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Has Own Video WW2 US Prototypes

75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T18

United States of America (1942)
Self-Propelled Gun – 2 Mild Steel Prototypes Ordered, 1 Built

With the onset of the Second World War in 1939, the United States began rapidly developing new self-propelled guns to modernize their antiquated ground forces, which were only equipped with towed guns. In early 1941, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company submitted their proposal for a fully enclosed self-propelled gun based on the chassis of the M3 Stuart Light Tank. This vehicle was designated as the 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T18. Two mild steel prototypes were ordered in 1942, but only one vehicle was completed before the termination of the T18 project.

A three-quarter view of the 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T18 pilot. Source: tankarchives.ca

The Beginnings of American Self-Propelled Guns

In 1918, at the end of the First World War, the United States began developing domestic self-propelled guns. These vehicles were inspired by French designs of the time, such as the Canon 155 mm GPF sur affût-chenilles St Chamond, and based on Holt tractors. However, with the end of the war arriving sooner than expected, just a handful of these self-propelled guns were actually produced. These completed vehicles were used as a basis for future mechanized artillery development, but large-scale budget cuts in the early 1920s severely hindered any further experimentation.

French crewmen and their Canon 155 mm GPF sur affût-chenilles St Chamond. These St Chamond-based self-propelled guns arrived too late to see service in World War 1. However, the Americans took note of the design and began developing similar vehicles of their own. Source: landships.info
An American Holt-based Mark I SPG, one of three built for testing in 1918. The massive gun is the Vickers Mark VIII 8 in (203 mm) howitzer. Source: landships.info

American self-propelled gun development remained relatively stagnant for many years, with the United States’ first (and, until World War 2, only) mechanized artillery regiment, the 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery, being established in 1934. They were equipped with vehicle-towed 75 mm Pack Howitzer M1s, far from state-of-the-art. By the time World War 2 began, this was the only battalion of mechanized artillery in the United States Army.

A 75 mm Pack Howitzer M1A1 preserved at the American Military Museum in California. Source: author’s own

As war began in Europe, a rushed re-militarization effort began in the United States. A single battalion of towed light howitzers would be nowhere near enough firepower for the upcoming global conflict, so field artillery battalions were restructured, and modern designs for future self-propelled guns were pursued. Of course, it takes a not-insignificant amount of time to develop and produce an entirely new vehicle, so an expedient solution was chosen. This resulted in the 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T30, an M3 Half-track mounting a 75 mm Pack Howitzer M1A1. The T30 was rushed into service while development of a proper self-propelled gun continued.

A T30 Howitzer Motor Carriage in the United Kingdom, 1943. Around this time, the T30 was being replaced in service by the M8 HMC. Source: public domain

75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T3

An early proposal for a self-propelled gun based on the Combat Car M1 was submitted in 1939. This vehicle, designated 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T3, had a rather interesting design. The turret and upper hull of the Combat Car were removed and a short superstructure was constructed. The T3 HMC featured two guns: a 75 mm howitzer M1A1 in the right side of the superstructure and a .30 caliber machine gun located inside a modified M2A3 Light Tank turret on the top of the superstructure. Curiously, due to the lack of a proper gun mounting, a pair of doors could close around the howitzer to protect the crew. However, the doors had to be opened to traverse the gun, creating an opening in the casemate front. The vehicle’s armor was quite thin, at a maximum of only .625 in (15.9 mm) thick on the front of the machine gun turret and hull. Mobility was similar to the Combat Car M1, although the vehicle accelerated slower due to its increased weight.

The T3 HMC with its barrel-adjacent doors opened. Source: tankarchives.ca

The T3 HMC had a crew of three: gunner, loader, and driver. Even with a crew this small, the T3’s interior was still quite cramped. Issues reloading the howitzer and operating the machine gun were made apparent during testing. These poor crew ergonomics led to the T3’s eventual cancellation in 1940. With just a single prototype completed, the T3 Howitzer Motor Carriage was not considered successful. However, lessons learned during its development helped influence future self-propelled gun projects.

Development

In June 1941, after the cancellation of the T3 Howitzer Motor Carriage, guidelines for a new self-propelled gun were created. This new vehicle was to act as a close-support vehicle and would mount either a 75 mm or 105 mm howitzer. It was to be based on the chassis of the M3 ‘Stuart’ Light Tank. Almost immediately, the 105 mm howitzer was dropped as a potential armament. The limited size of the M3 chassis would make operating the gun difficult and the howitzer’s weight would cause the vehicle to be front-heavy. With the 105 mm howitzer off the table, two designs mounting a 75 mm howitzer were proposed and evaluated.

The M1E3 Combat Car. This tank shared a chassis with the T17 HMC. Source: tankarchives.ca

The first, designated 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T17, was based on the chassis of the M1E3 Combat Car. This chassis was chosen because of its sizable internal space. However, rather predictably, the T17 was canceled because it did not use the requested M3 Light Tank chassis. The vehicle never left the drawing board. This left just one capable design; the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company’s proposal, the 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T18.

Two views of the wooden T18 HMC superstructure mock-up. Source: Stuart – A History of the American Light Tank

While it might seem unusual that the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company was contracted to produce an armored fighting vehicle, they had a long history of producing various other goods, including tank parts, for the American military. They produced tank tracks, M5 Light Tank turrets, artillery shells, and 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns, to name just a few. Therefore, it was not completely unexpected for Firestone to attempt to develop an entire armored vehicle by themselves.

Dozens of 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns on the Firestone factory floor in April 1944. Source: washingtonpost.com

In October 1941, a wooden mock-up of the T18’s superstructure was produced by Firestone and fitted to an early M3 Stuart chassis. Suitably impressed and ready to suggest improvements, the Ordinance Committee approved the production of two mild steel pilot vehicles. The first pilot was delivered in May 1942, when testing could finally begin.

A front view of the T18 HMC mock-up taken in December 1941. Note the driver’s direct vision slit at the front of the superstructure and the sponson .30 caliber machine gun holes. Source: tankarchives.ca

The 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T18’s Design

At a Glance

The T18 Howitzer Motor Carriage, from the lower hull down, was identical to a standard early production M3 Stuart. Both tanks shared the same lower hull design, suspension, drivetrain, engine, etc. However, the most striking visual change was the T18’s large cast casemate. The Stuart’s upper hull and turret were removed, replaced by the boxy fighting compartment designed to protect and contain the 75 mm main gun and three crew members.

Firepower

The T18 was, much like the T3 HMC before it, armed with the 75 mm Pack Howitzer M1A1. The howitzer was fitted to a modified version of the M3 ‘Lee’ Medium Tank’s 75 mm gun mount and located in the front right of the superstructure. Within the vehicle, 42 rounds of 75 mm ammunition could be carried. For the gunner, an M1 periscopic sight was installed on top of the mount. Gun traverse limits were 15° to either side and between 20° to -5° vertically. The M1A1 howitzer could fire an assortment of rounds, including the M48 High-Explosive shell, the M66 High-Explosive Anti-Tank shell, and the M64 White Phosphorus shell. The M66 HEAT shell would have given the T18 HMC a fighting chance in an engagement with enemy armor. However, with a velocity of just 1,000 ft/s (305 m/s), this shell would have been quite hard to aim at any targets beyond close range. The M66 HEAT shell could penetrate a maximum of 3.6 in (91.4 mm) of armor. This gave the T18 HMC’s howitzer similar penetration to the M4 Sherman’s 75 mm M3 gun. The M1A1 howitzer’s maximum rate of fire was about 8 rounds/min, but even a trained T18 crew would probably not have been able to maintain that volume of fire. Limited by the spatial confines of the vehicle, the crew’s achievable rate of fire would probably have been no higher than 6 rounds/min.

A scale diagram of the M66 HEAT shell. Source: Aerodynamic Data For Spinning Projectiles

To increase the firepower of the T18 HMC, two .30 caliber M1919A4 machine guns were placed in the vehicle’s sponsons. The machine guns were unable to traverse. Therefore, the only way to aim them was by turning the entire vehicle. The machine gun mountings and mounting locations were quite similar to those of the M3 Stuart. A maximum of 4,900 .30 caliber bullets could be carried within the vehicle. With its armament loadout, the T18 HMC could effectively fight as a direct-fire assault gun, neutralizing infantry with its machine guns, demolishing obstacles with high explosives, and even fighting tanks with its HEAT shell.

The T18 pilot and an early production M3 Light Tank. Note the sponson machine guns that both vehicles possess. Sources: tankarchives.ca and afvdb.50megs.com

Protection

The T18 was a reasonably well-protected vehicle. While the cast armor of the casemate was flat, it compensated with pure thickness. The front of the casemate was an impressive 2 in (50.8 mm) thick, which would have offered reasonable protection against 37 mm rounds from a distance. The sides and top of the casemate were 1.25 in (31.8 mm) thick and the rear was just 1 in (25.4 mm) thick. As for the lower hull of the T18 HMC, the armor was unchanged from the M3 Stuart the vehicle was based on. The lower side of the T18 was the same thickness as the casemate side, 1 in (25.4 mm). The heavily sloped upper front plate and cast lower front plate offered .625 in (15.9 mm) and 1.75 (44.5 mm) of protection respectively. Finally, the rear armor of the T18 was 1 in (25.4 mm) thick, while the floor armor ranged from .5 in (12.7 mm) thick at the front of the tank to just .375 in (9.53 mm) thick at the back. Overall, this armor layout was reasonably thick for its time, protecting the vehicle against many of its common threats frontally from a distance.

However, this armor profile had a few disadvantages. Despite its thickness, the T18’s casemate armor was completely vertical. While this design decision increased the available space inside the vehicle, it limited the actual protection the armor could offer. Sloped armor can deflect and deform armor-piercing rounds, helping prevent a penetration. Completely flat armor, however, offers no such benefits. Incoming armor-piercing rounds maximize their penetrative effects. Furthermore, the weight of the casemate’s heavy frontal armor placed significant strain on the vehicle’s suspension. When observing pictures of the T18, the overloaded suspension becomes apparent quickly. The vehicle had a noticeable frontal tilt, as the vehicle’s rather forward center of mass placed much more strain on the forward bogie than it did the rear. Similar issues of front-heaviness plagued other uparmored American tanks, such as the Assault Tank M4A3E2 ‘Jumbo’ based on the M4 Sherman chassis.

Side view of the T18 HMC pilot. Note the strain placed on the front suspension by the vehicle’s heavy frontal armor. Source: Ordinance Department

Mobility

The T18 HMC mounted the same Continental W-670-9A engine as the M3 Light Tank it was based on. This was a gasoline engine capable of producing 250 net hp at 2,400 rpm. Automotive testing of the T18 HMC was successful, revealing only slight differences in mobility between the T18 and a standard M3 Light. Both vehicles could reach the same top speed of 36 mph (58 kph) and had similar automotive characteristics. However, the slight difference in mobility was due to the T18’s increased weight of 14.88 tons (13.5 tonnes). For comparison, the standard M3 weighed only 14 tons (12.7 tonnes). Because of the weight disparity, the vehicles also had different power-to-weight ratios. The T18’s was 16.8 hp/ton (18.5 hp/tonne), while the Stuart’s was 17.86 hp/ton (19.69 hp/tonne). This difference was quite small and likely caused the T18 to accelerate slightly slower than the M3 Stuart. Regardless, having mobility only slightly worse than a very speedy light tank is still quite impressive and the T18 proved that it would have been able to maneuver around quickly and responsively.

A Continental W-670-9A engine. Source: advrider.com

Crew and Ergonomics

The T18 had a crew of just three, consisting of a gunner, driver, and commander/loader. To enter and exit the vehicle, two roof hatches were provided. While the T18 wooden mock-up had only one hatch, a second was added to the pilot at the request of Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Crew conditions inside the vehicle were likely poor. The driver’s only vision source was a single forward-facing periscope, severely limiting his ability to gauge his surroundings while driving. The vehicle did not have any pistol ports to peer through or a commander’s cupola, either. The only other source of precious situational awareness during combat was the gunner’s sight, which could only traverse as far as the gun could. The commander/loader did not have any source of vision at all, a very serious drawback. Understandably, the T18 would have been extremely vulnerable to flanking attacks during combat that it could neither see nor defend against. The vehicle’s lack of a dedicated commander combined with the limited vision of the crew would have resulted in a blind vehicle operated by overworked personnel.

Additionally, ventilation of the main gun was an issue. With no ventilation fans of any type, and a limited internal casemate volume, the vehicle surely would have filled with dangerous fumes when the main gun was fired continually. The only way to ventilate the crew compartment would have been to open the roof hatches, which created another problem. Driving around un-buttoned in the middle of combat is not generally considered to be a good idea, especially in close-quarters fighting. Crews would have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either they could try and ignore the gasses created by the howitzer or they could compromise their protection by opening the roof hatches. However, for the long-range indirect fire duties that T18 crews would have invariably found themselves participating in, opening the hatches would have been a much smaller issue. Far from the frontline and in much less imminent danger, opening the hatches to increase crew visibility and casemate ventilation would have been a no-brainer.

Top view of the T18 HMC pilot. Source: tankarchives.ca

Fate

While the T18 offered some advantages over its predecessors, including thick frontal armor and the usage of a standardized chassis, the project was doomed from the start. A month before the first pilot vehicle was delivered in May 1942, the Ordinance Department canceled the T18 program. Even without a physical vehicle, it was clear that the T18 had many intrinsic issues that made it unfit for service. The vehicle’s flat armor, front-heaviness, lack of vision, and poor gun traverse limits were cited as the main reasons for vehicle’s rejection. The fate of the prototype following this decision is unknown. A popular theory states that the pilot was kept on display at Aberdeen Proving Ground until it was destroyed in 1947. However, this remains unproven and the current location of the prototype, if it survives, remains a mystery.

This photograph of the T18 taken in February 1947 was its last sighting. What became of the vehicle after this is left to speculation. Source: Moose via pintrest.nz

Legacy

The 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T18 was just a single stepping stone in the development of a 75 mm American self-propelled gun. Before the vehicle was even canceled, new development requirements were put forth by the Ordinance Department in December 1941. Reflecting the lessons learned from the T18 program, these requirements requested a self-propelled gun design based on the M5 Light Tank chassis and utilizing sloped frontal armor.

The T41 HMC (left) and T47 HMC (right) wooden mock-ups. The T47 was originally based on the M3 Light Tank chassis before the design was changed to use the M5 Light Tank chassis instead. Source: Stuart: A History of the American Light Tank

In an attempt to satisfy these conditions, two designs were proposed in April 1942. These were the T41 and T47 Howitzer Motor Carriages. The T41 was an open-topped turretless design on the M5 chassis and the T47 was a proposal mounting a new open-topped turret in place of the M5’s standard turret. The T47 was considered to be the best design and, as a result, the T41 was canceled almost immediately. The T47 was continually improved and developed, resulting in the now-familiar turret with the large barrel flash deflector and direct vision hatches in the front of the hull. This new turret combined with the slightly-modified hull of the M5 Light Tank was standardized in May 1942 as the 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage M8 ‘Scott,’ a vehicle that would see widespread service with the United States and its allies via the Lend-Lease program as a successful infantry support weapon.

 

The M8 HMC ‘Scott’ pilot during testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground in September 1942. Source: Stuart: A History of the American Light Tank

 

The T18 Howitzer Motor Carriage in olive green livery, complete with a white star decal on the side of the casemate. Original M3 ‘Stuart’ illustration by David Bocquelet. Modified by Freezer.

