During many clashes with the Somali rebels in Mogadishu, where the Centauros were often not allowed to use their main armament but only machine guns, the MG42/59s were very useful, as they could shoot hundreds of rounds before they overheated.

In addition to these weapons, the B1 Centauro is equipped with eight smoke launchers positioned in two groups of four on the sides of the turret. These are the 80 mm GALIX self-defense system produced by the French company Giat-Lacroix Defense (the same ones mounted on the Leclerc) controlled by the BASCU (Basic Automatic System Control Unit). The launch tubes weigh 3.9 kg and have an elevation arc of 11°. They can be loaded with various types of grenades, ECL illuminating, FUM smoke grenades, special FUM-B smoke, LACRY anti-riot with tear gas, AP-DR anti-personnel with two shrapnel submunitions, AP-TCP anti-personnel with shrapnel and flash-bang charge, and LEUR to trick infrared-guided missiles.

The most common GALIX grenade used on the B1 Centauro (and possibly the only ones bought by the Italian Army) is the FUM-B. Each launcher is equipped with three rounds, each able to create a smokescreen for 60 seconds at 60 meters from the vehicle. 0.2 seconds after activation, in mid-air, the first anti-IR submunition disperses very fine metal dust, making the B1 Centauro invisible to IR visors for 30 seconds. At 0.5 and 0.7 seconds after firing, the other two smoke-producing submunitions explode, creating a smokescreen that makes the armored car invisible to classic optics for a minute.

On prototypes and pre-series vehicles, 76 mm Kraus-Maffei Wegmann smoke grenades taken from the Leopard 1 and 2 were mounted. These were then replaced with the GALIX-80s.

B1 Centauro of the 2º Reggimento ”Piemonte Cavalleria” opening fire during training. Source wikipedia.org.

Turret and Fire Control System

The turret was produced by OTO-Breda of La Spezia and was supplied fully prepared for installation on the hull. It has two hatches for the vehicle commander and loader. The commander has four periscopes, while the loader has five periscopes on the sides of the turret.

The main armament is stabilized on three axes and has the same Fire Control System (FCS) as the MBT C1 ARIETE, the third generation TURMS OG-I4 L3 (Tank Universal Reconfigurable Modular System – Officine Galileo) computer developed by Officine Galileo Avionica which is supposed to guarantee excellent firing performance.

For supervising the battlefield and directing the gunner, the vehicle commander has a model SFIM SP-T-694 two-axes stabilized panoramic binocular periscope developed by SFIM and Officine Galileo. It is mounted on the right of the turret and controlled with a joystick. It has a 16-bit fully digital microprocessor with a magnification from 2.5x to 10x on the day channel and from 2.5x to 6x for the night channel. This periscope was developed for the self-propelled anti-aircraft gun produced by OTO-Melara, the OTOMATIC, and after that was modified, improved and mounted on the C1 ARIETE and B1 Centauro. This is integrated with a high performance FCS project by SEPA, with an infrared viewer/night camera that can rotate independently from the turret. This can rotate a full 360° and has an elevation from -10° to +60°, with a field of view of 20° at a magnification of 2.5x and 5° at 10x. If the gunner’s sight is broken or has some problem, this periscope can be aligned with the axis of the main cannon and used to aim.

The commander of a B1 Centauro observes the battlefield from his SFIM SP-T-694. Source: esercito.difesa.it

The commander of the vehicle can find and identify targets without rotating the turret by using the independent panoramic sight. He can also use it to aim the main gun in order for the gunner to engage (if the cannon is not already used in another operation by the gunner). This permits the B1 Centauro’s crew to work on engaging more than one target at a time, day and night and in all weather conditions. While the gunner neutralizes the first target, the tank commander can find others, identify them one at a time and send the data to the computer. As soon as the gunner has eliminated the first target, the targeting computer will turn the gun automatically to the second target which can be engaged once the loader has finished the loading operation.

The TURMS has a ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance) system using a SELENIA HgCdTe detector (positioned on the right side of the turret, in front of the tank loader’s hatch). This system can find targets of a size of about 2.3×2.3 m at a distance of about 3 km. It can do accurate rangefinding up to a distance of 1800 meters and can identify and aim with a first-hit probability of 100% at 1,500 meters. With the anemometer that provides TURMS with data on the outside temperature, air humidity and wind speed (data necessary for shooting accuracy), the system makes the necessary corrections to aim the gun and provide a very high possibility of hitting the target the first time even at distances of over 1,500 meters.

The gunner’s sight is stabilized and has a magnification of 10x. It includes a thermal camera equipped with wipers and armored doors that open or close in 0.7 seconds to protect it from shrapnel, bullets or dust. The camera is divided into two parts, with a LWIR (Long-Wave Infrared Radiation) lens and a MWIR (Mid-Wave Infrared Radiation) lens for the day and night channel and laser telemeter. The thermal images from this detector can be seen by the commander on a special display built by Larimart SPA. The digital shooting computer COSMO MP501-D (D for Digital), built by Marconi (now SELEX), manages all the data received from the various external sensors and the many commands from the gunner and the vehicle commander. COSMO is able to reconfigure itself to take over the tasks of any secondary equipment that is damaged or broken.

Furthermore, the vehicle is equipped with various other systems. Such a system is the auxiliary telescopic sight produced by Officine Galileo, the OG C-102 with 8x magnification used in case the TURMS FCS breaks or stops working. It is located on the right, coaxially with the cannon. There is also a gyroscopic device that verifies the attitude of the vehicle, a display for the gunner, a control panel for the loader, a intercom cables set, an anemometer, and an MTL-8 Nd-YAG Laser Transceiver Module (MTL). This is produced by Alenia and is able to accurately measure the distance up to 10 km away using a Laser Transceiver Unit (LTU) and Laser Electronic Unit (LEU). There are also two commander displays, a warning system for the number of rounds stowed in the vehicle, the MRS (Muzzle Reference System) which allows the gunner to constantly check the alignment of the cannon with the axis of the line of sight and correct it, and a second joystick with safety device for the commander which allows him to rotate the turret to open fire, bypassing the gunner in case he is no longer able to do his tasks.

The interior also contains a panel for the deployment of the smoke grenades that has two modes of use (manual or automatic), a panel for the commander which allows him to manage or modify different settings of some systems, such as the CBRN system (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear). As on the C1 ARIETE, there is the possibility of shooting even when the vehicle is moving thanks to the three-axis stabilization of the cannon and the FCS. This cannot be done at maximum speed though, being capable of doing so at speeds up to 30/35 km/h depending on the terrain, as the TURMS system takes into account the speed of the vehicle on which it is installed, the speed of the target and compensates for the effects due to the delays and non-linearity of the main weapon, giving the crew a high chance of hitting the target.

A VRCC-105 of the Spanish Army. Notice the SELENIA HgCdTe detector on the left and the SFIM SP panoramic periscope on the right side in front of the loader and the commander. Source: pinterest

The back of the turret has supports for two antennas. In fact, already during the production phase, the radio system was updated with one that used only one antenna, but the second support remained. The antennas can be disassembled and placed in a special tube-shaped support on the back of the turret roof. The system connected to the antennas is the modern SINCGARS (Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System) model of American design, but the first Centauros had the old-fashioned dual antenna system based on RV3 and RV4 stations.

The anemometer measures the wind speed, humidity and outside temperature and is used by the FCS. The passive vehicle defense system is produced by SELEX and consists of a laser alarm receiver, or RALM, connected to the TURMS laser transceiver. When the RALM identifies a laser beam aimed at the vehicle, the onboard computer automatically activates the smoke launchers, which in a few moments create a smokescreen around the vehicle. At the same time, it rotates the periscope of the commander in the direction from which the laser beam came. This allows the crew to protect themselves from such a threat and, at the same time, allows them to respond as quickly as possible.

Hull

The Centauro hull is divided into two parts. The forward compartment contains the engine, gearbox, and main fuel tank, with the fighting compartment to the rear. The fighting compartment contains the driver’s position and the turret basket. The rearmost part of the fighting compartment holds the ammunition racks.