75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T18 Specifications

Dimensions (L x W x approx. H) 14’10” x 7’4” x 7’
4.53 x 2.24 x 2.13 m
Weight 14.88 tons
Armament 75 mm M1A1 Pack Howitzer (42 rounds)
2 x .30 caliber M1919A4 Machine Guns (4,900 rounds)
Armor Casemate
Front: 50.8 mm
Side: 31.8 mm
Rear: 25.4 mm
Top: 31.8 mm
Hull
Upper front: 15.9 mm
Lower front: 44.5 mm
Side: 25.4 mm
Rear: 25.4 mm
Engine deck: 12.7 mm
Floor: 12.7 mm to 9.53 mm
Crew 3 (gunner, driver, commander/loader)
Propulsion Continental W-670-9A, 250 hp, 16.8 hp/ton
Top Speed 36 mph (58 km/h)
Suspension Vertical volute spring
Total Production 1 mild steel prototype completed, 2 ordered

Sources

Stuart – A History of the American Light Tank by R. P. Hunnicutt
M7 Priest 105mm Howitzer Motor Carriage by Steven J. Zaloga
M3 & M5 Stuart Light Tank 1940-45 by Steven J. Zaloga
M3 Infantry Half-Track 1940-73 by Steven J. Zaloga
British and American Tanks of World War II by Peter Chamberlain and Chris Ellis
Aerodynamic Data For Spinning Projectiles by H. P. Hitchcock
Work on Sabot-Projectiles by the University of New Mexico under Contract OEMsr-668, and Supplements, 1942-1944 by J. W. Greig
Holt SPGs
Saint-Chamond SPGs
Firestone in World War Two
Tank Archives: T18 HMC: Quick Howitzer
Light Tank M3 Stuart

Categories
Has Own Video Modern North Korean Armor

M2009 Chunma-D

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Late 2000s-Present)
Armored Personnel Carrier – Unknown Number Built

North Korea has, since the 1960s, developed and expanded its military vehicles industry quite considerably. Starting out by locally assembling Soviet vehicles, the country progressively moved onto creating and manufacturing its own vehicles, more and more distinct from original Russian or Chinese inspirations. A key stepstone in this direction was the Cold War-era M1981 light tank, which, while it took inspiration from several Chinese and Soviet designs, was a clear copy or even derivative of none. Though several decades old by this point, a development on the hull of this light tank was first observed by the American Department of Defence in 2009 and given the designation of M2009. Also known as the Chunma-D, this is an armored personnel carrier development of the old light tank – a fairly ironic turn of the affair, as the M1981 itself was based on the chassis of the 323 APC.

M2009s during a parade at Kim-Il Sung Square. The type is the most recently known tracked armored personnel carrier of the Korean People’s Army, though its capacities in a modern war remain more than questionable. Source: m.blog naver

Designation

The M2009 designation follows the standard naming scheme of the US Department of Defence for North Korean vehicles, referring to the year in which the vehicle was first observed in service. In North Korea, the vehicle appears to be known as the “Chunma-D” or, in other transliterations, “Junma-Lee”, with the meaning being the same. Chunma/Junma stands for racehorse, with Lee or D is a transliteration of the fourth letter of the Korean alphabet.

Supposed Origins

As pretty much systematic with North Korean vehicles, the development process of the M2009 is a mystery, with awareness of the vehicle coinciding with its appearance in service of the Korean People’s Army during military parades. Nonetheless, one can at least theorize the potential origins of such a vehicle.

The M2009 is a derivative of the M1981 light tank. Though already not state-of-the-art by the late 1970s/early 1980s when it was first introduced, this light tank has become progressively more obsolete over the decades. As the Republic of Korea Army supplemented its M48 Pattons tank with more and more of the K1, outclassing anything fielded by North Korea, the range of targets that could be engaged with hopes of destruction from the M1981’s 85 mm gun decreased accordingly. As such, it has been theorized the M2009 may have been introduced as a way to repurpose the M1981 assembly chain in order to produce a vehicle, in this case an armored personnel carrier, that would remain relevant – at least to an extent, as the M2009 is still far from a reasonably modern vehicle – and be less hopelessly outdated.

General Characteristics

The M2009 in the configuration it was first observed in. This vehicle bears the flag of the Korean Worker’s Party. The Igla missile is not mounted. The vehicle features some spare track links installed at various places of the hull, as well as the usual shovels and additional equipment. Source: massimotessitori.altervista.org
M1981s light tanks seen in 1985 at Kim-Il Sung square, for comparison. The link between these and the M2009 is obvious, though the APC appears to have a slightly raised up forward compartment. Source: massimotessi.altervista.org

The M2009 is directly based upon the hull of the M1981, and maintains many of its components with little to no apparent changes. This is notably the case of the suspension and engine deck. The hull was originally inspired by the one used in the 323 APC, but lengthened. It uses a six road wheels design, with these road wheels being fairly similar in design to those used on the Soviet PT-76, and generally, Eastern Block amphibious tracked vehicles. The tank uses torsion bars suspension. As for the powerplant, its exact model is unknown, with both 320 and 240 hp engines of various origins having been mentioned. The vehicle notably features a couple of hydrojets, similar in design to the PT-76’s, in order to provide improved amphibious capacities. This feature goes all the way back to the 323, which introduced this to a hull based on the Chinese YW531A that moved on water thanks to the motion of its tracks. The only noticeable changes to the engine deck are the introduction of what appears to be a box – stowage of the Igla anti-air missile has been theorized – and changes to the engine cooling, with a single central grille instead of separate ones. The dimensions of the hull are likely about the same as the M1981, however, the new turret likely changes the height and overall length of the vehicle, and as such only the width can be estimated at about 3.10 m.

Where the vehicle differs from the M1981 is in terms of turret and combat compartment, these having been modified to transform the light tank into an armored personnel carrier. That being said, one may question whether these modifications were enough to create a viable vehicle of this type due to several questionable features.

A fairly low view of two M2009 on the parade, likely at Kim-Il Sung Square. The lower part of the hull is largely identical between the M2009 and the M1981. Source: m.blog naver

Combat Compartment

In comparison to the M1981, the M2009 appears to have a slightly heightened combat compartment. This modification was likely introduced to give more space inside for the dismounts. The hull roof, notably, appears to continue to rise slightly upward, with the turret at its highest point, and not be perfectly flat.

The combat and crew compartment of the M2009 are located to the front. The rear engine configuration of the M1981 was retained on the APC, likely due to the additional costs and delays which would be caused by a deeper transformation of the hull. As a result, the infantry compartment appears to be located just under the turret of the M2009. Two firing ports are present on each side of the vehicle, under the turret. Behind these are what appear to be the main point where the dismounts enter and leave the vehicle, a square-shaped side door of fairly diminutive size. The engine compartment is located just behind, suggesting a limited infantry-carrying capacity, likely not exceeding four to six crew members. In front of the turret, hatches for the driver and either another crew member or perhaps a dismount are present.

The infantry accommodations on the M2009 can be described as fairly questionable at best. The vehicle does not feature rear doors, which is already a fairly archaic feature in modern personnel carriers. Rear doors allow for much easier and less risky evacuation of the vehicle, particularly under fire. In comparison, the side doors of the M1981 would typically provide significantly less protection, and exiting the vehicle under fire, in case of an ambush, for example, would be even riskier than on most other APCs. Not only that, but the diminutive size of the doors would also make the evacuation of the vehicle by soldiers in full gear much harder than on a vehicle with large opening rear doors.

M2009s on the parade at Kim-Il Sung Square, Pyongyang, 2013. As this photo shows, the vehicle retains moderate dimensions and a rear engine deck, with the turret installed right on top of the dismount compartment. As such, it is of limited size and capacity. Source massimotessitori.altervista.org
A rear view of a 323, giving a good view onto the rear door. While fairly small, it remains a far better means of exiting the vehicle in comparison to the even more diminutive, and badly placed side doors of the M2009. Source: war thunder forums

The small space allocated for dismounts means the vehicle almost certainly has a lower infantry carrying capacity than the older 323, which also has the advantage of featuring rear doors. In short, in its primary role of carrying infantry, the 2000s Chunma-D proves inferior to the early 1970s 323. The latter has space for ten (according to North Korean sources even twelve) dismounts that can exit the vehicle from the rear, even though the rear door on the 323 has a fairly small size that can already be considered a fairly lackluster feature.

Turret

An M2009 on parade somewhere in Pyongyang. This gives a good view of the headlights, present to the sides of the top hull hatches, as well as the coaxial machine gun on the right of the dual 14.5 mm KPVs. Source: m.blog naver

The other obvious change the M2009 has in comparison to the M1981 is the replacement of the 85 mm armed turret by another design. The M2009 features a cylindrical turret with two 14.5 mm KPV machine guns as main armament, as with the 323. However, the turret is of a different design. Though some inspiration was likely taken from the old APC’s turret, the M2009 ones introduces a variety of new features.

Though conical, the turret of the M2009 is of a wider type. It appears to retain a single crewmember, with a command cupola located to the rear of the turret. A large boxy bustle, likely for stowage, is also present.

Though the main armament of the turret remains the same two 14.5 mm KPV machine guns of the 323 – an armament which was quite heavy for an APC in the early 1970s, but of which the power is now more moderate, as more heavily protected armored personnel carriers tend to become the norm – the design also introduces a coaxial 7.62 mm. While it may seem a little redundant, this may allow for fire on less important and lighter targets to consume less ammunition. Another addition in comparison to the 323 turret is an external infrared searchlight, likely linked to the main armament by braces, as is often the case on North Korean vehicles. Also included are smoke dischargers, three on each side of the turret, a feature that started being observed on M1981s from 2015 onward.

Similar, though not identical turret designs to the M2009 have been observed on the M2010, a series of 8×8 and 6×6 wheeled armored personnel carriers based on the BTR-80 and introduced around the same time in the Korean People’s Army.

A 6×6 M2010 APC on the parade. Source: pinterest

North Korean Classic: The Igla

A side view of a M2009 Chunma-D in 2013, showing the Igla missile as well as the commander cupola, fairly similar to the one already present on the M1981 in its cylindrical shape, sticking out of the rest of the turret. Source: massimotessitori.altervista.org

North Korean vehicles, for a long time, but especially in recent years, have very often been observed with man-portable anti-aircraft defense systems (MANPADS) stuck onto the vehicles, from the turret of tanks and APCs to even the fixed superstructure of closed or even open-topped self-propelled artillery pieces. Though some of these have been speculated to be only for show, for example, the large Igla battery present on some 323s during a 1992 parade, some may be functional. It ought to be noted that footage of North Korean armored vehicles in training, outside of parade, often shows the vehicles with the missiles omitted.

The M2009 was first seen without an Igla. However, the vehicle always had some sort of rectangular box just rear of the turret, which has been theorized to actually be storage for the Igla missile launcher. The vehicle quickly appeared with an Igla mounted, as early as 2013 and perhaps even earlier. The missile is fixed to the rear of the turret bustle, which raises questions as to its operation, as it likely is hard to access it from the commander cupola, which is located further forward. A single photo tends to suggest a more forward mount is possible though.

M2009s on the parade at Kim-Il Sung square. This photo gives a good view of the position of the Igla towards the rear of the turret, but also of the standard North Korean parading procedure, with vehicles parading in three columns, the leading vehicle bearing the flags of the DPRK, the Korean Worker’s Party, and the Korean People’s Armed Forces. Source: massimotessitori.altervista.org
A rear view of M2009s on the parade. Here, the Igla appears to be, to the author’s eyes at least, placed closer to the commander cupola, a more reasonable installation for the proper operation of the missile. Source: imbcdb.

Conclusion – A Questionable Armored Personnel Carrier

The M2009 is, as of today, the most recent tracked armored personnel carrier which has been spotted in the ranks of the KPA. However, it could easily be described as a fairly questionable design.

Though the turret of the vehicle is likely more advanced than the old 323, the vehicle itself appears to be a far worse platform when it comes to carrying infantry. With a dismount compartment located just under the turret, the infantry complement of the vehicle is likely very moderate. With the engine to the rear being retained, the only option to exit the vehicle for the infantry appears to be small side doors – a very inefficient exit means, and one which is likely very dangerous if the vehicle were ever to fall victim to an ambush. Though the numbers of M2009 produced are obviously unknown, the vehicle has little chance of ever coming close to replacing the ubiquitous 323 armored personnel carrier – which is likely for the better. While it may fare better than the 323 if given, for example, purely reconnaissance or infantry support tasks, the M2009 appears far worse as an infantry carrying platform, with the improved combat capacities likely far too little to justify the vehicle’s defects, particularly as South Korean infantry fighting vehicles such as the K21 and the small fleet of BMP-3 provide massively superior combat features.

The M2009 in plain, standard green camouflage
Parade configuration with the national flag
Parade configuration with the Korean Worker’s Party flag
Later configuration with a two-tone camouflage, and Igla missile mounted
Later configuration with the country flag for parades
Later configuration with the party flag for parades. Illustrations by Godzilla

M2009 Chunma-D specifications (estimations)

Width 3.10 m (estimation)
Weight Between the 323 (~15 tonnes) and the M1981 (~20 tonnes)
Engine Unknown (Perhaps a 320 hp 8-cylinders air-cooled diesel engine or a 6-cylinders water-cooled 240 hp diesel engine)
Suspension Torsion bars
Maximum speed (road) ~60 km/h (estimation from M1981)
Maximum speed (water) ~10 km/h (estimation from M1981)
Range 500 km (estimation from M1981)
Crew Observation suggests 3 (commander, driver, co-driver), perhaps 2 if co-driver is in fact just a dismount
Dismounts Estimated at 4 to 6
Main Armament Dual 14.5 mm KPV machine guns
Secondary armament Coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun
Igla MANPADS
Armor Most likely 10 to 25 mm (estimation from M1981)

Sources

THE ARMED FORCES OF NORTH KOREA, On The Path Of Songun, Stijn Mitzer, Joost Oliemans
http://www.massimotessitori.altervista.org/armoursite/nkindigenoustanks/pt-85/chunma-d.htm
Small arms review
Oryx Blog – North Korean vehicles

Categories
Has Own Video Modern US Prototypes

M113 / M901 GLH-H ‘Ground Launched Hellfire – Heavy’

United States of America (1990)
Missile Tank Destroyer – 1 Built

The AGM-114 ‘Hellfire’ missile was developed by the US Army specifically to counter modern Soviet main battle tanks in a potential clash of superpowers. Thankfully for all concerned, such a conflict did not erupt, the Cold War ending with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, the missile in service proved itself effective in combat and offered advantages over the TOW (Tube-launched Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) missile. The idea of a ground-launched version of the missile goes back to around 1980, even before the missile had been finished. It was not until 1991 that efforts were seriously made to use it within a project called Hellfire Ground Launched (HGL) coming in two types; Light (GLH-L) – mounted on an HMMWV, and Heavy (GLH-H) – mounted on a light armored vehicle such as the Bradley, LAV, or M113. It came to pass that only one of those options was pursued, the test mounting and fitting of the GLH-H turret on an M113, in this case, a repurposed M901 TOW version of the M113.

Background

The Hellfire missile is a third-generation anti-tank missile capable of both air launch (originally from the Advanced Attack Helicopter program by Hughes Aircraft Company) but also from the ground, in a line of development dating back to the late 1960s with the LASAM (LAser Semi-Active Missile) and MISTIC (MIssile System Target Illuminator Controlled) programs. By 1969, MYSTIC, the over-the-horizon laser missile program, had transitioned into a new program known as the ‘Heliborne Laser Fire and Forget Missile’, shortly thereafter renamed ‘Heliborne Launched Fire and Forget Missile’, later shortened to just ‘Hellfire’.

By 1973, the Hellfire was already being offered for procurement by Rockwell International based in Columbus, Ohio, and to be manufactured by Martin Marietta Corporation as the ‘HELLFIRE’, but somewhat misleadingly still being considered or labeled by some as a ‘fire and forget’ type of weapon. It was not until the arrival of Hellfire Longbow that a true fire-and-forget version of the Hellfire existed.

Procurement and limited manufacturing of the missile followed, with the first test firings of the finished product, known as the YAGM-114A, at Redstone Arsenal in September 1978. This was followed by modifications to the infrared seeker of the missile. With Army trials completed in 1981, full-scale production began in early 1982, with the first units fielded by the US Army in Europe at the end of 1984.

Targeting

Despite being occasionally mislabelled as a fire and forget missile, the Hellfire can in fact be used quite differently. Fire and forget implies that, once the weapon is locked onto a target, it could be fired and then the launch vehicle could retreat to a safe distance or move on to the next target. This is not strictly a correct description of the Hellfire, as the missile also has the ability to have its trajectory changed during flight by up to 20 degrees from the original and up to 1,000 m each way.

Targeting for the missile is by means of a laser which is projected from a designator either in the air or on the ground, regardless of where the missile is launched. An air-launched Hellfire can, for example, be targeted onto an enemy vehicle by a ground designation laser or by other designating aircraft. The missile is not limited to ground targets either. It can also be used to target aircraft, with some emphasis on its ability to counter enemy attack helicopters. Thus, the missile gains a substantial survivability bonus for a launch vehicle, as it does not have to remain in situ and can even be fired from over the horizon, such as over a hill at targets beyond.

The TOW missile was already available in the US arsenal, but Hellfire offered some things that TOW did not. For example, an increased standoff capacity along with an increased range (over the 3 to 3.75 km maximum range of TOW), an increased versatility of use, as the TOW was not suitable for aircraft use, as well as improved physical performance, such as armor penetration, explosive blast, and a shorter flight time due to traveling more quickly.

With a continuous laser seeker on the missile following the designation applied, the missile could easily target moving vehicles whilst being harder to intercept or counter (by engaging the launcher).

Improvements in ballistics through the 1980s improved the Hellfire design and the weapon has a maximum effective range quoted as being up to 8 km, with longer ranges being achieved with a reduction in accuracy due mainly to attenuation of the laser beam. Data from the Department of Defense, however, provides a maximum direct fire range of 7 km, with indirect fire out to 8 km, with a minimum engagement range of 500 m.

The Hellfire missile was first used in anger during the Invasion of Panama in December 1989, with 7 missiles being fired, all of which hit their targets.

Basic layout of the Hellfire missile family, showing the 4 main sections.
Source: fas.org
Cutaway view of Hellfire II missile.
Source: Defenceindustrydaily.com

Ground Launched Hellfire – Light (GLH-L)

The initial deployment of Hellfire in the ground role was considered to support the capabilities of the US 9th Infantry Division in 1987. By 1991, this idea of using Hellfires to support that unit had grown closer and it was decided that the M998 HMMWV would become the mount for the system. Interest was later shown by the Army in potentially deploying this system to the 82nd Airborne Division as well.

Using off-the-shelf components, and with a potential customer in the form of the Swedish military, who wanted a coastal defence missile, the Ground Launched Hellfire – Light (GLH-L) received a budget and went ahead. Five such vehicles were created. During trials in California in 1991, the system showed itself to be a success in firing trials. Despite this, the system was not adopted by the US military.

GLH-L M998 HMMWV during Hellfire firing trials.
Source: AMCOM

Ground Launched Hellfire – Heavy (GLH-H)

For heavier vehicles, ones with some built-in ballistic protection from enemy fire, three vehicles were the obvious choice of launch platform for the Hellfire, the Bradley, the LAV, and the ever-present M113. Operating as Fire Support Team Vehicles (FIST-V), the vehicles would be able to lase an enemy target and attack it directly if they wished, or once more use remote targeting. This was the Ground Launched Hellfire – Heavy (GLH – H) part of the 16-month-long GLH project.

It is unclear if a test was even carried out on a Bradley, but one was certainly done on an M113. This involved little modification of the vehicle itself except that it had to have a turret fitted to take the missiles and electronics involved. To this end, the M113 under the system was almost inconsequential to the vehicle, as it was little more than a test bed to haul the turret around. A large circle was cut out of the roof armor to take the new system. Conversion work was undertaken by the Electronics and Space Corporation (ESCO), including the fitting of the turret and installation of the laser equipment.

The ring in the roof does not appear to even have an adequate lock or means by which to prevent it from easily rotating under its own weight. The vehicle, currently on display in a museum in Nebraska, has the turret held in place with wire cables to prevent damage and rotation, suggesting the original gearing or control mechanism from the vehicle have been removed. This is because the donor M113 selected for the trials was an M901 Improved TOW Vehicle (ITV).

The M113 / M901 version modified to take the GLH-H turret.
Source: Author

M901 ITV

The M901 ITV, introduced in 1978, differed from the M113 in that, instead of just being an armored box for infantry transport, it was an armored box with a roof-mounted missile system.

The basic M901 mounted the M22A1 TOW, followed by the M901A1 with the M220A2 TOW 2 missiles. The final option, the M901A3, carried the same TOW2 missiles and launcher as the A1 model, but had vehicular improvements, such as improved driver controls and RISE powerpack.

Carrying a dual M220 TOW launcher, the M901 had a crew of 4, consisting of a driver, a gunner, a commander, and a loader. This made sense for a vehicle where the missiles could be reloaded from inside, but less so for the GLH-L and GLH-H, on which reloading had to take place outside.

M901 ITV. This was a dual M220 TOW missile launcher on an M113.
Source: Hunnicut

Turret Structure

The Hellfire turret consisted of 4 primary parts: the basket lying underneath the turret and inside the body of the M113, the manned section of the turret, the guidance system at the front, and the rocket pods themselves.

At the back of the turret were a pair of hatches with vision blocks around them. Ahead of the left sight which was mounted on the roof and fixed in place, was the designator offset on the turret front, where a pair of angular protrusions covering the front of the turret face and a pair of thickly made boxes on each side. Each box appears to have been detachable by a series of bolts on the sides and top. These housed the rotating mount for each pod.


View of the turret roof showing the hatches at the back and fixed roof sight. The thickly made boxes are visible both from the front (left) and rear (right).
Source: Author

The body of the turret was approximately 8 mm thick aluminum all round. At the front, on each side, appear to be a pair of large armored boxes, approximately 35 mm thick on the sides and roof. The actual thickness of the roof cannot be measured as is, but the mounting plate for the gunner’s sight is 16 mm thick and sits on an additional plate on the roof with approximately the same thickness.

The hatches at the back are mounted on steel springs but have an aluminum body 40 mm thick. They have a thin steel covering bolted to the top of the hatch. The purpose of this construction is unclear.

The hatch on the left is fitted with 4 simple episcopes, although only the one facing 45 degrees to the rear left would be of much use. No sight is provided forwards for the gunner except for the large roof sight. The episcope facing left is completely obscured by the left-hand missile pod and the one to the right is blocked by the other hatch. The one fitted to the rear right, looking 45 degrees backward, is also blocked, this time by a small metal box in the center of the rear of the turret roof, the purpose of which is unknown.

If the crew member using the left hatch is poorly served by optics, then the one on the right is even more so, as they only had provision for 2 episcopes and these are half the size of the ones on the other hatch. Both are positioned facing forwards at 45 degrees, meaning no direct view forwards from that position and neither is of any use. The one on the right simply faces directly into the right hand missile pod and the one on the left would be completely blocked by the large roof-mounted sight, or would be if it had not been removed and welded over. Thus, of the 6 ‘normal’ episcopes on the turret for the crew, one is missing, three are completely or almost completely blocked by other turret features and none of them look forward.


Looking down on the turret hatches. Hunnicutt identified these are the commander’s hatch on the right and gunner’s hatch on the left.
Source: Author.

Looking forward over the turret, its relatively simple nature is clear along with the offset sight box projecting from the front. The poor position of the vision blocks is readily apparent.
Source: Author

Guidance System

The turret is asymmetrical, with the guidance module offset to the left at the front. It consists of a pronounced armored box on a mantlet, allowing the laser designator to be fitted. The author R. P. Hunnicutt states that both the US Army ground locator designator (G.L.L.D.) and US Marine Corps Modular Universal Laser Equipment (M.U.L.E.) were fitted.

The box housing it, like the rest of the turret (apart from the mantlet), is made from aluminium, with a front panel 9 mm thick, which houses the lens over the laser designator. The back of the box is 11 mm thick and then mounted to the steel rotating mantlet, which is approximately 50 mm thick. The aluminium framing on either side of this area is 20 mm thick on the right side and 32 mm thick on the left side. The reason for this difference is unclear.

The amount of rotation available for the guidance box on the mantlet is unclear, as there is a metal bolted to that rotating part which would foul on the top edge, where it meets the turret roof, at a relatively modest angle of around 30 degrees or so. It appears that this module would be severely limited in the ability of targeting aircraft, such as helicopters, but this was just a test bed, so what modifications would have been made to allow for a broad spectrum of possible targets is unknown.

Looking down on the guidance system box at the front.
Source: Author
The turret front is well angled and neat, showing just the single lens for the laser guidance system.
Source: Author

Armament

Absolutely no secondary armament of any kind is apparent on the vehicle, either on the hull or on the turret. It is likely that, should such a turret ever have seen production, some kind of weapon mount would have been added in the form of a roof machine gun. Even then, however, with those huge pods blocking both sides, the coverage of such a weapon would be extremely limited. The vehicle is thus rather vulnerable to any enemy nearby. The only provision for self-defense are the smoke dischargers, which consist of a single 3-pot mounting on the front right corner of the turret and the dischagers on the hull (2 four-pot discharges on the front corners). Hunnicutt states that a single machine gun was fitted for close-in protection, but this is not shown in any photograph and no mounting for it is apparent either.

Smoke grenade dischargers on the front right of the turret.
Source: Author

The Pods

As mounted on the M113, the Hellfire system took the basic form of a pair of 4-missile pods on either side of a turret. Each pod was divided into 4 chambers, each measuring 335 mm wide by 335 mm high internally and made from aluminum supported with ribs 7 mm thick. The internal structure of the pods is heavy, with a central vertical divider and floor plate approximately 40 mm thick. Holes in the front and back of the pods indicate that, at some point, covers were also fitted to these pods and one can be seen in a photo of the system during trials.

The heavy construction of the rocket pods is apparent in this image, as is the height from the ground for reloading. While the pods are hinged they are held on the inner side by just two bolts. Also note the holes in the rear face of the pod for a cover that is missing from both ends of both pods.
Source: Author

Each pod was fitted with what appears to be a hinged lid, but closer inspection shows these hinges are on both sides of the top, precluding some sort of vertical reloading. Reloading, in fact, seems to only have been possible from either in front or behind the pod. Given the height of the turret above the ground, reloading would entail standing on the hull roof with the turret partially rotated.

Each pod can clearly rotate from at least horizontal, but the upper limit is unknown. Photographic evidence from launches show an angle less than 45 degrees and also that each pod could be rotated independently.

Missile pod on the side of the M113 GLH-H turret.
Source: Author
Right-hand missile pod seen from the turret roof. The reinforcing ribs stiffen the launch boxes but also serve to trap water.
Source: Author
M113 GLH-H seen during a test launch. Source: Hunnicut
M113 GLH-H during a test launch. Note that there is clearly a cover over the back of the right missile pod.
Source: Pinterest

Eight Hellfire missiles could be carried ready for action on the GLH-H, compared to just 2 on the GLH-L. It is likely that additional stowage inside the back of the GLH-H mount, whether on the Bradley, LAV, or M113, would also have been installed to carry more missiles. For reference, the M901 had space for an additional rack of missiles. The same would likely have been true of any fielded GLH-H system as well.

Basket

Inside the vehicle, the driver’s station was just as it was on the M901. However, the area under the turret was quite different. The turret descended into the hull using a riveted cylindrical aluminum basket, with a motor or gearing mounted in the center of the floor. On each side of this were the two crew positions. Whilst a space was retained between this cylinder and the rear access door, in which a fourth crewmember might be located with additional missiles, there is no space on either side of the cylinder around which passage can be obtained. Through-access from front to rear on the vehicle is therefore limited to passage through the large gaps in the cylindrical basket and, with two crew in there, this would not be possible. In its current state, in 2020/2021, there is no safe access within the vehicle.

Looking backward inside the vehicle from the driver’s seat. The lack of access on either side of the cylindrical turret basket is readily apparent, as is the open nature of the basket itself.
Source: Author

Conclusion

GLH-H appears to have been a bit of an orphan program. The GLH-L had been supported by the Army and by the Hellfire Project Office (HPO), which had accumulated the work of MICOM Weapons Systems Management Directorate (WSDM) in February 1990. HPO had then followed up on the Hellfire, as it was used in service and was being improved and refined. At the same time, Martin Marietta received a contract for the development of the missile known as the Hellfire Optimised Missile System (HOMS) in March 1990 and both had supported the work on GLH-L. However, in April 1991, HPO was redesignated as the Air-to-Ground Missile Systems (AGMS) Project Management Office, leaving no doubt that official interest seemed to have ended in ground-launched applications in favor of aircraft-launched systems. Indeed, this was just a few months after work on developing the Hellfire missile for the Longbow Apache helicopter had started.

By 1992, HOMS too was gone and its work was simply repurposed as ‘Hellfire II’, which was to finally take the form of the AGM-114K version of the missile. The GLH-H side of things, therefore, was left out in the cold. There seemed little appetite for a ground-launched version of a weapon that was already successful on aircraft and the development work specifically was to focus on airborne use as well.

What did the GLH-H offer that a vehicle like the M901 ITV did not? On a one-to-one comparison scale, both vehicles had pros and cons, although the substantially larger missile load on the GLH-H and the longer range of the Hellfire missile were perhaps the most obvious. The system was, however, unproven. The TOW system had already been in ground use since the early 1970s and was combat-proven, as well as being substantially cheaper on a missile-to-missile basis. Having a maximum engagement range of 7 km instead of just over 3 km was certainly no small deal and it was not argued that the Hellfire was in any way inferior to the TOW. The issue was perhaps more of a practical one. The TOW was already in widespread use and proven and the GLH-H was not. If the enemy were further away, then they were by definition a lesser threat anyway and could be engaged by other means, such as air-launched Hellfires. The GLH-H system was also huge. Those missile pods were vulnerable to damage from enemy action or environmental or terrain factors and there was no way of reloading them safely from within a vehicle such as the M113, as there was with the M901, meaning the crews would have to be exposed. The Bradley, on the other hand, had a large hatch over the roof at the back, which might have allowed for some limited protection for reloading.

More than the design issues of the GLH-H launcher and compatible mounting, the development of GLH simply came too late. Despite being considered as far back as 1980, no work was really done for over a decade, by which time the TOW was even more widely deployed than before and there were other new missiles for infantry use available. If GLH was ever going to get actively developed, it might have been then, during the peak of the Soviet threat in Western Europe, when large numbers of Soviet tanks were expected to be encountered and a new missile system could have added much-needed firepower. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 and existing anti-tank measures being proven in combat in the Gulf War of 1990-1991, it was not clear why a new system would even be needed, whether on a light or heavy platform.

After all, if the need for a better-protected platform with missiles was essential, there was no reason not to just mount the M220 TOW system onto a Bradley anyway, although what this would add when mounting a pair of TOW missiles on a Bradley was standard is even less clear and really just reinforces the point of this being a project without a true purpose.

It was all academic by the early 1990s, the M901 series was being removed anyway, the Bradley already carried a pair of TOW missiles on the side, meeting the same level of firepower, and two systems to do the same thing, with one substantially more capable as a basic vehicle than the other made no sense. The only logical outcome for a GLH-H to have met a ‘need’ would have been Bradley based rather than on an M113, but this step was not taken and would not have fundamentally changed the viability of the project other than creating a very identifiable variant of the Bradley on the battlefield. With control of the development of the whole project handed over to an aircraft-focussed approach, the project with unclear objectives and needs was destined for failure.

The M113 / M901 converted with this GLH-H 8-missile launcher resides today at the Historic Museum of Military Vehicles in Lexington, Nebraska. The author wishes to express his gratitude to the staff there for their assistance.

Ground-Launched Hellfire Redux?

In recent years, however, renewed interest has been shown in a ground-launched Hellfire version to replace TOW and upgrade the US military’s ability to strike enemy targets from even further away. In 2010, Boeing tested the ability of the Avenger turret air defense system to launch Hellfire missiles. This would allow the Hellfire once more to be mounted on light vehicles like a HMMWV, but also on the LAV and other systems.