The hull has two entrances. The driver’s hatch leads to his position and is equipped with 3 periscopes. Only the forward-facing one has night vision, using the VG/DIL 186-B1 sight produced by Meccanica per l’Elettronica e Servomeccanismi (MES), composed of a binocular VO/IL 186 for night vision, a daytime coupled MES 82/1 model and interface system for the optics. The VG sight has a visual field of 38°.

The two M17/1 periscopes with daytime vision to either side give the driver a total field of view of about 110°.

The driver’s seat is hydraulic and allows him to drive with an open hatch. In front of the driver are the steering wheel, the brake, and accelerator pedals. On the sides, he has displays with various driving data readouts and vehicle status monitors.

Three VRC Centauros of the Ejército de Tierra during a military parade as part of the Día de la Hispanidad (Spain’s national day) heading down Paseo de Recoletos from Plaza de Colón in Madrid. Source: defense.blog.com

At the rear of the hull, there is an armored door which allows access and exit for all crew members and ammunition reloading.

The B1 has no amphibious capacity due to its weight of over 24 tons without the add-on armor kit.

Armor

The B1 Centauro is made of welded steel, the thickness is secret but, its values guarantee protection from 14.5 mm armor-piercing bullets all around and from 25 mm rounds on the front arch at undeclared distances.

Almost immediately, it was realized that the armor of the Centauro was too light. IVECO-OTO-Breda, in collaboration with German and Belgian companies, researched additional panels of ceramic armor that can be applied to the sides and top of the turret and on the hull. With the additional 15 mm spaced armor, the level of protection also extends to 57 mm rounds.

Right side of a B1 Centauro in Lebanon. The spaced armor has a hole to permit the ejection of spent rounds. Above, the loader’s periscopes are visible. Source: Difesa.it

In 1993, Royal Ordnance along with the Italian industry created an ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor) pack for this vehicle as a precaution. Ten B1s were thus equipped and sent to Somalia to support other Centauros already there for UNOSOM (United Nations Operation in Somalia) with the result that no Centauros were lost. This package is known as ROMOR-A armor. These are made from Demex 200 plastic explosive that reduces the power of 125 mm HEAT ammunition by up to 95% and can counter Soviet-built rocket launchers like the RPG-7 (with PG-M and the more modern PG-7VR rockets) and RPG-29 (with TBG-29V rocket). This reactive armor is not vulnerable to light weapon hits. Ten more B1s were equipped in the same period, but they remained in Italy for training.

For peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, such as KFOR (Kosovo Force), some B1 Centauros received an armor kit composed of special 15 mm thick ceramic plates that protected part of the sides of the hull, partially the last two wheels of the vehicle and also the back of the hull. With this add-on armor, the B1 had a weight of about 27,5 tonnes.

One of the B1 Centauros fitted with the ROMOR-A ERA and lateral armor in Somalia during the UNOSOM. Source armorama.co.uk.

Safety Features

The (Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, and Nuclear) CBRN system, produced by the Roman company SEKUR, is placed in the turret and allows the Centauro to operate in theaters contaminated with various agents. It has an external detector that warns the crew of danger through the acoustic system and automatically activates the fan and air filters of the air system. There are two types of filters mounted on the B1 of which one deals with larger impurities. The other one one contains activated carbon and an overpressure device which, once purified air is introduced in the vehicle, increases the internal pressure, preventing the entry of air from the external contaminated environment.

In the event of a breakdown of the CBRN system, individual emergency systems exist to allow the crew to operate safely and, in the event of breakdowns of the vehicle, abandon it in total safety. In addition, the B1 is equipped with two manual fire extinguishers.

In addition to the RALM system connected to the GALIX-80 smoke grenades, the B1 Centauro has other safety systems, such as a fire and explosion protection system consisting of a total of 5 tanks, each with a capacity of 4 liters, that have to cover an internal space of less than 10 m³. The tanks are filled with a pressurized mixture of flame retardants and Halon 1301 (Bromotrifluoromethane) gas in sufficient quantity to fill the internal volume of each compartment (10m³). Halon has been used for many years in fire extinguishers, but has been found to be harmful to the environment and, for this reason, prohibited from production in the European Union since 1994. The tanks, however, have only 4% Halon, which does not endanger the health of the crew members and can allow the extinction of a fire in a very short period of time. One tank is positioned on the side of the ammunition stowage. Two others are used for extinguishing fires in the engine compartment, and the other two tanks are fixed in the turret and are used to extinguish fires in the crew compartment.

The system is also composed of optical detectors and heat-sensitive cables connected to the activation mechanism, for a total of six detectors and three cables. The system can be activated automatically by the sensors or manually by the driver or by the vehicle commander or from the outside. A red handle is placed on the left side of the vehicle, which activates the fire-fighting system from the outside.

In the event of a fire, the system will immediately discharge two retardant tanks (from the crew compartment or the engine depending on the location of the fire). It will signal that the operation has been carried out on the display of the commander with a red LED and send an acoustic emergency signal through the intercom system. After two seconds, it will activate the fans and filters of the CBRN system to purify the air inside the vehicle. In case of failure to extinguish the fire, a new fire or an explosion, the system will empty the other two tanks in the compartment concerned and light another red LED on the commander’s panel.

One B1 Centauro and an IFV Puma 4×4 sent to Lebanon for UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) in UN camouflage pass in front of another patrol equipped with M113 for a reconnaissance. Photo taken south of the city of Tiro. Source stpauls.it.

Engine and transmission

The Centauro has a 520 hp IVECO 8262 V6 engine, the same as the VCC-80 DARDO. This engine can use two types of fuel, diesel or JP-8 (Jet Propellant 8, NATO name F-34). At an average speed of 70 km/h, the Centauro has a road range of 650 km. It has an automatic transmission, the ZF 5 HP 1500 (AT), produced under license by FIAT, which has five forward and two reverse gears. The steering axles of the vehicle allow it to have a turning radius of only nine meters.

Differential of the B1 Centauro. Source: pinterest.com

The suspension is of the McPherson type. The pneumatic Michelin 14.00R20 tires are of the run-flat type which allow the vehicle to move even with all eight wheels perforated, obviously reducing the maximum speed for over 80 km. The wheels have a CTIS (Central Tyre Inflation System) to allow the driver to control the tire pressure and adapt it to the terrain, from 1.5 bar to 4.5 bar permitting the B1 Centauro to operate in the most extreme terrains. The vehicle’s low ground pressure allows it to maneuver over rocks, sand, mud, snow, and, generally, on most soft and rough terrain. Its maximum speed is about 130 km/h with a road cruising speed of 110 km/h. It can handle a maximum gradient of 60% and ford, without preparation, 1.5 m of water. The Centauro can overcome vertical obstacles with a height of 0.6 m.

The engine and transmission of a B1 Centauro in an Italian military hangar along with a VCC-1, the Italian version of the M113, on the right. Source: militarypedia.com

Operational service

The Centauro was developed for reconnaissance and for use against tanks in Italy. However, it has been deployed in different environments, being used in the harsh winters of the Balkans and in the hot African deserts with good results.

The first vehicles were delivered to the Reggimenti di Cavalleria (Eng. Cavalry Regiments) in 1992 which until now have employed them in various operations:

May 2017 one B1 Centauro and one IFV Freccia were supported by a helicopter during the training “Saber Junction 17” in the German Joint Multinational Readiness Center of Hohenfels. Source: Esercito.difesa.it

2° Reggimento “Piemonte Cavalleria”

In the months of May and June 1999 and in the same period of 2000, the regiment was deployed in Hungary and Poland for carrying out joint exercises with mechanized and armored forces of other nations.

From July to November 2000 and from March to August 2001, a squadron of volunteers was sent to SFOR (Stabilization Force) for peacekeeping in Bosnia.

After 2006, the regiment has been sent several times to Operation Leonte in Lebanon. In 2015, it participated in the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) for the Malian Army.