The Hellfire missile has also already been mounted in the ground role on the Pandur 6 x 6, with the Multi-Mission Launcher (MML), on the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) truck and in Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Surveillance and Attack Vehicle (LRSAV) based on the Patria AMV firing the Hellfire II in 2014. However, such systems seeing service seems unlikely, as the Hellfire missile and variants are, as of 2016, destined for replacement by a new missile known as the Joint Air to Ground Missile (J.A.G.M.), meant as a common missile across all platforms, naval, air, and ground-based.

Pandur 6 x 6 launching a Hellfire missile.
Source: Designationsystems.net

The GLH-H based on the M901, illustrated by Ardhya ‘Vesp’ Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Sources

Aberdeen Proving Ground. (1992). Ballisticians in War and Peace Volume III: A history of the United States Army Ballistic Research Laboratory 1977-1992. APG, Maryland, USA
AMCOM. Hellfire https://history.redstone.army.mil/miss-hellfire.html
Armada International. (1990). US Anti-Tank Missile Developments. Armada Internal February 1990.
Author’s notes from vehicle examination, June 2020 and July 2021
Dell, N. (1991). Laser-guided Hellfire Missile. United States Army Aviation Digest September/October 1991.
GAO. (2016). Defence Acquisitions. GAO-16-329SP
Hunnicutt, R. (2015). Bradley. Echo Point Press, USA
Lange, A. (1998). Getting the most from a lethal missile system. Armor Magazine January-February 1998.
Lockheed Martin. 17th June 2014. Lockheed Martin’s DAGR and Hellfire II missile score direct hits during ground-vehicle launch tests. Press Release https://news.lockheedmartin.com/2014-06-17-Lockheed-Martins-DAGR-And-HELLFIRE-II-Missiles-Score-Direct-Hits-During-Ground-Vehicle-Launch-Tests
Parsch, A. (2009). Directory of US Military Rockets and Missiles: AGM-114. http://www.designation-systems.net/dusrm/m-114.html
Roberts, D., & Capezzuto, R. (1998). Development, Test, and Integration of the AGM-114 Hellfire Missile System and FLIR/LASER on the H-60 Aircraft. Naval Air Systems Command, Maryland, USA
Thinkdefence.co.uk Vehicle Mounted Anti-Tank Missiles https://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2014/07/vehicle-mounted-anti-tank-missiles/
Transue, J., & Hansult, C. (1990). The Balanced Technology Initiative, Annual Report to Congress. BTI, Virginia, USA
United States Army. (2012). Hellfire family of missiles. Weapon Systems 2012. Via https://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/wsh2012/132.pdf
United States Army. (1980). The United States Army Logistics Center Historical Summary 1st October 1978 to 30th September 1979. US Army Logistics Center, Fort Lee, Virginia, USA
United States Department of Defense. (1987). Department of Defence Appropriations for 1988.

Categories
Has Own Video WW2 US Fake Tanks

T25 AT (Fake Tank)

United States of America
Tank Destroyer – Fake

Fake Tankin’

World of Tanks, or ‘WoT’, is a tank combat multiplayer game developed by Wargaming Group Limited. The game features hundreds of playable tanks, including prototypes and designs that never left the drawing board, arranged in ‘tech trees’ grouped by nation and vehicle type. In addition to tanks that have some basis in reality, World of Tanks also features some vehicles that are entirely made up, designed to patch holes in the ‘tech trees’. Among the ‘fake’ designs is the T25 AT, an American tank destroyer. Described in-game as a real design, this is a vehicle that, from the name to the gun, is none other than a product of Wargaming’s think tank. However, there is some information pointing towards the existence of a similar vehicle that could have inspired this ‘fake’ tank.

The T25 AT, as it is seen in World of Tanks. Source: mmowg.net

Wargaming are generous enough to provide a short ‘history’ of their made-up tank both on their ‘wiki’ and in-game.

“The vehicle was developed based on the T23 tank, but the work on the project was discontinued at the concept exploration stage. The Command of the United States Army did not like the electric transmission and poor gun traverse limits.”

While this short summary is mostly accurate, the in-game design differs significantly from any proposed T23-based tank destroyer.

The Name Game

The first step towards deconstructing this ‘fake’ tank is to dissect its fictional name. Contrary to what one could expect, this vehicle is not based on the chassis of the T25 medium tank. Comparing historical photographs of the T25 prototypes and in-game screenshots reveals the differences in suspension between the vehicles.

While the actual T25 used Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS), the ahistorical T25 AT uses Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS). Due to the difference in suspension types between the T25 AT and the actual T25 medium, the chassis on which this design is based is much more likely to be the T23 medium tank, the T25’s predecessor. The chassis of the T23 and T25 were otherwise very similar, so it could have been possible for the designers at Wargaming to confuse the two when creating this fictional tank.

Side view of the first T25 pilot. Note the Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension. Source: public domain  
Side view of the T25 AT. Source: mmowg.net  
Side view of the second T23 pilot. Note the suspension, which it shares with the T25 AT. Source: wwiivehicles.com

The other half of Wargaming’s T23-based tank destroyer’s name, the ‘AT’, is just as incorrect as the T25. AT is an abbreviation for ‘Anti-Tank’ and is a designation not generally applied to tank destroyers used by the United States Army. American tank destroyers, prototype or otherwise, were instead designated as GMCs (Gun Motor Carriages). Some examples are the M10 GMC or the T40 GMC. A much more historically accurate designation for this vehicle would have been ‘T23 GMC’, with T23 signifying the chassis and GMC denoting its status as a tank destroyer. Even with such a designation, it would still have been incorrect as such a distinct design would have been given a new T-number to distinguish it from the T23 medium tank. However, there is no way to tell what this hypothetical T-number would be. As it stands, T25 AT is an incorrect name back to front, featuring a misleading T-number and an improper designation for a tank destroyer.

American…

To examine the T25 AT, it is first necessary to look at other conventional tank destroyer designs of the time period. During World War II, American tank destroyers were designed to conform with the U.S. Army tank destroyer doctrine, which demanded fast, heavily armed, lightly armored vehicles capable of defending against massed armored attacks. Doctrine also requested that tank destroyers possess anti-aircraft weapons and powerful radios. Almost all of these characteristics were present on many American tank destroyers of the Second World War, such as the M10 GMC, M18 GMC, and M36 GMC. However, many American tank destroyers also possessed common design decisions that, while not outlined in doctrine, have become synonymous with them as a whole, namely, fully rotating turrets and open-tops.

Notably, the T25 AT shares few characteristics with these vehicles. While the T25 AT, equipped with the powerful M3 90 mm gun, is heavily armed, its similarities to standardized American tank destroyers end there. This tank destroyer, as it is based on a medium tank chassis with a few tons of armor added, is not exceptionally mobile. It features reasonably thick armor, no anti-aircraft machine guns, a closed top, and, notably, an armored casemate instead of a conventional turret. However, while the T25 AT bears little resemblance to turreted American tank destroyers, it would be foolish to dismiss other, experimental turretless designs, namely the T40 and T28.

The T40 was created by mating the 3 in gun M1918 to the chassis of the M3 medium tank. A turretless design was pursued to lower the vehicle’s profile. Development was canceled in 1942 due to the lack of available guns and the success of its competitor, the soon-to-be-standardized M10 GMC.

The sole constructed T40 GMC prototype. Source: public domain

The T28 was only considered as a tank destroyer for a short time. This massive tank was designed in 1943 to defeat the defenses of the German Siegfried Line using exceptionally thick armor and a large gun. This vehicle’s lack of a turret was, again, to lower its profile. The history of this vehicle’s designation is complicated. While originally designated as Heavy Tank T28 in 1943, its name was changed to T95 GMC in 1945 due to the tank’s noticeable lack of a turret, something that all U.S. heavy tanks had at the time. However, its designation was changed in 1946 back to Super-Heavy Tank T28 because of nomenclature changes and to reflect the tank’s massive weight. For the sake of comparison, we can consider this as a tank destroyer despite the fact that it was not developed with that role in mind.

One of the two T28 Super Heavy tanks during testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Source: public domain

Even compared to two other historic turretless American tank destroyers, the T25 AT is fairly unique. It does not quite have the speed, open-top, or light armor of the T40 GMC, a true American to-the-doctrine tank destroyer. However, the T25 AT also does not have the incredibly thick armor of the heavy assault T28. Therefore, it is fair to assume that the T25 AT shares little in common with any contemporary American tank destroyers, experimental or standardized.

Another view of the T25 AT. Source: mmowg.net

Or German?

Conversely, the T25 AT bears a striking resemblance in appearance and overall design to contemporary German Jagdpanzers. Visually, the T25 AT is a combination of German tank destroyer parts cobbled together. The T25 AT’s casemate is similar to that of the Jagdpanther, constructed by extending the upper glacis of the chassis upwards to form a fighting compartment. Additionally, the T25 AT’s gun mantlet is very similar to the Saukopfblende [Eng: boar’s head] gun mantlet used by many Jagdpanzers, including the Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Hetzer’ and Jagdpanzer IV.

The Jagdpanther. Note some of the visual similarities to the T25 AT. Source: baku13, Wikimedia Commons

While many factors of the T25 AT’s design appear confusing from an American perspective, including its relatively thick armor, closed roof, lack of turret, and average mobility, these are all common characteristics of Jagdpanzers. The Hetzer, Jagdpanther, Jagdtiger, Ferdinand, and Jagdpanzer IV, for example, all had thick frontal armor, fully enclosed casemates, lacked turrets, and had mobility ranging from average to poor. With its relatively thick frontal armor, casemate-mounted gun, fully-enclosed casemate, and average mobility, the T25 AT is extremely similar to these German tank destroyer designs. In contrast, it shares almost no characteristics with American designs of the time period.

German Jagdpanzer 38. Note the similarities between the Hetzer and T25 AT’s gun mantlets and mountings. Source: German Federal Archives

Armor and Chassis

T23 Medium Turret Armor T25 AT Turret Armor
Thickness Angle Thickness Angle
Front 76,2mm Front 88,9mm 47°
Side 63,5mm 0-13° Side 76,2mm 0-13°
Rear 63,5mm Rear 38,1mm
Roof 25,4mm 90° Roof 19,1mm 90°
Mantlet 88,9mm Mantlet 127-76,2mm varies
T23 Medium Hull Armor T25 AT Hull Armor
Thickness Angle Thickness Angle
Upper Plate 76,2mm 47° Upper Plate 88,9mm 47°
Lower Plate 63,5mm 56° Lower Plate 63,5mm 48°
Front Side 50,8mm Front Side 63,5mm
Rear Side 38,1mm Rear Side 50,8mm
Rear 38,1mm 0-30° Rear 38,1mm 0-30°
Front Floor 25,4mm 90° Front Floor 25,4mm 90°
Back Floor 12,7mm 90° Back Floor 12,7mm 90°
Roof 19,1mm 90° Roof 19,1mm 90°

* all angle measurements taken from vertical

As WoT’s T25 AT is based on an essentially unmodified T23 chassis, the armor values are quite similar. However, a few small modifications were made on the in-game design, including the removal of the T23’s side skirts and hull machine gun. Why the skirts were removed is a mystery, but the machine gun was probably removed because the T25 AT’s status as a tank destroyer rendered it useless. The T25 AT, as a tank destroyer, was intended to fight tanks, not infantry.

In-game, the T25 AT has armor values that generally resemble the historic T23 medium tank. However, certain parts have been noticeably uparmored, including the side and front plate. The casemate of the T25 AT has similar armor values to the rest of the tank, with its front, rear, and roof armor being the same as the hull. The cast gun mantlet is the thickest bit of armor on the tank, offering a maximum of 127 mm of protection. Being an ahistorical design, the casemate’s armor scheme is a creation of Wargaming and is based on the actual T23 tank design with a helping of game balance added.

The casemate’s side armor is thicker than the hull’s and is curved outwards slightly to add more space for the crew. It broadly resembles the production T23’s turret, the same turret that was mounted on 76 mm armed M4 Shermans. Perched atop the casemate are a commander’s cupola of the same type as mounted on the T23 and a fume extractor.

A production T23, on which the design of the T25 AT is based. Source: armchairgeneral.com  

Meet the Gang

Side view of the T25 AT with crew positions highlighted. From left to right: loader (yellow), commander (cyan), gunner (blue), and driver (pink). Source: wotinspector.com

The T25 AT has a crew of four in-game: a gunner, a driver, a loader, and a commander who doubles as a radio operator. The entire crew is crammed into the superstructure and, when looking at the tank from the front, the driver sits to the right of the gun, with the commander to the rear. The gunner sits to the left of the gun and the loader sits behind the breech at the rear of the superstructure. Requiring the commander to operate the radio in addition to commanding duties is most likely a space-saving measure, as there is not any room to spare inside the tank for a dedicated radio operator. This four-man crew layout differs from that of other American tank destroyers, such as the M10 or M18, due to a lack of a radio operator. For such an outlandish design, the T25 AT at least features a feasible crew layout.

Front view of the T25 AT with crew positions highlighted. Loader (yellow), commander (cyan), gunner (blue), and driver (pink). Source: wotinspector.com  
Another view of the T25 AT showcases the internal modules of the vehicle. Pictured are the ammunition racks (yellow), engine and transmission (magenta), radio (cyan), and fuel tanks (orange). Source: wotinspector.com

Engine Enigma

As a central part of game progression, World of Tanks features many unlockable modules for each tank, and the T25 AT is certainly no exception. Included in the list of available modules for this tank are two different engines and two different suspension systems.

The first engine is the Ford GAN, which was the historical engine used to power the T23 medium tank on which this tank is based. The GAN is extremely similar to the Ford GAA engine used in the M4 Sherman. However, the T25 AT’s Ford GAN in the game is slightly more powerful than the engine in real life. The fake tank’s engine outputs 560 hp compared to the actual engine’s 500 hp. The T25 AT’s engine is also 72 kg (159 lbs) lighter than the T23’s. Therefore, the T25 AT’s Ford GAN engine was the same engine used in the T23 prototypes, but with some ahistorical improvements to decrease its weight and improve its power output, likely for the sake of game balance.

The Ford GAA engine, which bears a strong resemblance to the Ford GAN. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The second unlockable engine is listed as the Continental AV-1790-1. While the AV-1790-1 was in development around the time the T23 prototypes were being tested, it would make little sense to consider mounting it in the tank. The engine project was, from the beginning, designed to give the M26 Pershing a much-needed boost to mobility, not speed up an already fast medium tank. Described in-game as producing 704 hp and weighing 569 kg, this engine has issues with its statistics. In-game, the engine is significantly lighter than in real life, with the actual AV-1790 topping the scales at over 1,100 kg. The real Continental AV-1790-1 had a gross output of 740 hp in optimal conditions and likely would only have produced around 650 net hp or less when configured for use in WoT’s T25 AT. An upgraded version of the same engine, the AV-1790-3, produces 704 net hp, matching the engine described in-game. This is probably an error on Wargaming’s part, with the AV-1790-3 being the engine mounted on the tank but misnamed as the AV-1790-1.

In conclusion, the first of the T25 AT’s engines is the historical Ford GAN engine but with some slight improvements, while the second is a misnomer that was never intended for this chassis.

An AV-1790-8M, having been removed from its mounting in an M48A2G. Source: BAIV B.V.

In addition to two mountable engines, the T25 AT also features two different suspensions, T25T1 and T25T2. However, both suspensions are extremely similar, with their only difference being that the T25T2 has a larger so-called load limit and is required to mount heavier and more powerful modules on the tank, such as a larger gun. Both suspensions look exactly the same and are visually identical to the Sherman-style VVSS present on the T23 prototypes. As such, it can be concluded that these different suspensions and their designations are fictional and are only present in World of Tanks to force the player to grind more experience points.

A screenshot showing the available modules for the T25 AT. Source: World of Tanks  

Radios

The T25 AT is capable of mounting two different radios in-game, the SCR-508 and SCR-506. These radios could both be installed in the actual T23 medium tank, so their configurations on the T25 AT are hypothetically possible.

The first of the radios is the SCR-508. Introduced in 1942, this was the standard American tank radio until the late 1950s. It was fitted to many vehicles in addition to the T23, including the M5 Stuart, M4 Sherman, M7 Priest, M36 GMC, and M26 Pershing. Because this radio was both standard issue and used by the T23 medium, it is the most historically accurate choice for the T25 AT. If the vehicle existed and was produced, the SCR-508 would have been the radio it used.

The second radio is the more powerful SCR-506, which was also fitted to the T23. However, it was only used by the command variant of the T23. Of the two radio configurations present for the T25 AT, the SCR-506 is certainly the least realistic. This was a radio intended for a command tank, not a tank destroyer. A specialized anti-tank vehicle’s standard radio, for example, the SCR-508, does its job perfectly fine, no upgrades required.

Similar to the two different researchable suspensions available for the T25 AT, the radios serve little purpose in-game other than to extend the amount of ‘experience’ the player needs to earn before they can move on to the next tank. The only difference between the two available radios is their ‘signal range,’ an arbitrary value that serves little to no purpose in World of Tanks. To illustrate the silliness of ‘signal range’ as a game mechanic, the in-game SCR-508’s range is given as a paltry 385 m. However, its actual range is greater than 10 mi, or 16,000 m! Given the largest WoT map has an area of just 9 square km, or 5.59 square mi, maintaining communications with allies should be no problem on any map in the game. The entire gimmick of extremely short radio ranges serves no purpose but to force players to play the game more.

Transmission

The transmission of the T25 AT is also worth a mention, as one of the main reasons why this ‘fake tank’ was supposedly canceled is related to its unreliability. The in-game ‘history’ of the T25 AT states that “One of the reasons given for [the T25 AT’s] cancellation was the Army’s dislike of the tank’s electric transmission.” The T23, as the vehicle on whose chassis the T25 AT is based, also had issues with its electric transmission system.

Mounted at the rear of the tank, this experimental electric transmission was the T23’s main deviation from its predecessor, the T22 medium tank. While this transmission offered many unique and advanced features, including increased engine life and the ability to drive the tank by remote control, Armored Board was not impressed. They saw the remote control feature as superfluous and cited the difficulties with maintaining the complex system as their main reason for canceling the tank in 1943.

Firepower

Fitting with the theme of customization and upgradability, the T25 AT features three gun choices, all of which feature just 10º of traverse to either side. From least to most powerful, they are: the 90 mm M3, 90 mm T15E2, and the 105 mm T5E1.

Of the three guns, the 90 mm M3 is the most historically reasonable choice. It was a useful gun and was used in other designs of the time, such as the T25/T26 medium tank and M36 GMC. The M3 saw extensive service at the end of World War 2 and proved itself in Korea as a serviceable anti-tank weapon.

90 mm M3

In-game Historic
Shell Penetration Velocity Penetration Velocity
M77 AP 160 mm @ 0 m and 0° 853 m/s 140 mm @ 914 m and 0° 823 m/s
M304 HVAP 243 mm @ 0 m and 0° 1066 m/s 201 mm @ 914 m and 30° 1021 m/s
M71 HE 45 mm @ 0 m and 0° 853 m/s <<45 mm @ 0 m and 0° 823 m/s

In-game, the M3 is capable of firing M77 armor-piercing, M304 high-velocity armor-piercing, and M71 high-explosive rounds. These shell types were available for actual M3 guns, but their penetration values were slightly different than they are shown in-game for the purpose of game balance. The M77 AP performs the closest to real life, with its in-game penetration values reflecting the shell’s actual results reasonably well. The M304 HVAP, however, is significantly less powerful than it should be. Conversely, the M71 HE is much more powerful than it should be. Only guns of very high caliber, 15 cm or larger, have high-explosive shells capable of penetrating that much armor in real life. As for mounting the 90 mm M3 on the T25 AT, its breech and ammunition were the smallest of the three gun choices, so they could have fit the most comfortably inside the already cramped superstructure. The M3 also bears the strongest visual resemblance to the proposed gun for the design this tank is based on.

The T25 AT with the 90 mm M3. Source: World of Tanks  
The 90 mm M3 gun, mounted here on the M36B2 GMC. Source: Wikimedia Commons

90 mm T15E2

The 90 mm T15E2, the same gun used by the much heavier T32 and experimental T26E4, is neither a sound nor a historically accurate weapon for mounting in a small vehicle like the T25 AT. The T15E2 was developed to compete with the firepower of the German 88 mm KwK 43 and is a reconfiguration of the T15E1 cannon used on the first T26E4 ‘Super Pershing’, with the only main difference being the rechambering of the gun for two-piece 90 mm rounds. This caused a decrease in the gun’s rate of fire but fixed the awkwardness of loading such a long shell in the confines of a tight turret. However, this gun was developed in 1945, long after the T23 had been ‘canceled’ in 1944.

90mm T15E2
In-game Historic
Shell Penetration Velocity Shell Penetration Velocity
M77 AP 170 mm @ 0 m and 0° 945 m/s
M304 HVAP 258 mm @ 0 m and 0° 1219 m/s T44 HVAP 373 mm @ 9 m and 0° 1143 m/s
M71 HE 45 mm @ 0 m and 0° 975 m/s T42 HE <<45 mm @ 0 m and 0° 975 m/s

The T15E2 is listed as firing the same rounds as the shorter 90 mm M3 in-game, which is partly historically accurate. While the T15E2 and M3 could fire the same projectiles, the shells themselves are not identical. For use in the T15E2’s two-piece breach, the projectiles had to be separated from their propellant. The shells also underwent slight modifications to their rotating bands, which allowed them to function properly when used with the new high-velocity gun. The shells used by the T15E2 in-game that underwent this transformation, M304 and M71, were redesignated as T44 and T42 respectively to avoid confusion with their unmodified predecessors. The M77 round did not receive these modifications because it was superseded by its improved derivative, the T33 AP round. The T33 was, in turn, modified for use in the T15E2 gun and redesignated as T43.

A labeled cutaway diagram of the T33 AP round. Compared to the M77 round, the T33 was fitted with a ballistic cap and its tip was reforged. Source: lonesentry.com

The addition of a longer gun with larger ammunition and breech would certainly have created an issue of crew comfort and ammo stowage within the casemate. The T15E2 was never intended to be mounted in anything but the T32 heavy tank and serial versions of the T26E4. Its configuration on the T25 AT is a much larger break from reality than the 90 mm M3’s.

The T25 AT with the 90 mm T15E2. Source: World of Tanks  
The first T26E4 prototype and its long 90 mm T15E1 gun, which is externally visually identical to the T15E2. Source: 3ad.com

105 mm T5E1

In-game Historic
Shell Penetration Velocity Penetration Velocity
T32 AP 198 mm @ 0 m and 0° 945 m/s 177 mm @ 914 m and 30° 914 m/s
T29E3 APCR 245 mm @ 0 m and 0° 1181 m/s 381 mm @ 0 m and 0° 1173 m/s
M11 HE 53 mm @ 0 m and 0° 945 m/s <<53 mm @ 0 m and 0° 914 m/s

Capping off the arsenal of guns the T25 AT has at its disposal in-game is the massive 105 mm T5E1 cannon. This gun was developed in 1943 and mounted in various heavy prototype vehicles, such as the T29 heavy tank and T28 super-heavy tank. It has three rounds available in-game: the T32 AP round, the T29E3 APCR round, and the M11 HE shell. In real life, the T5E1 gun was able to fire both the T32 and T29E3 rounds. However, there is no mention of the M11 round ever being used.

In-game, the T32 AP round is reasonably accurate to its actual performance, if slightly less powerful than it should be. The T29E3 APCR round, however, is significantly less powerful than it should be. Compared to historical firing tests, the in-game shells have about one and a half times less penetration than they should. Conversely, as is the case in World of Tanks, the M11 HE round is much more powerful than it should be. High-explosive rounds are given exaggerated penetration capabilities in WoT to give them some use in-game, that being increased effectiveness against lightly armored targets. All of these changes to penetration values are in the name of game balance, as unrealistic as they are. After all, in game terms, it is not very fun or fair to fight against a gun that can negate the armor of anything it can possibly fight.

The T28 super-heavy tank and its massive 105 mm T5E1 gun. Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com

However, there is a good reason why only very heavy tanks with very large turrets or hefty casemates mounted the T5E1 gun. It had a large breech, a long recoil distance, and large shells. Attempting to cram a gun this large in a casemate as small as the T25 AT’s would likely have resulted in many issues. These would include the loader not having enough space inside the tank to load the gun’s large rounds, a severe lack of ammunition stowage, reduced gun traverse limits due to crew positions obstructing the breech’s rotation, severely limited gun depression, and the gun’s weight making the tank front heavy, to name a few.

Everything about this gun and its configuration on the T25 AT is a pipe dream. There would have been no way for a cannon of the T5E1’s length and weight to fit inside the casemate of a vehicle like the T25 AT without many significant issues that would render it next to useless. Of the three guns that the T25 AT has at its disposal in-game, the T5E1 is certainly the most egregious.

The T25 AT with the 105 mm T5E1. Source: World of Tanks  
The T28 Super Heavy Tank’s T5E1 gun, breech, and mantlet superimposed over the T25 AT. Notice how the large breach limits the available space for depressing, recoiling, and loading of the gun. Source: Firepower – A History of the American Heavy Tank and tanks.gg. Modified by author.

Shreds of Truth

While the T25 AT represented in-game is a confusing mess of antiquated design and historically questionable upgrades, it would appear as though a design similar to this was actually proposed. However, very little is known about this obscure vehicle. According to R. P. Hunnicutt’s Pershing,

“In early 1943, a design study called for the mounting of the 90 mm antiaircraft gun on the medium tank T23 chassis and in March such an installation was demonstrated to General Devers, General Barr, and other officers. These tests proved useful in the design of the T25 and T26 tanks later in the year.”

An artist’s rendition of the 90 mm antiaircraft gun M1 mounted on the chassis of the T23 medium tank. Source: Pershing – A History of the Medium T20 Tank Series

Almost nothing is known about this vehicle other than that it mounts the M1 90 mm anti-aircraft gun and is based on the T23 medium tank chassis. While the T25 AT is most likely inspired by this real, mysterious design, WoT’s interpretation differs drastically on almost all points except being based on the same chassis.

A photograph of the unnamed T23 tank destroyer wooden mock-up. Notably, a gun shield has been installed. Source: Pershing – A History of the Medium T20 Tank Series by R. P. Hunnicutt

Conclusion

As Wargaming’s official ‘history’ of the tank states, the Army would have been dissatisfied with the horizontal limits of the gun. They would soon have two designs mounting the same gun in a fully rotating turret, the M26 and M36. They also would not have been fond of the electric transmission, as evidenced by their rejection of the T23.

The T25 AT, as present in Wargaming’s World of Tanks, is without a doubt a fake vehicle. It is not the worst of Wargaming’s fake tank crimes, as a historical project that bears some likeness to it existed at some point in the past. However, the in-game representation of this idea is entirely incorrect. It hardly resembles the mock-up visually, if at all, and features modules that could have, within reason, been mounted on such a design, such as the 90 mm M3 gun and Ford GAN engine, juxtaposed by laughably impractical, inaccurate, and downright anachronistic modules, such as the T5E1 gun and Continental AV-1790-3 engine.

One final view of the T25 AT. Source: mmowg.net 
T25 AT with 105mm T5E1 gun. An illustration by AMX-13.  
T25 AT with 90mm M3 gun. An illustration by AMX-13.

T25 AT (Fake Tank) Specifications

Weight 42.72 tons, battle-ready
Armament 90 mm M3 gun (56 rounds)
90 mm T15E2 gun (56 rounds)
105 mm T5E1 gun (40 rounds)
Armor Hull
Upper plate: 88.9 mm
Lower plate and side: 63.5 to 50.8 mm
Rear: 38.1 mm
Roof: 19.1 mm
Belly: 25.4 to 12.7 mm
Superstructure
Front: 88.9 mm
Side: 76.2 mm
Rear: 38.1 mm
Roof: 19.1 mm
Detailed armor model available at tanks.gg
Crew 4 (commander, gunner, driver, loader)
Propulsion Ford GAN, 560 hp, 13.11 hp/t
Continental AV-1790-3, 704 hp, 16.48 hp/t
Speed 56 km/h, theoretical maximum
Suspension Vertical Volute Spring

Sources

Ford Tank Engines (Models GAA, GAF, and CAN)
Patton – A History of the American Main Battle Tank by R. P. Hunnicutt
Pershing – A History of the Medium T20 Tank Series by R. P. Hunnicutt
Firepower – A History of the American Heavy Tank by R. P. Hunnicutt
British Army Staff – AFV Technical Situation Report No. 34, May 1945
Seek, Strike, and Destroy: U.S. Army Tank Destroyer Doctrine in World War II by Dr. Christopher R. Gabel
Images of War: German Assault Guns and Tank Destroyers 1940-1945 by Anthony Tucker-Jones
Heavy Jagdpanzer by Walter J. Spielberger, Hilary L. Doyle, Thomas L. Jentz
Radio Set SCR-508
http://www.radiomilitari.com/scr508.html
Armor-Piercing Ammunition for Gun, 90-mm, M3, Office of the Chief of Ordnance, January 1945 (Lone Sentry)
Sherman turret cupolas
Chieftain Talks: Developing the Pershing
Cartridge, 90mm AP-T, M77
Medium Tank T23
T25 AT – World of Tanks from tanks.gg
T25 AT from the WoT Wiki
T25 AT internal modules and crew | Armor Inspector from wotinspector.com

Categories
Has Own Video Modern Serbian Armor

Lazanski Armored Combat Vehicle 

Republic of Serbia (2021)
8×8 Infantry Fighting Vehicle – 1 Prototype Built

In recent years, the Serbian military industry has managed to develop and produce a series of 8×8 wheeled armored vehicles, including the Lazar series. A recent addition to the 8×8 family has been the Lazanski wheeled Armored Combat Vehicle (ACV), demonstrated for the first time in October 2021 at the Partner-2021 military exhibition in Belgrade.

According to some Serbian media news outlets, such as RTS, the prototype of the Lazanski 8×8 is a further development of the Lazar III project, but actually, it is a completely new vehicle that incorporates much better armor protection combined with stronger offensive armament, capable of engaging both ground and air targets. In addition, the vehicle retains the capability of transporting 10 fully armed soldiers. One of the most interesting features of the new ACV is the Russian remotely controlled ‘Kinzhal’ (Dagger) combat module.  At the moment, the vehicle is still in the early phases of development.

The author would especially want to thank Alex Tarasov, for helping with this article.

The Lazanski wheeled infantry fighting vehicle. Source: https://www.srbijadanas.com/vesti/info/vucic-ispunio-obecanje-na-sajmu-naoruzanja-predstavljeno-najbolje-vozilo-u-srbiji-nazvano-po-2021-10-12

History

Given the Lazanski’s recent public display, the precise development history of this vehicle is not yet available to the public. According to the information revealed at the Partner-2021 exhibition, the Lazanski was developed by the well-known Serbian Yugoimport SDPR company, responsible for designing and manufacturing many modern armored vehicles in recent years. Yugoimport was founded back in 1949, with the intention of acquiring necessary military equipment for the JNA (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija, Yugoslav People’s Army) from abroad.

After 1953, Yugoimport expanded the scope of its business to the export of domestic military equipment. One of its most successful exports has been the Lazar series. The Lazar (Series I to III) is an 8×8 wheeled armored vehicle designed to be able to transport 3 crew members and 9 soldiers. These were designed to be highly modular and equipped with different weapon outfits. First presented in 2008, they have seen service with the Serbian armed forces and have seen limited export success with countries such as Pakistan.

The Lazanski at the Arms and Military Equipment Fair was held in Belgrade in October 2021. Source: https://www.armyrecognition.com/partner_2021_news_online_show_daily_defense_exhibition_serbia/yugoimport_unveils_new_lazanski_8x8_armored_vehicle_armed_with_57mm_cannon.html

Initially, the Lazanski project was named after medieval Serbian Emperor Stefan Dušan Silni. It was renamed Lazanski to honor the late military analyst and diplomat Miroslav Lazanski, who died in August 2021.