In 2017, the Regiment again sent a battalion to Mali for the European Union Training Mission and another battalion participated in the Clever Ferret Exercise 2017 in Hungary. There, on the Varpalota range, with the 7° Reggimento Alpino, it worked together with Hungarian and Slovenian forces of the “Multinational Land Force” in activities never previously carried out jointly.

B1 Centauro armed with two Beretta MG42/59 during training in 2016. Source: pinterest

3° Reggimento “Savoia Cavalleria”

On 6 April 2004, during the Battle of the Nassiriya Bridges in Iraq, eight Centauros were used to support four companies of Italian soldiers (two from the 11° Reggimento Bersaglieri, one from the Reggimento Anfibio “San Marco” and the last from the 132° Reggimento “Ariete”) with the order to capture the three bridges over the Euphrates River. The B1s were used to capture the last of the three bridges, ‘Charlie’, the furthest away from the city and the most heavily protected.

As soon as the Centauro and the VCC-1s (Italian license-built M113s) carrying the Italian soldiers arrived, they were hit by intense fire from Iraqi militants. The only target for the Centauros 105 mm guns was a building occupied by sniper militiamen, but only after they made sure of not hitting any civilian targets. Five vehicles opened fire for a total of six rounds fired, which completely destroyed the building eliminating the threat. The militiamen, in order not to have to surrender or retreat, began to use hostages.
After three hours of negotiations between the Italian Army and the terrorists, an agreement was reached and the hostages were freed.

Italian B1 Centauro and C1 Ariete during the “Antica Babilonia” peacekeeping mission, Iraq 2004. Source sobchak.wordpress.com

6° Reggimento “Lancieri di Aosta”

From 2001 to 2006, one squadron of the regiment took part in NATO operations in the Balkans (Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo). In 2006, all the squadrons were sent to Kosovo and Metohija (32 Centauros in total). It also took part in Operation “Leonte 6” in Lebanon, within the framework of the United Nations Interim Force mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL), deployed with the 132ª Brigata Corazzata “Ariete”. In particular, the Regiment was given the task of controlling the south-western area of the West Sector of UNIFIL, where the Blue Line, the armistice line between Lebanon and Israel, is located. The soldiers of the regiment had the task of guarding the only point of international passage between the two countries.

B1 Centauro at the Italian Army Day in the Circo Massimo, Rome in 2008. Source Flikr.com

8° Reggimento “Lancieri di Montebello”

The regiment was the first deployed to Somalia with eight Centauros, on September 23, 1992. Over four months, these covered an average of 8,400 km each. They were employed as part of the UNOSOM mission (United Nations Operation in Somalia).

On  July 2, 1993, after a weapons-gathering mission called “Canguro 11” in Mogadishu, a mechanized column composed of VCC-1 and VM-90 was blocked on the street near an abandoned Barilla pasta factory (hence the name, ‘Battle of Checkpoint Pasta’) by protesting civilians. Shortly afterward, militiamen of the Somali National Alliance arrived and began firing on the Italian soldiers with light weapons and RPG-7Ds. After heavy fighting, another column of Italian vehicles also reinforced with eight B1 Centauros came to the rescue of the first.

The rules of engagement for the armored vehicles denied them the use of their main armament in order to avoid civilian casualties, so the B1s opened fire with their machine guns. After having rescued some wounded soldiers from a VCC-1 hit by rocket launchers, the last B1 Centauro was about to retreat with the rest of the vehicles in the direction of the international bases. It was at this point that Second Lieutenant Andrea Millevoi, commander of the Centauro battalion present in the battle, was hit and killed by a Somali sniper while shooting his MG42/59 to cover the retreat.

A column of B1s from the 19° Reggimento “Cavalleggeri Guide”, parked on the side of the road. They are being overtaken by an italian Leopard 1A2 with an A5 turret during a stop. Source: militarypedia.com

19° Reggimento “Cavalleggeri Guide”

In 1992, the regiment was sent to Somalia, where it took part in the Mission ITALFOR (the Italian component of the UNOSOM mission). During a patrol, in unclear circumstances, one of its Centauros overturned, causing the death of one of its crew members.

Later, in the Balkans, the regiment took part in the Missions Implementation Force (IFOR) and SFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1995 to 2004.

October 1996, Sarajevo. A B1 Centauro of the 19° Reggimento “Cavalleggeri Guide” during a patrol, on the hull’s side, IFOR is written on the add-on armor and the Regiment’s badge can be seen on the turret. Source airpressonline.it.

The 1° Reggimento “Nizza Cavalleria”, 4° Reggimento “Genova Cavalleria”, and the 5° Reggimento “Lancieri di Novara” participated in 2002 in an exercise in the Egyptian desert along with other Italian regiments. From 2006 to 2007, they were deployed in Lebanon.

Some B1 Centauro of the “Genova Cavalleria” during training in the September 2018. Source Esercito.difesa.it

Versions of the B1 Centauro

B1 Centauro

The basic version of the vehicle, of which 485 were produced. The first 100 vehicles did not have the spaced armor (at the time not yet produced) used in Somalia and after the adding of the armor used to date. Twenty vehicles have been upgraded with the application of additional ROMOR-A type armor to make up for the poor protection.

The second version was produced with removable additional 15 mm armor on the sides of the hull and on the standard turret. This second version encompassed the vehicles from 101 to 250. The third and last version, from 251 to 400, while also having the turret additional armor, was lengthened by 22 cm at the back (and therefore defined as Lungo “long” long in English). This allows the Centauro to transport 4 infantry on folding seats after removing the two ammunition racks inside the hull.

From left to right, a B1 Centauro “Long”, a B1 Centauro, a IFV Puma 4×4 and another B1 Centauro parked after a patrol in Lebanon. Source militarypedia.com

B1 Centauro 120 mm

Version with a HITFACT-1 turret (Highly Integrated Technology Firing Against Combat Tank) produced by Leonardo Defense Systems. Prototyped sometime after 2000 but not accepted for service in the Italian Army. It is armed with an OTO-Melara 120/45 cannon and new protection against 40 mm armor-piercing rounds. The total amount of ammunition carried is unknown, but a CIO Brochure of this wheeled vehicle stated that the turret basket holds nine 120 mm rounds instead of the fourteen 105 mm rounds in the normal Centauro.

The vehicle was presented at IDEX 2003 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and in the same year Oman ordered nine with a 650 hp engine. This model helped CIO to develop the B2 Centauro.

B1 Centauro with 120 mm cannon and new HITFACT-1 turret armed with a Beretta MG42/59 and a Browning M2HB at the INDEX 2003. Source difesa.forumfree.it

Centauro II MGS or B2 Centauro

On 19 October 2016, CIO officially presented the new Centauro II MGS 120/105 model of which 136 will be produced for the Italian Army under the name of B2 Centauro. The new version features a completely redesigned steel body specially designed to better resist IED and mine explosions. It has a new 720 hp V8 engine and a Cannone OTO-Melara da 120/45 LRF main gun (which can be replaced on demand with an old 105/52) in a new HITFACT-2 turret. In July 2018, a contract was finalized for the acquisition of the first 10 units of B2 Centauro.

B2 Centauro at the Cecchignola testing center 2018. Analisidifesa.it

Centauro 155/39 LW

In the late ’80s, CIO developed a self-propelled howitzer version of the B1 called Pegaso, armed with a FH-70 155/36 cannon without a turret. It was a bit longer and heavier than the standard B1. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the project was abandoned until 2007, when IVECO-FIAT and Leonardo-Finmeccanica (new name of the OTO-Melara) designed a new self-propelled howitzer for the international market. This vehicle is meant to equip armored divisions with a powerful mobile self-propelled gun. A prototype was completed at the end of 2010, mounting a latest generation 155/39 gun based on the German FH-70 howitzer. It can shoot up to a distance of 60 km with a muzzle velocity of 800 m/s, but it can only carry 8 rounds. The turret has an automatic loader with fully electronic rangefinders and alarms. The commander and the gunner each have a computer at their disposal. The gunner’s computer calculates and sets the elevation of the gun to hit the targets and gives indications (and applies them) on what type of ammunition should be used to inflict the maximum damage to the target.