While Lazanski’s overall design was made by the Yugoimport engineers, some elements, such as the remote-controlled turret, were imported from Russia. Sources do not mention why the Serbian engineers decided to use this weapon system. However, this is not the first example of  military-industrial cooperation between Russia and Serbia. Earlier in 2021, Yugoimport sold a batch of Lazar 3 wheeled ACVs armed with Russian-made BPPU turrets to Turkmenistan.

A Lazar 3 A1 ACV equipped with a Russian-made 32V01 remotely-controlled module. Source: Jane’s, Dmitry Fediushko
A BTR-80A armed with a BPPU-1 combat module. A BPPU-1 incorporates a 2A72 30 mm autocannon and a 7.62 mm PKT machine gun. Source: https://www.arms-expo.ru/armament/samples/1285/92413/

Given the general close cooperation between the Russian and Serbian arms industry, this also should not come as a surprise, as both sides benefit from this mutually reinforcing collaboration. The Serbian Army could receive a new high-tech weapon system without the need to invest in research and development. At the same time, the Russian side could enter new emerging markets thanks to the Serbian brand-new wheeled platform and the fact that the Serbian arms industry is not under the threat of sanctions.

The price of the Lazanski ACV might be between $2 and $2.5 million, depending on the armament and configuration, according to certain unverified sources. The export prospects are unclear at this point, however, it is possible that Serbia might enter new markets with the help of Rosoboronexport, the sole state intermediary agency for Russia’s exports/imports of defense-related and dual-use products, technologies, and services. However, with the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, it is unclear how this could affect the Lazanki.

Design

Not much is known about the design and performance, as the vehicle is in its early development phase. However, some limited specifications have been revealed at the Partner-2021 exhibition. According to official sources, Serbia expects to finish trials of the platform by the end of 2022. While the Lazanski shares some similarities with the Lazar 3, it also incorporates a number of improvements.

Engine and the Chassis

The Lazanski ACV hull measures 8 m long, 3.2 m wide, and 2.6 m high. Overall height including the turret is 3.6 m. Since the platform could be equipped with modular armor protection, the weight would vary. The lightly armored version weighs 26 tonnes, while the weight of the Lazanski ACV fitted with heavy armor could reach up to 36 tonnes. The ACV does not have amphibious capabilities and features a hydro-pneumatic suspension.

The Lazanski is powered by a 711 hp Caterpillar C13 engine connected to a six-speed Allison 4000SP automatic transmission. The engine itself is placed on the front right side of the vehicle. The design of the running gear also incorporates driving axles produced by the Finnish company SISU, and a transfer gearbox by Katsu.

The Russian military blog bmpd, which is part of the CAST think-tank, points out that the automotive part of the Lazanski is very similar to Finnish Patria AMV XP.

While the Lazanski is powered by a 711 hp engine, its overall driving performance is not yet revealed. Source: https://it-mixer.com/predstavljeno-vozilo-lazanski-pogledajte-njegove-karakteristike/
Close-up view of the Lazanski’s infantry dismount compartment interior. Note the screen on the front wall. The Lazanski is equipped with a situational awareness system that allows troops to see their surrounding environment. Source: https://www.srbijadanas.com/vesti/info/vucic-ispunio-obecanje-na-sajmu-naoruzanja-predstavljeno-najbolje-vozilo-u-srbiji-nazvano-po-2021-10-12

Crew, Hull, and Internal Layout 

The Lazanski’s hull is welded, made of armored steel, and has a relatively simple shape featuring flat rear and sides and sloping-down frontal plate. The internal layout is typical for basically all modern armored vehicles of this type, with an engine compartment at the front-right, driver’s compartment at the front-left next to the engine, the combat compartment in the middle, and, finally, the infantry dismount compartment at the back of the vehicle.

The engine is fully enclosed but has a few access hatches with ventilation grilles that the crew can use for maintenance.

Crew members can access their positions through the two hatches on the top of the hull or through the passage between the fighting compartment and the infantry dismount compartment. The crew could use the same passage as an emergency exit, allowing the crew to leave the vehicle through the rear ramp in case the hatches at the front are damaged or under enemy fire. Each crew hatch is provided with three vision blocks. Some elements of the hull are covered by an anti-slip coating. Dismounts are supposed to leave the vehicle by using the rear hydraulic ramp.

In order to fully operate the Lazanski, a crew of three is needed. This includes the commander, gunner, and driver. The driver is located on the front left side, with the commander’s and the gunner’s seats placed behind. To the rear is a large infantry dismount compartment where 10 fully armed soldiers can be stationed in shock-mitigating seats. The soldiers’ seats are divided into rows of five seats on each side, which are positioned opposite each other.

In order to provide the crew with an excellent field of view, the Lazanski is equipped with six surveillance infrared cameras which provide a full 360° field of vision. In addition, the driver has two mirrors, one placed on each side of the vehicle.

According to bmpd, the Lazanski is also equipped with several subsystems, such as an air conditioning unit, intercom, NBC protection, a navigation system, and an automated battle management system.

The Lazanski’s front view. Source: https://www.b92.net/biz/vesti/srbija/mocni-lazanski-privukao-najvise-paznje-sve-o-oklopnim-premijerama-sajma-naoruzanja-1940325?version=amp

While other Serbian designs, such as the Lazar, have side doors and firing ports for dismounts, the Lazanski does not.

The soldiers that are transported inside the Lazanski can use the rear hydraulic ramp. Source: https://www.srbijadanas.com/vesti/info/vucic-ispunio-obecanje-na-sajmu-naoruzanja-predstavljeno-najbolje-vozilo-u-srbiji-nazvano-po-2021-10-12

Turret and Armament

The Lazanski is armed with the ‘Kinzhal’ Russian-made remotely operated and controlled combat module.

The ‘Kinzhal’ (Dagger) is a further development of the AU-220M ‘Baikal’ RCWS. Both modules were developed by CRI Burevestnik, which is part of Uralvagonzavod.

The standard armament of the ‘Kinzhal’ consists of a 57 mm 2A91 (BM-57) autocannon with eighty ready-to-fire 57 x 348 mm rounds in the internal storage. The secondary armament consists of the coaxial 7.62 mm PKTM machine gun with 1,000 stored rounds and smoke dischargers. Additionally, ‘Kinzhal’ can be fitted with two 9M120 Ataka-M ATGMs. However, the exhibited prototype had no ATGMs installed.

Kinzhal’ includes a sophisticated fire control system (FCS) with day and night capability and a panoramic sight, but the exact specifications are not known. Typical ammunition load for the 2A91 autocannon consists of HE-T (UOR-281U) and AP-T (UBR-281U) rounds. Also, the manufacturer plans to develop a 57 mm programmable HE round and guided round for use against aerial targets, such as helicopters and UAVs.

The 2A91 57 mm autocannon originates from the S-60 autocannon used on the ZSU-57-2. The 2A91 retains the capability to use older rounds.

According to the manufacturer’s information, the turret weighs 3,850 kg, including elements installed inside the hull. Some sources, such as the Russian bmpd, say that the combat station fitted on the prototype exhibited at the Partner-2021 weighs only 3,600 kg.

This difference probably appeared because the turret was installed without some elements, such as Ataka ATGM launchers, or the prototype was equipped with a full-scale mock-up of the ‘Kinzhal’ RCWS.

Since the Lazanski’s design is modular, the vehicle could be quite easily fitted with a wide variety of turrets and weapon stations of either domestic or foreign origin. For example, Serbian news outlets mentioned that the idea to arm Lazanski with a Turkish-made MIZRAK-30 turret is under consideration.

MIZRAK-30, an unmanned turret system designed and produced by Turkish company OTOKAR. Source: https://defense.otokar.com.tr/turret-systems/mizrak-30-turret-system
Main specifications for the Kinzhal RCWS. Source: UVZ

Main specifications for the Kinzhal RCWS. Source: UVZ

Primary armament 57 mm 2A91 (BM-57) autocannon
Rate of fire, rpm 80
Initial velocity, m/s 1,000-1,500
Armor piercing at 1,500 m, mm 100-120 at 60 degrees
Ammunition (ready to fire), pcs 80
Elevation, degrees -5 to +60
Traverse. degrees 360
Secondary armament 7.62 mm PKTM machine gun
Ammunition (ready to fire), pcs 1,000
Rate of fire (PKTM), rpm 700-800
Total weight of the RCWS, kg 3,850 *

* Including the elements installed in the hull

Armor and Protection

The hull of the prototype is constructed from steel with additional ceramic armor. According to the manufacturer, the ballistic protection of the frontal arc reaches Level 5 STANAG 4569A, meaning it can withstand 25 mm projectiles from 500 m and 155 mm shell splinters. The ballistic protection of the sides and rear reaches STANAG 4569A Level 3, and is able to withstand 7.62 mm AP bullets from any distance. According to the designers, the effectiveness of this armor was examined and tested in Germany and Israel.

In addition, Yugoimport is developing an appliqué armor kit able to raise the ballistic protection to STANAG 4569A Level 6, which means the ability to withstand 30 mm APDS rounds from 500 m distance.

In terms of blast protection, the Lazanski has a V-shaped bottom and can sustain blasts of up to 10 kg of explosives (STANAG 4569B Level 4a/b).

Additionally, the Lazanski, in the configuration demonstrated at the Partner-2021 exhibition, was provided with several smoke dischargers for self-protection.

Lazanski’s technical specifications were officially revealed at the Partner-2021 exhibition in Belgrade. Source: bmpd.livejournal.com/

Future and Conclusion

The Lazanski is certainly an interesting design coming out of the relatively small Serbian military industry. According to Serbian media and its constructor, the Lazanski is a high-tech modern armored vehicle with huge military potential in domestic use or as an export product. Besides it, the Serbian military industry achieved some export success with the Lazar III and Nora series of self-propelled guns.

Given its experimental nature, it is hard to predict its fate at this point. However, it is possible to make several assumptions.

Firstly, the ACV is not in its final shape, and the development of the Russian Bumerang platform, which was constantly delayed, may offer a cautionary tale on how the development might take more time than is anticipated. Obviously, many changes and improvements are to be expected in the near future. These would probably be mainly focused on increasing its survivability and various additional equipment.

Secondly, given that the platform is designed on a modular basis, we can expect that various variants of the Lazanski will appear. In the future, the Lazanski might start a whole new family of combat and auxiliary armored vehicles, including APCs, ARVs, self-propelled artillery systems, C2, or CBRN variants, but this remains to be seen.

Lazanski Armored Combat Vehicle, left side view
Ilustration made by Phantom_25_Sniper
Lazanski Armored Combat Vehicle, right side view
Ilustration made by Phantom_25_Sniper
Lazanski Armored Combat Vehicle, front view
Ilustration made by Phantom_25_Sniper
Lazanski Armored Combat Vehicle, rear view
Ilustration made by Phantom_25_Sniper
Lazanski Armored Combat Vehicle, top view
Ilustration made by Phantom_25_Sniper

Technical

Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 8 x 3.2 m x 2.6 m
Total weight, battle-ready 26 to 36 tonnes
Crew 3 (Commander, Gunner, and Driver) plus 10 Soldiers
Propulsion 711 hp Caterpillar C13 engine
Primary Armament 57 mm 2S91 gun
Secondary Armament 7.62 mm 6P7K machine gun
Elevation -5° to +°60
Armor Unknown

 

Sources

Categories
Has Own Video WW2 German Fake Tanks

Geschützwagen E 100 (Fake Tank)

German Reich
Self-Propelled Gun – Fake

Since the Second World War, the weapons of Nazi Germany have given rise to great myths and legends, many only lightly connected to historical reality or physical plausability. The famous Tiger tank or the massive Maus have sparked massive interest amongst amateur and veteran historians alike. This phenomenon can be seen most prominently within the military modelling community, where the surplus of pieces and time removes all limits for those ensconced by the German military’s real or imagined might. Naturally, many unique creations have been made, some completely disregarding any historical or technical factors, being part of a hobby for personal enjoyment, and not for serious historical discourse. One such creation is the Schwerer Geschützwagen Löwe 24 cm (Eng: Heavy gun carrier Lion 24 cm) created by a German modeller in the 2000s. Over a decade later, the video game company Wargaming was looking for a German self-propelled gun to fill the spot for the Tier X German Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) line in their game World of Tanks. The modeller’s abomination suited their needs.

The Model

The creator of the model is Sebastian Nast, who converted and merged a Dragon Models 1:35 E 100 model kit and a Precision Models 24 cm K4 resin kit. He did, however, make drastic changes to those parts. The Schwerer Geschützwagen Löwe is essentially a lengthened E 100 hull (one extra set of overlapping wheels per side) with the engine moved to the middle, behind the driver. The gun, a 24 cm K 4 Sf, manned by a crew of 8, is housed inside a large open-topped superstructure heavily inspired by the real Geschützwagen Grille 17/21. As a matter of fact, the entire model seems to have been inspired by the Grille, being a ‘what-if’ even larger variant. Interestingly, the creator provided a short fictional “history” of the vehicle. Its translation from German:

“As early as 1942/43, the Army Weapons Office made a demand for heavy and very heavy self-propelled guns. By the end of 1944, the Grille self-propelled gun, based on an extended Tiger II B chassis, was almost ready for serial production. The 17cm K 44 and/or 21cm Mörser 18 were intended as armaments. After detailed tests, it turned out, however, that these armaments did not bring satisfactory results. Therefore, at the beginning of 1945, the demand was made to install the new 24cm K 4, which had been newly developed in 1944 and which had made a great impression during firing attempts, in the new self-propelled gun. The Grille chassis, however, could not support this armament. It was planned that the new self-propelled gun should be based on the new E90 / E100 chassis. Codename for this project was Hummel/Wespe. Army introduction was planned for 1946 at the latest. Due to the events of the war, however, this project did not get beyond the drawing board stage. The first preliminary studies are said to have been very promising…”

The Schwerer Geschützwagen model, as seen on Ebay.
Source: Ebay

The modeller provided a series of images, showing the SPG next to a Grille model, and being loaded by a half-track with ammunition. Nast calls it a “historical-logical reconstruction” and the most probable variant if the E 100 hull would have ever been used as a SPG. You can find more images of the model and a short text by Nast himself on the model here, written in June of 2001.

The model was put up for sale on Ebay by seller ‘Goldenstern114’ in the summer of 2020 and sold that same October for €176.

Size comparison of the SPG with the E 100 Salamander, another fake E 100 based vehicle. Note how much longer the Geschützwagen hull is.
Source: Nast-sonderfahrzeuge.de

Historical elements

Like most such scratch builds, the Schwerer Geschützwagen is based on some form of reality. The E 100 chassis was, of course, a real thing, that was partially built and completed by Adler in January 1945 at Hauestenbeck, where the Allies would later find it in early April 1945.

The unfinished E 100 hull, as found by the Allies.
Source: World War Photos

The gun, the 24 cm K 4, was also historical, but never left the drawing board and was certainly never tested, as Nast claims. Regardless, it would have been too big to fit, even in the extended E 100 hull. There were drawings of it fitted on three Tiger heavy tank chassis, or on a chassis similar to the Gerät 040/041, and even then, in an open fashion, similar to that of a railway gun. The K4 was to replace the K3 cannon and, in 1941, a contract was given to Rheinmetall-Borsig and Krupp to develop the gun. It required high mobility, a projectile weight of 160 kg and a range of 48/49 km. The barrel length was 17,280 mm (L/72) or 16,000 mm (RhB Special Panzer). The towed piece weighed 65,500 kg when transported, and 55,000 kg combat weight.

Unfortunately, the Precision Models resin kit does not seem to remotely resemble the plans of the real weapon. Nast enlarged the weapon, but it is still far off, and looks more like the 24 cm Kanone 3.

Rheinmetall’s 24 cm K4 on Tiger tank chassis for transport. This paints a view of just how large the K4 truly was.
Source: H.L. Doyle

There were plans to make a self-propelled assault gun out of the E 100, namely the 15/17 cm Sturmgeschütz auf E 100 Fahrgestell, an extremely well-armored vehicle meant to take on heavy Allied tanks and fortifications from long range, but it never went past mock-up stage. Apart from blueprints showing the gun mantlet and mount, everything else has been lost.

Practicality

Judging something for more than it actually was meant to be is never a good thing, but for the sake of the argument, a quick analysis of the vehicle can show how infeasible the design would have been. Firstly, the chassis still keeps the E 100 levels of protection, with a maximum thickness of 200 mm, and the heavy side panels, completely useless considering the almost paper-thin gun housing and open-top. Also, the long-range of the 240 mm K 4 cannon would have made any armor pointless, as it would fire from far behind the frontline.

Nonetheless, the weight of the vehicle was still an estimated 137 tonnes. The engine, an unspecified 1,500 hp Maybach V12, would have propelled the SPG at a whopping 42 km/h, a completely exaggerated number. The E 100 tank, weighing less than the SPG, would not have been able to reach this speed. Combined with the incredible strain on the transmission and destructive ground pressure, the vehicle would have been a mechanical disaster, unable to be produced by a struggling Germany in 1945. German heavy tanks at half this weight and less struggled mechanically, let alone something of this size.

Nonetheless, the Schwere Geschützwagen was just an interesting model, with a moderately sensible ‘history’, albeit exaggerated in its mechanical aspects. However, this is nitpicking when discussing an amateur model kitbash.

World of Tanks

Things took a weird turn when Wargaming needed a vehicle to fill their top of the line Tier X spot for German artillery. The lower tiers are filled in by historical vehicles, such as the Hummel, G.W. Panther or Grille 17/21, but at tier VIII and X, Wargaming’s research team seemed to struggle. Thus, two fake vehicles were introduced, the G.W. Tiger P and G.W. E 100. While the G.W. Tiger P is a lengthened Tiger P hull with a Geschützwagen Grille casemate, probably a Wargaming invention, the G.W. E 100 is heavily inspired by the Schwere Geschützwagen Löwe model.

Appearance

Wargaming shortened the SPG back to the regular E 100 hull size, but did keep the rear overhang and most other visual aspects of the original model, like the gun shield and camouflage net holders. They did change the other performance aspects for game balancing. Interestingly, World of Tanks also provides a false history of the G.W. E 100, however, it never mentions it as being fake.

“Project for a 210 mm mortar on the chassis of the E 100. The vehicle was never produced.”

Most importantly, the gun was changed. In the game, it now has a ‘21cm Mörser 18/2’, a fictional name for the real 21 cm Mörser 18, but with the slightly changed name to differentiate between the two, as the latter is present in lower tier vehicles. The real Mörser 18 was a replacement for the 21 cm Mörser 16 from WWI. It had a weight of 16.7 tonnes, a range of 16,725 m, a muzzle velocity of 550 m/s and a High Explosive (HE) shell weight of 113 kg. The fictional vehicle can carry 30 rounds. There is an openable port on the front of the superstructure, which was probably meant to allow the use of a direct fire sight. A large gun crutch is present at the front of the top of the hull.

The much more rational World of Tanks model, but altogether an unnecessary mongrel, which can come off as something real.
Source: MMOWG.net

The engine and other performance indicators were also changed, the engine being a Maybach HL 234 TRM P45, with a 900 hp output. This was a real engine that was hoped to reach up to 1,200 hp, so this variant is in line with historical reality (the project failed to reach the desired engine power). The engine has been moved from its rear position to the center of the vehicle, similar to the Jagdpanzer E 100 vehicle from World of Tanks. This was a common change for German artillery SPGs, also being a feature of the Hummel, Wespe and Grille Ausf.M. The transmission remained at the front, as on the regular E 100. The exhausts were moved to the front of the superstructure, an interesting location. In game, the G.W. E.100 can reach a theoretical top speed of 40 km/h, again probably overly optimistic for the transmission, suspension and engine, although the vehicle usually drives at much lower speeds.

In terms of weight, it is 87 tonnes, giving it a hp/tonne ratio of 10.34, with a well-armored hull, with 80 mm at the front, 50 mm at the sides, and 40 mm at the rear. This is significantly less than on the real E 100 tank hull, which had 200 mm of angled armor at the front, 120 mm at the side and 155 mm at the rear, so this fake SPG version would have been based on a new-built chassis, not on the already built E 100 hull from Adler. There are 60 mm thick armored skirts on the sides, originally designed for the E 100. These significantly improved the protection over the side and tracks, which were otherwise rather thin, at least compared to the rest of the tank, and flat. However, these are notably useless for a long-range artillery SPG and would represent dead weight. They were probably added in because they are a distinctive part of the E 100 look, and not for historical purposes. Two tow hooks are present on the front of the hull and another two at the rear.

The crew also dropped to 6 (commander, gunner, driver, radioman, and two loaders), with the driver and radio operator in a different compartment in the front of the vehicle, separated from the fighting compartment by the engine. The driver has a single periscope pointing toward the front, right in front of his hatch. There was no hull machine gun on the E 100 or on this vehicle. A single Notek lamp is placed at the middle of the front glacis. The rest of the crew is placed in the rear superstructure which they can access through a double door at the rear, which would probably have been kept open during firing in order to allow ammunition resupply from ammunition half-tracks. The large metal plate present at the rear of the Grille 17/21, meant to assist with turning the vehicle faster when deployed, is notably absent from the G.W. E 100.

Rear-top view HD model of the G.W. E 100 in World of Tanks.
Source: MMOWG.net

Historical Alternatives

By now, fake tanks are more common than should be acceptable in a game that variously styles itself as realistic, historical or accurate. In the early days of World of Tanks, such fake vehicles used to be reserved only for spots that could not be filled with historical vehicles. Oddly though, there are real German designs that could fill in the spot for both the G.W. Tiger P and G.W. E 100. Walter Spielberger mentions in his book ‘Tiger and its Variants’ of self-propelled guns built using Tiger elements (perhaps the Grille chassis itself) armed with 305 mm and 420 mm Czechoslovak Škoda mortars. Alternatively, the 30.5 cm L/16 auf Sfl. Bär, armed with a 305 mm and designed by Krupp in 1943, also used Tiger components, despite being meant as a heavy assault mortar. Why these were not implemented instead, is hard to say.

There were rumors in 2013 that a second German artillery branch would be added, including the Sturmtiger and eventually the Bär at a high tier, which may have been the reason why these vehicles were not used. The rumors have not yet materialized. Other rumors also claimed that Wargaming was replacing the G.W. E 100 with the 30.5cm / 42cm Schwerer Granatenwerfer auf Selbstfahrlafette. While the two variants differed a little, they were largely identical. Developed at Pilsen in early 1945, they weighed between 55 and 65 tonnes. Most likely discovered by Yuri Pasholok, Wargaming historian at the time, it is not clear why they have not replaced the G.W. E 100. Ultimately, Wargaming never has and most likely never will replace the G.W. E 100 or the lower tier fake G.W. Tiger P because of the controversy surrounding self-propelled guns within World of Tanks.

The 30.5 cm L/16 auf Sfl. Bär was and still is an acceptable historical alternative to the G.W. E 100.
Source: Doyle
The 42 cm Schwerer Granatenwerfer auf Selbstfahrlafette.
Source: For the Record

Conclusion

Starting off as a typical model scratch built by a modeler, the G.W. E 100 has become an iconic fake tank due to its almost decade-long existence within World of Tanks. Even though it is a more ‘innocent’ fake, it is still a fabrication that is here to stay because of Wargaming’s satisfaction with how it fits into the German artillery line, and their lackluster care and attention to historical realism, especially nowadays, when entire tech tree lines are falsifications.

G.W. E 100 Specifications (WoT Version)

Dimensions (L-W-H) ≈ 9.000 x 4.480 x ≈ 3.500 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 87 tonnes
Crew 6 (Commander, Driver, Gunner, Radio Operator, 2x Loaders)
Propulsion Maybach HL 234 TRM P45, outputting 900 hp
Speed 10 – 40 km/h
Armament 1x 21cm Mörser 18/2 (30 rounds)
Armor Hull:
Front: 80 mm
Side: 50 mm + 60 mm sideskirt
Rear 40 mm
Casemate:
Front: 75 mm
Side + Rear: 40 mm
Total Production none; fake vehicle

Sources

http://nast-sonderfahrzeuge.de/fotosammlung/displayimage.php?album=37&pos=10
https://wiki.wargaming.net/en/Tank:G61_G_E
https://picclick.de/Schwerer-Gesch%C3%BCtzwagen-L%C3%B6we-24cm-Prototyp-Entwurf-135-143768685952.html
https://tanks.gg/tank/gw-e-100/model
http://www.nast-sonderfahrzeuge.de/images/militaer/loewe/page_01.htm

Categories
Fictional Tanks Fictional Vehicles Has Own Video

Macharius Heavy Tank

Imperium of Man (41st and 42nd Millennium)
Heavy Tank

“In the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium, there is only war.”  This is the starting slogan of Game Workshop’s Warhammer 40K Sci-Fi universe, where mankind is besieged by many threats in the form of alien and traitor attacks. In order to defend its vast domain, the Imperium of Man employs armies equipped with highly advanced and slightly less so (but present in almost unlimited numbers) vehicles. One of these is the huge Macharius heavy tank.

The Macharius heavy tank. Source: wh40k.lexicanum.com

The Warhammer 40K universe 

The Warhammer 40K universe is set at the end of the 41st and the start of the 42nd millennia in the future. While many different factions (T’au, Necrons, Eldar, Orks, to name some) are part of the large universe, the main protagonist is the Imperium of Man. This is a vast galaxy-spanning human civilization besieged by many external and internal threats (aliens, heretics, demons, to name a few). The Imperium of Man is led by the immortal God-Emperor, who has remained immobile for over 10,000 years on the golden throne on Terra (Earth). The Emperor is worshiped as a God who protects his people from many threats.

The Imperium is a totalitarian regime in which untold billions of Imperium citizens live under harsh conditions, surrounded by oppression from their planetary lords, technology stagnation, fear of the Xenos (aliens), with only the faith in the God-Emperor that keeps them going forward. In order to defend Humanity, the Imperium calls to service fast armies of supersoldiers (Adeptus Astartes/Space Marines), Armies of the Tech Priesthood of Mars, and from its many Forge Worlds (controlled by the Adeptus Mechanicus), the ever-vigilant Inquisition, and many other military organizations. Lastly, but probably the most important and the one that always responds first, are the countless billions of soldiers of the Imperial Guard (Astra Militarum). These ordinary humans have to fight the horrors of the Universe with nothing more than a Lasgun (basically an AK 47 of the future) and faith in the God-Emperor. They are supported by countless armored vehicles, including tanks, such as the immense Macharius Heavy tank.

The Imperial Aquila is the main symbol of the Imperium of Man. Source: wh40k.lexicanum.com

Warhammer 40K is the property of Games Workshop company (also its sister company, the Forge World, which sells the Macharius scale models), together with other franchises like Warhammer Fantasy or the Age of Sigmar. Games Workshop is well known for selling their Warhammer 40K models, along with different types of accessories necessary for painting and assembly of these models. It also possessed a vast library (Black Library) that includes a series of rules and storybooks that describe many different stories of this – to some – fascinating science fiction universe. This company traces its origins back to 1975 in London when a small workshop for building and selling wooden game boards was opened. During the early 1980s, the first series of board games, that would eventually evolve into the Warhammer (both fantasy and Sci-fi universes), appeared. Over the years, these would evolve into one of the largest and best-known board games in the world.

Games Workshop company logo. Source: www.escapistmagazine.com

History of the Macharius Heavy Tank

Given the nature of the Warhammer 40K setting, spanning a history of over 40 millennia old, things are often described as being lost or forgotten. Such is the case of the Macharius tank, which is described as having been used in the distant human past, but due to huge cataclysmic events, simply forgotten. Its design and construction methods were understandably lost in the vast and sometimes abandoned archives of many distant forge worlds (worlds involved in the production of various types of equipment, spaceships, military vehicles, and weapons) spread across the known Universe. On one such forge world, named Lucius, in search of old technologies long since lost, Magos (basically meaning engineer) Nalax came across fragments of a heavy tank. After years and years of painstaking research, he finally gathered all available information, which allowed him to finally reconstruct the long-forgotten heavy tank. He then went to the main forge world of Mars to petition the High Fabricator-General (essentially the highest authority of all forge worlds) for this new design to be formally accepted. Unfortunately for Magos Nalax, he never lived to see the final verdict of his petition, as the whole acceptance process took over 200 years. After years of testing and tedious discussions, this tank was finally approved for production and received the name Macharius in honor of one of the greatest generals of the Imperial Guard, Lord Commander Solar Macharius.

Lord Commander Solar Macharius, a man under whose leadership over 1,000 worlds were brought under Imperium control. Source: wh40k.lexicanum.com

At the same time when the production of the Macharius was approved, forge world Lucius received the STC (Standard Template Construct, which refers to a computer possessing the necessary schematics on how to build certain technologies, ranging from simple tools to spaceships) for the production of the massive Baneblade super-heavy tank. It appears that the work of the Magos Nalax would be forgotten. But due to the huge demand for weapons of war and the slow production of the Baneblade, it was decided that the Macharius would be put into service. The Macharius was initially supplied to the newly created Death Korps of Krieg regiments, which specialized in siege and attrition warfare. It was later supplied to various units spread across the Galaxy as well.

Specification

The real-life design inspiration of the Macharius (and most other Imperial Guard vehicles) mostly consists of World War One and World War Two vehicles. With the hull and suspension units being taken from the First and the armament and turret design from the Second World War.

The hull

The Macharius hull can be divided into several different components. These are the rear positioned engine compartment, central fighting compartment with the turret placed on top, front driver compartment, and the two large suspension compartments. The Macharius tank is constructed using a combination of welding and bolted armor plates.

Front view of the Macharius. Source: wh40k.lexicanum.com

The superstructure

The superstructure of the Macharius occupies a large portion of the tank’s center and rear, partly extending over the rear parts of the tracks. While most parts of the Macharius’ armor plates are flat, a portion of the front superstructure armor plate (above the driver’s compartment) is placed at a 45° angle. While the flat armor provided relatively less protection than angled armor of the same thickness, it would be necessary in order to increase the internal space needed for the large crew, ammunition, and other equipment. Two protected observation ports and what could be some sort of camera or other sighting device are placed on this plate.

The Macharius side view. Source: www.forgeworld.co.uk

The driver’s compartment is placed on the vehicle’s right front side. This compartment has a simple box shape with a small cupola, which has five observation ports, placed on top of it. In front of it, another single-piece hatch with an observation port is located. On its left side, a firing point armed with heavy stubbers is placed. The weapon mount has a small gun sight and a larger armored periscope on top of it. While the driver’s side view is partially blocked by the suspension and track frame, the top observation ports provide a limited field of vision to the sides.

The driver’s compartment is located on the right side of the vehicle, with a weapon mount next to it. While the direct front and side visibility is somewhat restricted, the top-mounted ports somewhat help with this issue. Source: Author’s ow

Engine and suspension

The Macharius is powered by an LC400 V18 P2 engine that can run on any type of fuel. The fuel is stored in two large tanks placed on both sides of the engine. Additional fuel can be carried in two horizontally placed fuel drums at the rear of the vehicle. The overall driving performance for a tank built so far in the future is quite poor, with the maximum speed being 26 km/h and the off-road speed being even less at 18 km/h. There is no information about its operational range. The engine itself is positioned in the rear of the vehicle. It can be reached either through a two-part hatch or a larger single-piece metal plate with a ventilation grill located on top of the engine compartment. The engine is equipped with two large exhaust pipes.