The Pegaso SPG on hull B1 Centauro. Source: reddit.com
Centauro 155/39 LW source: Military-Today.com
From right to left: the B1 Centauro, the self-propelled anti-aircraft Draco turret on a B1 Centauro hull and the Centauro 155/39 LW in Rome during the ceremony for the anniversary of the Italian Republic on June 2, 2011. Source difesa.forumfree.it.

B1 Centauro SIDAM-25

In 1979, in order to protect mobile units of the Italian Army from air attacks, the Sistema Italiano di Difesa Aerea Mobile, 25 mm, or more simply SIDAM-25 (Italian Mobile Air Defence System, 25 mm) project was born. It entered service in 1987.

Developed by OTO-Melara, it consists of a turret with a weight of about 3 tons and armed with four Oerlikon KBA-BO2 25/80 caliber Oerlikon guns with a firing rate of 2,400 rounds per minute. Each 108 kg cannon has a magazine of 150 rounds for a total of 600 shells ready to use.

The Oerlikon cannons can fire SAPHEI (Semi-Armor Piercing High-Explosive Incendiary) and HEI (High-Explosive Incendiary) anti-aircraft ammunition and APDS (Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot) that can destroy lightly armored vehicles, such as APCs and IFVs.

The maximum range for anti-aircraft fire is 2,500 m, while the effective range normally drops to 1,800/1,500 m. The turret has a two-man crew consisting of the commander and the gunner.

OTO-Melara proposed the turret to the Italian Army, mounted on the hull of the M113 APC and the OTO-Melara C13 multi-purpose vehicle. The turret was also presented to the Spanish Army, which tested it on an appropriately modified BMR-600 6×6 APC.
OTO also presented to the Italian Army a study proposing the SIDAM-25 turret on the B1 Centauro chassis.

This vehicle would have had three crewmen and a considerable ammunition supply on board. The weight was reduced to about 21 tons and the speed and range were increased.

The SIDAM-25 turret on an M113. Source: pinterest.com

The Italian Army, however, rejected the project together with another one, also proposed by OTO-Melara, of a missile self-propelled anti-aircraft on the B1 Centauro chassis.

The vehicle would have been armed with MIM-146A ADATS (Air Defense, Anti-Tank System) missiles mounted on a 4-ton turret developed by Oerlikon-Contraves, able to sight air targets at a distance of over 24 km.

The missiles, designed by Martin Marietta, weighed 51 kg, with a diameter of 15.2 cm and a length of 2.05 m. They could reach a speed of over Mach 3 (over 3675 km/h) and had an anti-aircraft range of 10 km and 6 km for anti-tank duties.

The extraordinary peculiarity of these missiles was their versatility. Thanks to their HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) warhead, they could be used both against heavily armored targets and aircraft.

OTO-Melara never built prototypes and the projects were abandoned after the refusal by the Italian Army.

A MIM-146A ADATS launched by a modified M113 with the Oerlikon-Contraves turret. Source: russiantank.com

DRACO SPAAG

The DRACO anti-aircraft turret was developed by OTO-Melara as a private project. It is a further development of the previous OTOMATIC SPAAG developed in the mid-1980s. When designed, the OTOMATIC was ahead of many anti-aircraft artillery systems of the time in terms of the range and caliber of the cannon, however, it was never accepted into service. The DRACO was first unveiled in 2010. Currently, this system is offered to potential customers but has not received any production orders to date. The DRACO is a remote-controlled turret armed with a Cannone OTO-Breda da 76/62 rapid-fire naval gun. The cannon is equipped with a revolver-type automatic loading system. It can use all the NATO-standard 76 mm anti-aircraft ammunition types and also modern guided ammunition developed by OTO-Melara. It can also use the Davide/Strales anti-missile system, the 42 mm sub-caliber DART anti-missile shells that can adjust their trajectory. The rate of fire is 85 rounds per minute for the ‘Compact’ version and 120 rounds per minute for the ‘Super Rapid’ version, with a muzzle velocity of 1,300 m/s.

The ammunition revolver contains 12 ready rounds and can switch from one type of ammunition to another. Twenty-four additional rounds are contained in the autoloader, located in the hull. Modern SPAAGs are usually equipped with cannons with a caliber between 20 and 40 mm. This large caliber cannon has been selected because of its long-range. In fact, it can hit targets accurately at up to 6-8 km (depending on the target’s speed). The DRACO can attack enemy helicopters or planes before they release their anti-tank guided weapons that normally have a range of less than 6-8 km but, in the event of a successful missile launch, the DRACO can also neutralize the missile in flight thanks to its anti-missile guided rounds.

The previous OTOMATIC anti-aircraft turret system was much heavier and needed to be mated with a tank chassis. The weight of the DRACO turret has been significantly reduced due to improvements in electronics over the past twenty years. It also uses a more compact on-board NA-25X radar that allows the Davide, C-RAM and DART rounds to be radio-controlled. The secondary armament consists of a single 7.62 mm MG3 or 12.7 mm Browning M2HB coaxial machine.

The DRACO weapon system is intended to counter air targets, such as helicopters, airplanes, UAVs, and airborne weapons. It can also be used against land targets such as APCs, Infantry Fighting Vehicles, and in some cases MBTs thanks to its powerful APFSDS-T ammunition. This air defense weapon can be used for combat support operations, defense of supply convoys, point defense, or for coastal defense. The maximum firing range against naval or land targets is 20 km. The unmanned turret can withstand 7.62×39 mm armor-piercing bullets and artillery splinters. An additional protection kit can be installed for added protection.

The DRACO turret requires a crew of two people, commander and gunner. In the case of the system being used on the B1 Centauro hull, the crew increases to three with the addition of a driver.

The DRACO turret can also be installed on 8×8 wheeled vehicles, tracked vehicles, heavy trucks, boats or cemented in shelters.
The DRACO was the first vehicle to mount the SCUDO defense system.

The DRACO anti-aircraft Turret mounted on a B1 Centauro hull. Source: military-today.com

Variants on B1 Centauro chassis

VBM Freccia

The Medium Armored Vehicle (Veicolo Blindato Medio – VBM) VBM Freccia, “Arrow” in Italian (factory name is “Centauro AIFV Freccia”) is an infantry fighting vehicle derived from the Centauro’s hull developed in 1996 by CIO. It is equipped with a Leonardo-Finmeccanica HITFIST-25-Plus turret with a complement of Net-Centric Systems similar to those on the B2 Centauro, like the LOTHAR fire control system and the ATTILA panoramic periscope. It is capable of carrying three crew members (a driver, a gunner and a vehicle commander) and eight fully-equipped infantrymen.

There are several versions in service with the Italian Army, such as the basic vehicle armed with an Oerlikon KBA B03 25/80 cannon and one or two 7.62 mm machine guns (190 vehicles in service), an anti-tank version with the same turret but armed with two SPIKE MR/LR missiles (36 vehicles), a Command Post vehicle with a taller hull but lacking a turret, armed with a remote control machine gun (2 vehicles), a mortar-carrier with a 120 mm THALES 232M (or TDA 2R2M) mortar (21 vehicles) and one prototype anti-tank version armed with an OTO-Melara T60/70A turret armed with a High-Velocity Medium Support (HVMS) 60/70 OTO-Breda cannon and a less powerful version of the TURMS system.

The Italian Army owns 249 Freccias, delivered between 2008 and 2017, in all versions. In 2018 another 381 Freccia VBMs were ordered by the Italian Army. 261 will be the already mentioned versions and 120 will consist of two new versions for reconnaissance that are currently only prototypes. These are the Freccia E1 “Far” with LYRA 10 radar and two mini-UAV launchers and the Freccia E2 “Close” equipped with a JFF (Janus Full Format) sensor, one UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicle) and four SPIKE anti-tank missiles.

Centauro VBM Recovery

The Centauro VBM Recovery is a new Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV) version of the Freccia infantry combat vehicle, intended to serve as an engineering vehicle and for the recovery and repair of damaged armored vehicles on the battlefield.

The vehicle can be equipped with two 7.62 mm MG42/59 or MG3 machine guns for self-defense purposes. The vehicle is equipped, like the VBM Freccia with NBC protection, anti-IED protection, rear ramp and anti-mine seats.

In addition has 100 meter-long hydraulic winch, hydraulic crane, anti-mine device, front blade for clearing rubble or front stabilizer, eight 80 mm smoke grenades, laser alarm system, etcetera. The Centauro VBM recovery vehicle is powered by an IVECO 8262 6V with turbocharger diesel engine with a nominal output of 550 hp. The Spanish Army is the only operator for this version, with 4 vehicles called Vehículo Acorazado de Recuperación y Reparaciones Centauro (VCREC).

The VBM Recovery variant at the Paris Exhibition in 2016, near the Super AV. Source survincity.com

VBTP-MR Guaranì

The Viatura Blindada Transporte de Pessoal – Média de Rodas (Eng. Armored Personnel Carrier Vehicle – Wheeled) or VBTP-MR ‘Guaranì’ is a 6×6 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) developed by IVECO in collaboration with some Brazilian companies for the Brazilian Army. It was designed paralel to the SUPERAV, and as such resembles it. Both the Guarani and the SUPERAV were based on the Freccia hull.

Its main armament is composed of a 12.7 mm machine gun in a remote-controlled turret. There are also proposed versions equipped with 120 mm mortars, anti-tank versions with 105 mm gun (planned on an 8×8 hull).

In the standard version, it can transport 8 fully equipped soldiers, the driver, the commander and a gunner.

It has a maximum road speed of 110 km/h and can achieve about 12 km/h (6.5 nmi) at sea.

The Guaranì is used by the Brazilian Army, which has more than 500 in service and about 1,500 more are under construction. The Lebanese Army currently has 10 of them in service.

An unarmed version of the Guaranì of the Brazilian Army. Source: bocadopovonews.com

IVECO SUPERAV

The IVECO VBA SUPERAV (Amphibious Medium Vehicle – SUrface PERformance Amphibious Vehicle) is an AAV (Assault Amphibious Vehicle) developed from the VBM Freccia and was developed paralel to the Guaranì by IVECO, to replace the old AAV-7/A1 in service in the Italian Army.

It is an 8×8 amphibious vehicle, with a similar hull to the VBM Freccia . In the APC version, it is armed with a 7.62 mm, 12.7 mm or 40 mm grenade launcher HITFIST remote controlled turret and can carry 12 fully equipped soldiers plus the driver and the commander. The IFV version is armed with a 40 mm MK44 Bushmaster IV gun in a remote control turret and can carry 8 fully equipped soldiers plus the driver, the commander and the gunner. Its maximum speed on road is 105 km/h, while at sea it reaches 11 km/h (about 6 nmi).

IVECO has provided for as many variants as for the VBM Freccia: a taller command post with HITROLE turret, an ambulance with three stretchers, a mortar carrier with a 120 mm THALES 232M or TDA 2R2M mortar and an anti-tank version with a pair of rocket launchers for a total of four SPIKE MR/LR missiles.

The SuperAV is produced under license by BAE Systems under the name ACV 1.1, but with some changes, such as just 11 soldiers in the APC version and the lack of mounts for the SPIKE missile launch ramps on the turret in the IFV version.

With the support of IVECO, in 2018, the ACV 1.1 won the competition to replace the US Marines’ AAV-P7s. The US Marine Corps plans to build 400 ACV by 2020 and then move on to produce an updated version called ACV 1.2, still under development. The Italian Army and the Italian Navy are testing some IVECO SuperAV prototypes. If they are accepted into service, they will be produced by IVECO in Italy in Command Post, IFV and anti-tank versions, totaling 40 vehicles, replacing the AAV-7s and Arisgator (Italian amphibious version of the M113).

The IVECO SUPERAV being shown to a possible buyer. Source: military-today.com

Other Operators

Spain

Spain bought 84 B1 Centauro tank destroyers for the Ejército de Tierra to replace some of the older obsolete tanks then in service. The Spanish call them Vehículo de Reconocimiento y Combate de Caballería or VRCC-105 (English – Reconnaissance and Cavalry Fighting Vehicle). 22 vehicles were bought in 1999, all built in Italy and delivered between 2000 and 2001. In 2002, another 62 vehicles were ordered, delivered between 2004 and 2006, but some of the mechanical and electronic parts were made in Spain, built by the Spanish CIO consortium subsidiaries, OTO-Melara Iberica and IVECO-Pegaso and Amper. Among these are the PR4G radio and Rovis digital intercom equipment, so as to have compatibility with other equipment in the Ejército de Tierra.

Two VRC Centauros refueling during a military exercise, probably Trident Juncture 2015. Source: military-today.com

In 2007, the first 22 vehicles that were bought were brought to the level of the others with the addition of the last generation thermal sleeve, the ROVIS intercom system and rearmed with two or three Rheinmetall MG3 7.62 mm machine guns. In 2010, 4 Centauro VBM Recovery were purchased.

The Spanish version is different from the Italian one in some details. An additional spaced armor plate is present on the lower frontal hull, the eight smoke launchers are placed on the sides of the turret, covered by 15 mm spaced armor. The 7.62 mm ammunition boxes for the machine guns are fixed outside the storage rack, on the backs of the new supports for two 20 or 25 liters cans. Also, as already mentioned, the Spanish vehicles use Rheinmetall MG3 machine-guns and not Italian Beretta MG 42/59.

Three VRC Centauros of the Ejército de Tierra during Exercise Trident Juncture 2015. Source: twitter.com

The 84 VRCC-105 are used in three different regiments, 28 at the Regimiento de Caballería “Pavía” No. 4, 28 at the Regimiento de Caballería “Lusitania” No. 8 and another 28 at the Regimiento de Caballería “España” No. 11. They were initially delivered to the Regimiento de Caballería “Lusitania” No. 8 as they are part of the Fuerza de Acción Rápida, a unit destined for rapid deployment by air.

Prototypes of the LT-105 Light Tank, a ‘Direct Fire’ version of the ASCOD IFV (Austrian Spanish COoperation Development) with the HITFACT-2 turret armed with the OTO-Melara 105/52 LRF or the OTO-Melara 120/45 LRF were designed, produced and tested by the Spanish company Santa Bárbara Sistemas.

Spanish VRCC-105. The changes made for the Ejército de Tierra can be noticed, including the frontal spaced armor, the new position of the grenade launchers and the ammo box and can racks on the rear of the turret. Source wikipedia.org.

Oman

Oman has purchased a total of 9 B1 Centauro with HITFACT-1 turrets armed with 120/45 mm guns. They were ordered in 2008 and received in two shipments of 6 and 3 vehicles that were taken over by the Royal Oman Guards and used as heavy support vehicles.

Two B1 Centauro 120/44 without camouflage in the background,with two Turkish-built APC PARS III in the foreground, during training in the Oman desert. Source: defencephotography.com

Jordan

Jordan received 141 B1 Centauro decommissioned by the Italian Army. 24 working vehicles were donated in 2014 and 117 non-functioning were bought in 2015 at a favorable price of 5.58 million Euros (6.2 million dollars).

In November 2017, Spanish Company SDLE (Star Defense Logistic and Engineering) won the competition to modernize around eighty of these tank destroyers. The modifications will concern the modernization of the optics, thermal sleeve and the anti-aircraft machine guns with one or two Browning M2HBs. The armor will certainly be increased with add-on kits and perhaps with reactive armor. The contract also includes maintenance of the vehicles and the training of the Jordanian B1 Centauro crews.

B1 Centauro of the Jordanian Army Forces. Source SDLE Company.

United States

The United States government rented 16 Centauros in 2000 for evaluation and to gain experience for the United States Army with heavy armored cars due to the introduction of the M1126 ICV Stryker and the M1128 MGS armed with the 105 mm M68A1E4 cannon.

The vehicles were all returned in 2002 after the American personnel completed their training.

A B1 Centauro assigned to the US Army, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Fort Lewis, Washington. Source getarchive.net.

Russia

In 2011, the Italian and Russian defense ministers signed an agreement for the transfer of a Centauro B1 “Lungo”, a 25 mm armed VBM Freccia, a 30 mm-armed VBM Freccia and a B1 Centauro with the HITFACT-1 turret armed with a 120/45 cannon.

The vehicles arrived in Russia in the summer of 2012. In October, tests began and the vehicles received favorable reviews from the Russian crews, especially concerning comfort, precision on the move, low recoil, high speed, and excellent driving characteristics even at 110 km/h. In the cold Russian winter, however, there were some problems due to the fact that the vehicles had spent almost a year in storage without moving and revisions. The spare parts that were transported in Russia were few in quantity.

The Russian soldiers who operated these Italian vehicles appreciated them, because their BTR-80 and BTR-82A, similar to the Freccia, are cramped and uncomfortable (despite having more interior space than the Freccia). In addition, their armament is similar (14.5 mm KPVT and 30 mm 2A42 against Oerlikon KBA 25 mm and 30 mm ATK Mk 44). According to the Russians (who could not carry out destructive tests on the Centauro because the contract signed did not allow it), the vehicles were not able to resist an IED explosion. However, even in this respect, Russian soldiers preferred the Freccia and the Centauro as they have better anti-mine characteristics than their BTRs.

Due to the European embargo to Russia for involvement in the War in Donbas, the Italian technicians and vehicles had to be repatriated.

If the project had been completed, as in the case of the IVECO LMV, the Russians would have tested the vehicles with turrets armed with 100 and 125 mm cannons of local production.

The Italian B1 Centauro “Lungo” in Russia during tests. Source: Imgur.com

Colombia

In 2012, the Colombian Army and government created a special commission to inspect armored vehicles (armored cars and tanks) for the modernization of the Ejército Nacional de Colombia (Eng: National Colombian Army). The Centauro, in all its versions, was found to be one of the favorite vehicles for its mobility characteristics that were judged adequate for the Colombian terrain. It is not yet known which vehicle will be chosen, as the commission is still touring Europe, Asia, Russia and North America and the verdict will be issued at the end of the inspection. However, if an order does come through, it will amount to 40 armored cars and 60 tanks from different companies.

LEONARDO mechanics and Colombian officers on a Centauro during Colombian trials. Source: facebook.com

Brazil

In May 2001, a B1 Centauro was tested by the Exército Brasileiro (Eng: Brazilian Army). The vehicle arrived in Brazil together with four technicians, one from FIAT, one from IVECO and two from OTO-Melara, and three other personnel who came for the shooting tests.

B1 Centauro during Brazilian tests. Source: Blindados no Brasil Volume 2 – Expedito Carlos Stephani Bastos

During the off-road driving tests, the vehicle impressed the Brazilian staff and gave great proof of itself on the rough and muddy terrain. On May 27th and 28th, the shooting tests took place in the sandbank of Marambaia, Rio de Janeiro,  also with excellent results.

While stationary, the vehicle fired at a Bernardini Self-Propelled Anti Aircraft gun prototype on a M3 Stuart hull. The ammunition used was APFSDS supplied by the Brazilian Army which originated from a 1973 British supply. Of the various rounds fired, all performed very well, hitting the target at a distance of 1,520 m.

Subsequently, the B1 Centauro fired on the move, targeting a German Marder, which had been tested some years before by the Brazilian Army. Several shots were fired from distances between 1,000 and 2,000 meters, all hitting the target.

The B1 Centauro during the firing tests. In the foreground is a cart with the used shell casings. Source: Blindados no Brasil Volume 2 – Expedito Carlos Stephani Bastos

The Brazilian Army did not purchase any vehicles even though it was offered to Brazil multiple times, but tests showed the obsolescence of some Brazilian vehicles, such as the EE-9 Cascavel.

Conclusion and future

In its career, the B1 Centauro has proven to be a robust vehicle, fast and appreciated by the crews and soldiers who operated it. It has also proven to be a very adaptable platform with several different versions and variants spawning from it. It has even been an export success, albeit moderate, with the B1 Centauro seeing service in other armies around the globe.

For now, the Italian Army is not scheduled to phase out their remaining 259 B1 Centauros. In the coming years, they will be joined by the B2 Centauros in the Cavalry Divisions for reconnaissance and support missions in Lebanon where the Italian Cavalry Divisions are called to intervene.

B1 Centauro prototype, circa 1991
B1 Centauro of the 19° Reggimento “Cavalleggeri Guide” October 1996, Sarajevo.
VRC Centauro of the Ejército de Tierra. The three above illustrations were produced by David Bocquelet
The B2 Centauro during testing at Cecchignola. An illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.

B1 Centauro specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 8,48 (7,63 hull) x 3,05 x 2,73 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 24.7 tons in standard version 26,8 tons with additional armor plates on turret
Crew 4, driver, commander, gunner, and loader
Propulsion IVECO MTCA 8262 V6 diesel by 520 hp
Speed 110 km/h
Range 800 km
Armament OTO-Breda 105/52 LRF with 40 rounds, 3 MG42/59 or MG3 7,62 mm MGs with 4000 rounds
Armor Secret
Total Production 493 B1 Centauro (9 with 120/45mm cannon) excluding the 9 prototypes

Sources

https://www.iveco-otomelara.com/backoffice/global/docs/upload/AD%20387%20pp40-41-pdf

https://www.difesaonline.it/news-forze-armate/storia/la-battaglia-dei-ponti-di-nassiryah-la-prima-offensiva-dellesercito-/

http://www.esercito.difesa.it/comunicazione/pagine/conclusa-esercitazione-iguana–15102.aspx

http://www.esercito.difesa.it/equipaggiamenti/Veicoli-blindati-e-corazzati-da-combattimento/Veicoli-da-combattimento/Pagine/-Blindo-Armata-Centauro.aspx

https://www.army-technology.com/news/news-russia-army-testing-italian-centauro-tank/

https://defense-update.com/20120512-russia-testing-centauro-italian-wheeled-tanks.html

Libano/ I militari italiani si addestrano con gli altri contingenti di Unifil e le forze armate libanesi nell’esercitazione multinazionale “Steel Storm”

http://alternathistory.com/ispytano-v-rossii-kolesnyi-istrebitel-tankov-centauro-120-i-bmp-vbm-freccia-/

https://www.armyrecognition.com/november_2018_global_defense_security_army_news_industry/sdle_from_spain_to_modernize_centauro_105mm_for_jordanian_army.html?

Blindados no Brasil, Volume 2, by Expedito Carlos Stephani Bastos, UFJF Difesa, 2012

Categories
Cold War Italian Armor

M47 Patton in Italian Service

Italy (1952-1989)
Main Battle Tank – 2,580 Purchased

M47 Patton shown in the Museo Storico dei Carristi in Rome. Source: metaldetector.it

The M47 Patton was designed in 1949 by the United States’ military (Detroit Arsenal, US Army, Corps of Engineers, and Corps of Ordnance) to replace the aging US tank fleet of obsolete M4 Shermans, M26 Pershings, and M46 Pattons. It never saw active combat with the US Army, but 8,576 vehicles were built and were extensively used by many nations around the world, such as France, Germany, Italy, Iran and Spain.

History

In 1948, before the Korean War, a new tank was slowly making its way through the acquisition process. The prototype was called T42. This 37.2 ton (33.8 t) tank had a turret with a thicker armor (133 mm against 102 mm) than the M46 Patton, but its 500 hp engine caused a lot of issues and its development bogged down.

At the dawn of the Korean War, the American engineers tried to quickly resolve the problem. The Detroit Tank Arsenal (DTA) took the M46 Patton hull and mounted the heavier T42 turret on it. The turret was armed with the new T119 90 mm cannon, a modernized version of the M3 gun mounted on the previous M26 and M46. The vehicle now weighed 48.6 tons (44.1 t) was provisionally called M46E2 or ‘Patton ll’. After some more modifications, it received the name of M47 Patton and went into production in June 1951, entering service in the US Army shortly thereafter. Despite having been built with the shortcomings of the US experience in Korea in mind, it was never used in action in this war. In 1955, it was replaced in frontline units of the US Army by the more powerful and modern M48 Patton.

A frame taken from a 1959 video of an M47 Patton in service in the Esercito Italiano. Notice the machine gunner position and the T80E6 early type tracks. Source: footage.framepool.com

In the Ranks of the Italian Army

Nine hundred M47 Pattons were supplied to the Esercito Italiano (EI – Italian Army) by the USA within the Mutual Defense Assistance Act, and remained in service from 1952 until the end of 1981 in all armored units, including the Carabinieri Tank Brigade.

The Mutual Defense Assistance Act was a US military aid program to support its allies in the fight against the Communist bloc during the early stages of the Cold War. The program began in 1949 and lasted until the 1970s, and included the supply of military equipment on very advantageous terms. A total of $3.3 billion of surplus military vehicles were received by several European states, such as France, Spain, Belgium, Norway and Italy, which, due to their proximity to the USSR and their underdeveloped war industry in the late 1940s and early 1950s, received mostly tanks, but also war planes, submarines and warships.

When it first entered service, the M47 Patton replaced the WW2-vintage and obsolete Semoventi M41 and M42 da 75/18, M4 Shermans, and other vehicles based on the Sherman hull of the Italian Army. The Shermans were sold off to the Israelis or used as driver training vehicles until 1960 and they were then scrapped.

The 90 mm M36 gun of the Patton was much appreciated by the Italian tankmen who could now deploy vehicles capable of facing the most powerful Soviet vehicles of the time, such as the T-55. Italy then received two more batches of M47 Pattons, the first in 1962, when the Italian Army obtained another 1,000 M47s, bought at a discount price from the US Army, which was decommissioning them. Finally, in 1969, another 600 vehicles were bought from the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) which had retired them from service. After the acquisition of the German batch, the Italian Army owned 2,580 M47 Pattons, 30% of the entire M47 production. The camouflage was not changed and remained the typical US Army olive drab.

The vehicles used by Italy were provided with all three types of muzzle brakes, the early one also mounted on the M46 Patton, the mid one with two side holes, and a few later ‘T’-shaped ones used on the M48 Patton.

The three models of muzzle brakes used on the M47 Patton. Source: pinterest.com

Italian modifications

From the late ’50s up to 1960, all the Italian M47s were modified in Italian factories by removing the hull machine gun and covering the hole with an armor plate, eliminating the hull machine gunner’s seat and the 7.62 mm side rack. The hull machine gunner’s hatch was sealed by welding it to the hull and the periscope was removed. However, the emergency hatch door under the machine gunner’s seat was left. This change reduced the crew to 4 men. The Browning M1919 coaxial machine gun was replaced by an Italian-made Beretta MG42/59 7.62 mm and the 60-round rack in the hull was modified by adding more armor. Also, the radio equipment was changed and the standard radio SCR-528 was changed with the SCR-508 which was previously mounted only on the platoon command tanks. On the platoon command tanks, the radio was changed with a more powerful Magneti Marelli radio that had a 150 km range. All the tanks received 23 inch (58 cm) wide T84E1 tracks instead of the old T80E6 type used on the M46 Patton. The early type muzzle brakes were all substituted with mid type ones.

An Italian M47 Patton during training in a forest. The Italian M47s were modified by removing the hull machine gun. This is probably a platoon command vehicle, as it has painted white bands on the mudguards. Source: antoniobassetti.org

Italian M47 Patton Battalions

At the end of 1952, after crew training, the M47 Patton went to equip some Italian regiments. On 29th December 1952, the 132nd Tank Regiment “M.O. Secchiaroli” of the Armored Division “Ariete” received 315 M47 Pattons. On 1st January 1953, the 4th Tank Regiment “M.O. Pentimalli” of the Armored Division “Pozzuolo del Friuli” received 315 M47 Pattons. In mid-January 1953, the 31st Tank Regiment “M.O. Cracco” of the Armored Division “Centauro” received 315 M47 Patton.

The Divisional Scouting Battalion (Battaglione Esplorante Divisionale – BED) of the Infantry Divisions “Granatieri di Sardegna”, “Legnano” and “Folgore” received 51 M47s each.

The second batch of US-bought vehicles arrived in 1962. They equipped the Tank Battalion and the Divisional Scouting Group (Gruppo Esplorante Divisionale – GED) of the Mountain Divisions “Cremona” and “Mantova”, partly replacing the old M24 Chaffee. In total, the two divisions had 156 tanks, of which about 100 were M47 Patton.

In 1963, the entire Armored Division “Ariete” and Armored Division “Centauro” were equipped with the M47, replacing the older M26 Pershing in the Cavalry and Scouting Regiments. The older Second World War tanks in their use were later scrapped.

Some of the 1,000 ex-US tanks were not immediately modified due to a workers’ strike involving many Italian factories in 1959, including those where the tanks were converted. In those years the left-wing parties in Italy had more than 38% of the support and fearing that the striking workers might use the M47 Patton for rebel purposes, the police harshly suppressed the strikes and demonstrations.

After the strikes were quelled and normality was restored, the last M47 modifications were finished in late 1963. In mid-1964, they were put into service in other Italian regiments. The 1st Armored Bersaglieri Regiment of the 131st Armored Division “Centauro” received 157 M47 Pattons and, at last, the Cavalry Brigade “Pozzuolo del Friuli” was equipped with about 200 M47s.

At that time, the Italian tank battalions were organized in platoons with 4 tanks and a platoon command tank. A company had 16 tanks, three platoons plus a company command tank. The battalion had 51 tanks, with three companies plus three command tanks. A regiment had 157 tanks, three battalions plus 4 command tanks.

In total, an Italian Armored Division fully equipped with M47 Pattons was in possession of 315 tanks plus a Cavalry Squadron Group with 17 tanks, an Armored Cavalry Regiment with 52 tanks, three squadron groups plus commander tank and a Divisional Scouting Battalion with 51 tanks. A total of 1,901 M47 Patton were in active service in the Italian Army in 1967.

A color image of an M47 Patton, probably taken in the early ‘50s. The machine gunner’s position is still present. Source: antoniobassetti.altervista.org

After 1962, the new commander of the Arma dei Carabinieri (Arm of Carabinieri), Giovanni de Lorenzo, asked the Italian High Command to arm his Carabinieri, the military police, with these powerful tanks.

After many requests, in mid- or late-1963, the Italian Army agreed, and in 1964, part of the new M47s were supplied to the 11th Mechanized Brigade of the Carabinieri. Fifty went to arm the Brigade while another unclear quantity was supplied to the Carabinieri Vehicle Maintenance schools to familiarize the crews with these tracked vehicles. The Carabinieri crews would have followed the training course in the Training School like normal tank crews of the Italian Army and then, after the tests were finished, they would be able to operate on the Carabinieri vehicles.

Carabinieri recruits of the 7th Battalion during Exercise Polygon by River Meduna, being trained with an M47 Patton. The uniforms are from the Italian Army but the fulard and the caps they wear are of the Arma dei Carabinieri. The shell in the soldier’s hand is a DM 502, a training HE-P (High-Explosive – Plastic) shell. The tank is equipped with a ‘T’ muzzle brake. Source: armorama.com

In 1967, it was discovered that Carabinieri commander General de Lorenzo intended to stage a fascist coup in Italy to eliminate all the politicians of the Partito Comunista d’Italia (PCI – Communist Party of Italy) and the Partito Socialista d’Italia (PSI – Socialist Party of Italy), who at that time were gathering momentum in Italy.

The plan was foiled and, in order to prevent another coup, the Army requisitioned some of the Carabinieri’s tanks. Twenty remained in service until 1970, when they were sent from their headquarters in Rome to Reggio Calabria, southern Italy, due to political problems. There, violent clashes were erupting in the city between the Police and the Carabinieri on one side, and the citizens of the city on the other.

Only a few M113s were used during the months of the confrontations in Reggio Calabria. The M47 tanks were never used, but they served as a deterrent to avoid attempts by citizens to occupy the city by force.

M47 Patton tanks belonging to the Carabinieri brigade on a train bound for Reggio Calabria. Sorce: lagazzettaonline.info

Many sources, such as L’M47 Patton Nell’Esercito Italiano, state that in 1969, entire M47 Pattons were buried and some M47 turrets were mounted in special concrete boxes and used as bunkers in the fortifications of the Alpine Wall, a series of defensive lines positioned in the eastern border of Italy to defend against hypothetical attacks by the armies of the Warsaw Pact. None of the fortifications employed M47s, as it was preferred to use the obsolete M26 Pershing tanks which had a similar armament to that of the M47 Patton. Some images are available on the web that show some 90 mm M36 cannons mounted in anti-tank bunkers. These were probably mounted in the 70s.

A photo showing two Italian infantrymen next to an M36 90 mm gun of an M47 Patton in a concrete bunker. Source: associazionenazionalefantiarresto.it

In the 1970s, the Italian Army received an improved version from many Italian companies, which developed them as private projects such as OTO Melara in La Spezia, Officine Marconi and Astra, all of which made a single prototype using M47 tanks.

OTO prototype version

In mid-1967, a prototype of the M47 Patton ‘Italiano’ was started. The changes made by OTO Melara were the replacement of the 90 mm cannon with a British Royal Ordnance L7 105 mm L.52 NATO cannon on the mounts for the existing M36. The Continental AV-1790-5B petrol engine was substituted with a more efficient AVDS-1790-2A diesel engine of the M60 Patton, whilst the 1,055-liter fuel tanks were left unchanged. A heat suppressor to reduce the infrared signature was also installed. The General Motors CD-850-4 gearbox was substituted with the M60 Patton’s hydraulic gearbox, a new design of the final reduction drives. A new electrical system and a redesigned diesel feeding system with diesel filters were other modifications.

The prototype was ready in early 1968. It could carry 56 rounds, 10 in ready racks and 46 in a new armored and fireproof rack in the hull. A Fire Control System (FCS) and a computerized optical sight were also added.

The vehicle’s range was increased from 160 to 400 km (60% more) according to the tests carried out in 1968.

An M47 Patton rearmed with the 105 mm L7 cannon at the OTO-Melara factory of La Spezia, North Italy, early ‘70s. Source: OTO Melara

Marconi prototype version

Starting in 1969, Marconi also produced an upgraded version, only a prototype was built, mostly with regards to the firing systems. It added a brand new fire control system and sights and replaced the original stereoscopic rangefinder with a more efficient one made in Italy.

It was also proposed to transform the tank into a Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG). An Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV) version was also proposed later, re-engined with the 525 hp General Motors 12V-71T diesel, but this was not a success.

Other prototypes

In 1967, three other factories proposed an engine upgrade of the M47. These were the FIAT Military Vehicles company with a Continental engine, the ISI Company with an MTU MB 838 CaM 500, 10-cylinder multi-fuel with a power of 820 hp, the same engine of the Leopard 1, and the Servizio Tecnico di Motorizzazione with an unidentified diesel engine.

Astra also presented upgrade projects for the turret and for the gun elevation mechanisms.

During 1968, all the four upgrade versions were homologated and presented to the Italian Army, which submitted them to rigorous trials to test the efficiency of the new engines and the stress on the frame from the 105 mm cannon gun in the OTO version.

On October 10th of the same year, the OTO prototype with the 105/52 cannon was presented to the Pakistani and Spanish delegations. Both armies wanted to modernize the M47 Pattons in service in their countries and were invited by OTO Melara in the hope of finding buyers. During the tests, the vehicle reached a maximum speed of 73 km/h and hit targets over 4,500 m away. The performance, however, did not achieve the desired results of the two delegations, which did not order any vehicles.

The Spanish produced their own version, possibly inspired by the OTO Melara project. This new tank was called the M47E2 Patton and was armed with the 105 mm L/52 Rheinmetall Rh-105 cannon of the Leopard 1 and received other small changes.

The Spanish M47E2 Patton. Source: otm-uswot.blogspot.com

The 46.8-tonne heavy tank was equipped with the M60 engine that increased the speed up to 56 km/h and, as in the OTO Melara model, the autonomy was increased to 400 km.

No vehicle was converted because the Italian Army was not interested in updating the M47 Patton preferring to buy other vehicles such as the Leopard 1, which was tested in 1970 and between 1971 and 1972, 200 Leopard 1s and 69 Leopard ARVs were acquired by Italy.

Top view of the OTO prototype armed with the 105 mm L7 cannon and the M60 engine deck. Source: reddit.com

The scrapping of the M47 tanks began in the late seventies. One hundred re-engined M47s, some from OTO Melara and others from Marconi, were given to the dictatorial regime of Mohamed Siad Barre in Somalia. They were used in the Ogaden War to balance the supply of Soviet material to Ethiopia. They were employed in the war with great success, fighting toe-to-toe with the Ethiopian T-34-85 and T-55. In the civil war that broke out a few years later, they were again employed but this time, due to a lack of spare parts, they were soon put out of use and employed in fixed positions.

A Somali child armed with a WW2-era PPSh-41. In the background, an M47 Patton is abandoned. Source: gettyimage.com

With the advent of the more modern M60A1 and Leopard 1A2, the M47 was gradually discontinued. The last vehicles were in service in the 1980s with the Armored Schools and the Brigades with less operational readiness (Aosta, Acqui, Friuli and Cremona). In Italy, the last M47 Patton was replaced from the second line units when the B1 Centauro tank destroyer entered service in 1989.

Conclusion

The M47 Patton II, produced to provide the US Army with a simple to manufacture and inexpensive tank, was replaced from US service as soon as possible in favor of much more efficient and powerful vehicles. In Italy, it was appreciated for its performances as, until 1952, the Italian Army still mostly employed tanks from the Second World War, such as the Semovente da 75/18 or the US M4 Sherman. Used until the late ‘80s, the M47 was for many years the main tank of the Italian Tank Corp before the service entry of the more powerful M60 Patton and Leopard 1A2.

An Italian M47 Patton showing the M2 Browning machine-gun and the mantlet canvas cover. An illustration by Ardhya Vesp Anargha

Sources

Rivista ufficiale Esercito Italiano 1980
L’M47 Patton Nell’Esercito Italiano – Filippo Cappellano, Fabrizio Esposito, Daniele Guglielmi
Patton: A History of the American Main Battle tank, Volume 1 by R.P. Hunnicutt

M47 specifications

Dimensions L x W x H 27 ft 11 in x 11 ft 6 in x 10 ft 1 in
(8.51 m x 3.51 m x 3.32 m)
Total weight, battle ready 45.45 tons (46.17 tonnes)
Crew 5
Propulsion Continental AV-1790-5B 12-cylinder, 4 cycle, petrol/gasoline 810 hp
Top Speed 30 mph (48 km/h)
Operational maximum range 80 miles (129 km)
Armament 90 mm M36 (T119E1) gun in M78 mount in turret, 71 rounds
Additional Armament 2x 7.62 mm Beretta MG42/59 machine guns, 4000 rounds
1x .50 cal Browning M2 HB machine gun, 500 rounds
Armor 0.5 to 4.5 inches
(13 mm to 144 mm)
Production 2580 used by the Italian Army, about 100 modernized with a diesel engine
Data source Patton: A History of the American Main Battle tank, Volume 1 by R.P. Hunnicutt