Close-up view of the rear of the engine compartment. The engine can be easily accessed through a two-part hatch. Note the two large external fuel tanks. The two bottom hatches possibly serve to provide the crew with easy access to the vehicle’s transmission unit. Source: Author’s
Top view of the engine compartment. The single-piece metal plate with a ventilation grill could be removed if needed. The two side hatches (placed on both sides of the engine) lead to the internal fuel tanks. The two smaller round-shaped hatches serve as refueling points. Source: Author’s own

The Macharius’ suspension and track frame are completely enclosed by armored shields. This overall design is heavily inspired by the British tanks from the First World War. The suspension consists of 9 road wheels and an unknown number of return rollers. The drive sprockets are likely located to the rear, while on the front, an idler with a track tension screw is placed. The tracks are mostly completely exposed to enemy fire, and given their large size, can be easily destroyed, leading to immediate immobilization.

Close-up view of the large and fully enclosed suspension and track frame. Source: Author’s own
While not the same, the British tanks from the First World War are the obvious inspiration for Macharius’ overall chassis construction. Source: Wikipedia

Turret

The inspiration for the Macharius turret comes more or less from the German Panzer II tank. It has the same overall basic shape, being slightly enlarged and with some other differences. The Macharius turret has a hexagonal shape with the round commander’s cupola placed on the right side. The rear armor plate is slightly angled. The side armor consists of two plates. The rear smaller one narrows toward the back armor plate. The longer front side plates also narrow toward the gun mantlet. The gun mantlet is surrounded by two highly curved plates on both sides. Above the gun mantlet, a movable armor plate serves to provide additional protection when the guns are in a level position. The turret’s top armor is mostly flat and slightly curves toward the gun.

The enlarged Macharius turret compared to a Panzer II turret, showing a number of similarities in the overall design shape. The most obvious similarity is the front rounded armor. The main armament is obviously different. Sources: weaponsandwarfare.com and Siege Studios facebook group

On top of the turret, there is what appears to be a round-shaped ventilation port protected with an armored cover. Next to it is a protected telescope sight.  What possibly is a targeting acquisition sight is located on the left side. Behind it, a small hatch is added to the rear of the side armor. Given its size, it seems unlikely that it is used for removing spent cartridges. On the back of the turret, a large three-part storage bin is installed.

On the right side of the turret top, a large round-shaped commander’s cupola protrudes out. A two-part hatch is placed on top. In order for the commander to have a good overall view of the surroundings, he is provided with 16 small vision ports.

To the rear of the turret, a large three-part storage bin is placed. Also, note the top positioned round ventilation port cover. Source: Author’s own

The Armament

The main armament of the Macharius consists of twin-linked large battle cannons placed in the turret. These are 120 mm smoothbore cannons that fire armor-piercing high-explosive rounds (APHE). With this armament, the Macharius is ideal for dealing with enemy armor but also large concentrations of infantry thanks to its large explosive blast radius. The total ammunition load for these two guns is 40 rounds. The turret can rotate 360o, while the elevation of the main armament ranges from -2° to +28°.

The Macharius’ main armament consists of two 120 mm smoothbore cannons. The hull twin-linked heavy stubbers are also visible here. Source: warhammer40k.fandom.com

Secondary weapons consist of two hull-positioned heavy stubbers, with two more placed on the sponson mounts in the hull sides. The heavy stubbers are basically equivalent to modern-day heavy machine guns and operate the same way. The weapon mount is protected with a round shield that rotates as the stubbers move. The firing arc of the side sponson mounts is 20° to 130°  and the traverse appears to be around -10° to +10°. This unusual firing arc essentially prevents these guns from firing directly forward. The gunners observe their target through small vision ports. To the rear of the sponson mounts, a large square-shaped hatch is placed.

The sponson weapons can be replaced with either two heavy flamers or two heavy bolters. Heavy bolters are enlarged machine guns that are specially designed to fire rocket-propelled and mass-reactive 2.5 cm shells simply known as bolts. The hardened tip is capable of penetrating most infantry armor (and light vehicles), obliterating the target with its explosive charge from within. The heavy flamer is basically an enlarged flamethrower with extended range and potency for destruction. The ammunition for the heavy stubbers consists of 1000 rounds and 600 rounds for the heavy bolters. One more heavy stubber can be added on the commanded cupola, which has to be operated by him.  The Macharius can also be outfitted with a one-shot Hunter-Killer anti-armor missile launcher.

Side view of the Macharius left sponson mount armed with a heavy bolter. Source: Author’s own
The Imperial Guard uses heavy machine guns that are known simply as heavy stubbers. These fire large-caliber shells that could easily deal with most lightly armored targets. Due to the sheer size of Imperium production centers, there are many patterns of these weapons, but otherwise, they operate on the same principle. Source: wh40k.lexicanum.comr
The more complicated and far more deadly heavy Bolter fires rocket-propelled and mass-reactive shells. Source:wh40k.lexicanum.co

The Armor

The overall turret armor was 220 mm thick, while the gun mantlet was 150 mm thick. The superstructure is 200 mm thick and the hull 150 mm thick. This overall armor thickness, together with the bolted armor, does not look very impressive for a vehicle produced in the far future. Its strength probably relies on the materials used in the construction of its armor plates. They are probably made using futuristics materials that are extremely resistant to heat, ballistic impacts, and other weapons. For additional protection and tactical use, smoke launchers can be installed on the tank.

Crew

Given its immense size, the Macharius needs a large crew in order to work properly. In the turret, the commander, gunner, and two loaders are positioned. In the hull are the driver, comms-operator, (radio operator), and two more gunners. The comms-operator is tasked with operating the two hull positioned stubbers. The hull gunners each operate a  sponson weapon on the hull sides. It is highly likely that the Macharius was provided with a number of targeting, communication and other cogitators (computers in Warhammer 40K) to help the crew better operate the vehicle.

In Combat

The Macharius tank’s first major combat use was during the 17 year-long sieges of Vraks, the capital city of the planet Vraks Prime. The Imperial authorities were overrun by insurgents who then proceeded to plunder the enormous war material storage depots present on the planet, including tanks, artillery, and other weapons needed to prepare for the Imperial retaliation. The capital Vraks was reinforced with many trenches, minefields, bunkers, and other defensive systems. The Imperium responded by sending in the 88th Siege Army to retake the planet, composed of units taken from the Planet of Krieg which were specialized in siege warfare. The subsequent battle lasted 17 years, leading to some dozen or so millions of dead and the complete destruction of Vraks Prime. The Macharius was used in this operation by the 88th Siege Army, providing the Imperials with strong fire support. Thanks to its long tracks, it was capable of crossing the many trenches that covered the killing fields of Vraks. Following the end of this campaign, the Macharius was slowly distributed to various other Imperial armored formations.

Macharius tank during the Siege of Vraks. Source: warhammer40k.fandom.com

Sub-version based on the Macharius 

The Macharius tank had two versions with a different main armament, along with several other variants based on the chassis.

Macharius Vanquisher

A specialized anti-tank sub-version of the Macharius is the so-called Macharius Vanquisher. It is named after its improved main armament, the twin-linked Vanquisher cannons. These cannons fire special anti-tank ammunition at high velocity. Besides the change in the main armament, the secondary weapons are unchanged.

The Macharius Vanquisher is easily identified by its longer guns. Source: warhammer40k.fandom.com

Macharius Vulcan 

Another variant of the standard Macharius tank is the Macharius Vulcan. Like the previously mentioned Vanquisher, its name derives from its new main armament, the five-barrelled Vulcan Mega-Bolter. Two of these are mounted in the turret instead of the battle cannons. They are able to fire over a thousand rounds per minute and are excellent at destroying enemy infantry formations and lightly armed targets. In order to accommodate the extra ammunition needed, the crew had to be reduced to six crew members.

The Macharius Vulcan is specialized in the destruction of enemy infantry and lightly armored vehicle formations. Source: warhammer40k.fandom.com

Macharius Omega

This version of the Macharius, unlike the previously mentioned vehicles, received a number of overall design modifications in order to accommodate the massive and extremely potent Omega-pattern Plasma Blastgun. This weapon (while prone to malfunctions or even explosions) creates extensive heat that then melts any armor without any trouble. In order to house the massive weapon, it was placed inside a new rear open-top fighting compartment on top of the Macharius hull. Additional changes include the removal of the two superstructure positioned stubbers. The inspiration for the vehicle was probably taken from German World War II self-propelled vehicles (like the Wespe or Marder series) that usually featured a powerful gun but only limited armor protection.

A more specialized version of the Macharius chassis is equipped with the more advanced Omega-pattern Plasma Blastgun. Source: warhammer40k.fandom.com

Praetor Armoured Assault Launcher

The Praetor is basically equivalent to a modern-day MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System). It uses the chassis of the Macharius tank with a front-mounted fighting compartment with two front weapon mounts. To the rear, a large rocket launcher can be raised or lowered under armor. Depending on the need, this vehicle can be equipped with different types of missiles, including anti-vehicle, anti-air, etc.

The Praetor Armored Assault Launcher. Source: wh40k.lexicanum.com

Gorgon Heavy Assault Transport 

The Gorgon was designed to fulfill the role of a transport vehicle on the front lines,  mainly for short distances. It is capable of transporting a whole platoon of some 50 men. While heavily armored, it is completely open-topped, exposing the men inside to enemy projectiles that come from above. Another noticeable feature is the large forward-mounted armored ramp.

The Gorgon Heavy Assault Transport. Source: wh40k.lexicanum.com/wiki

Crassus Armored Transport

The Crassus is another type of transporter. In comparison to the Gorgon, it is fully enclosed. It is armed with four weapon mounts. There is a large hatch on the rear of the vehicle that acts as the entry point for the infantry that is being transported.

Another transport version of the Macharius is fully enclosed. Source: wh40k.lexicanum.com

Conclusion

While the Macharius looks intimidating, the creators of this vehicle took inspiration from historical tanks and kitbashed them without much consideration of how its overall design would function. For example, while it is heavily armored, its tracks are completely exposed and present a huge target. The maximum speed is described as being less than 30 km/h. On the other hand, it fits perfectly into the Imperial Guard’s overall aesthetics and logic. For the Imperial Guard, more advanced weapons are rare while less advanced vehicles are used in such huge numbers. The Guard often employs simple tactics, counting on an overwhelming force of men, armor, and artillery which is enough to bring down any kind of resistance but not without huge cost in life and war materials.

Macharius Heavy Tank Ilustration made by Godzila

 

Specification

Dimensions (L-W-H) 10.9 x 7 x 4.8 m
Crew 8 (Commander, Gunner, Driver, Two Loaders, Radio Operator and two sponson weapon Gun Operators)
Propulsion LC400 v18 p2 Multi-Fuel
Weight  175 tonnes
Speed  26 km/h on-road,  18 km/h off-road
Armament Battle cannons
Armor 150 to 220 mm

 

Sources

 

 

Categories
Cold War French Prototypes Has Own Video

AMX Chasseur de char de 90 mm (1946)

France (1946)
Tank Destroyer – None Built

Introduction

Following the liberation of the country in 1944 and the recovery of factories and design bureaus previously involved in the manufacture of armored vehicles, France immediately restarted studies of modern military equipment, with the intention of catching up to the other belligerents of WW2.

The Ateliers de construction d’Issy-les-Moulineaux, or AMX, formed in 1936 after the nationalization of Renault’s facilities in the same place, were a major contributor to this initial post-war rearmament effort. Their most well-known designs of the era were the AMX M4 (the future AMX 50) medium tank and 120mm Auto-Canon (eventually known as the AMX 50 Foch) self-propelled guns.

One of the more obscure AMX projects of the period, the Chasseur de Char de 90mm or AMX CdC, recently resurfaced with its introduction in the popular video game World of Tanks.

The Chasseur de Char de 90 mm, as depicted in the plan of June 5, 1946.
Source: Mémoire des Hommes

The sole source of information regarding this tank are four plans released between January 5 and June 26, 1946, developed by Favier, an engineer at AMX. These are now stored in the archives at Chatellerault and numerized and displayed in the database Mémoire des Hommes (Men’s Memory in English) of the French Defense Ministry. The “NOM 141” mentioned on the plans, as well as the presence of components common to the AMX M4, such as the gun and powertrain, indicate that the Chasseur de Char de 90 mm was developed under the same program, but as a dedicated tank destroyer derivative.

Overall Characteristics and Layout

The CdC’s design philosophy particularly stands out compared to its medium tank and SPG brethren. While the latter two were designed for protection against the medium and heavy caliber guns of the time respectively, the CdC could only hope to withstand light autocannon and small arms fire. The layout of its powertrain and suspension was substantially altered to reduce the overall profile. This resulted in a smaller and considerably lighter vehicle.

The hull was 7.38 m long and 3.25 m wide. The height to the top of the cupola was 2.78 m, and the height to the turret roof was about 10 cm less. The CdC was relatively low compared to the Tiger II and AMX M4, both of which had a similar main armament and were about 3 m tall. The vehicle weighed 30 tonnes empty and 34 fully loaded, over 15 tonnes lighter than the AMX M4 and 120 mm SPG.

The full plan and layout of the Chasseur de Char de 90 mm of June 5, 1946.
Source: Mémoire des Hommes

The vehicle otherwise retained a mostly conventional layout. The engine, transmission, and steering elements were located at the rear of the hull. The driver sat at the front left, with an ammunition rack, machine gun magazines, and batteries to his right. His hatch was located directly in front of him, in the upper plate. The turret housed a 90 mm Schneider SA45 gun, with the gunner to its left and loader to its right. The commander sat behind the gunner and had access to a small cupola with vision slits, but no hatch. The radio was located next to the gunner and its antenna was behind the cupola. The bustle housed an additional ammunition rack, and two doors were located on either side of it at the rear to allow entry and exit out of the vehicle. This was similar to pre-war practice, with a hatch at the rear of the turret, but was rather inconvenient on the CdC, as the hatches were far behind the crew instead of being close on the roof. A travel lock for the gun was installed at the very rear of the vehicle.

The plan of June 26 showed a slightly different layout, with an automatic loading and ejection system in place of the loader. It is likely that this crew member was deleted in this configuration, but it is not confirmed.

Armament and Ammunition

The tank was built around the massive 90 mm Schneider SA45 rifled gun. This was initially designed for the ARL 44 stopgap heavy tank as a response to the German 88 mm KwK 43 L71 gun of the Tiger II, which was encountered in France in 1944. It mated a new 5.85 m long (L65) barrel to the breech of the pre-war Schneider CA Mle.39S 90 mm anti-aircraft gun. The total length with the muzzle brake and the breech was 6.530m. The barrel was monobloc and autofrettaged. The breech was of the horizontal sliding type and was semi-automatically operated, meaning that the force of the recoil would open it after the first shot. It also had a compressed air scavenging system to evacuate propellant gases.

The oscillating mass was 3,150 kg and the recoil mass was 2,200 kg. The gun used a hydropneumatic recuperator and hydraulic recoil mechanism in the ARL-44, with a relatively long maximum recoil length of 700 mm. The recoil mechanism and actual length could have been different in the AMX CdC. As mounted in the AMX CdC, the SA45 had an elevation of +20° and a depression of -10° across the 360° range of rotation of the turret, which was excellent.

This gun could shoot a 10.6 kg APCBC shell (Obus de Rupture) (Armor Piercing Capped Ballistic Capped) at 1,000 m/s (11.2 kg when using steel instead of magnesium in the ballistic cap), or a prospective 8.5 kg tungsten-cored subcaliber shell at 1,130 m/s, as well as a 11.3 kg high-explosive (HE) round at 700 m/s. Its components were capable of withstanding operating pressures of up to 300 MPa. Using the APCBC projectile, it was considered comparable to the long 88s full caliber round or the Panther’s long 75 mm APCR (Armor Piercing Composite Rigid).

The ammunition was single-piece. The cartridge was 752 mm long and its rim diameter was 144 mm. The total length was 1,126 mm for the APCBC round, and 1,161 mm for the HE. For reference, the Tiger II’s 88 mm used ammunition with cartridge dimensions of 822 and 145-146 mm respectively, and near-identical full round lengths. The weight of the AP shells was almost identical, but the 90 mm HE was nearly 2 kg heavier, possibly with a greater payload. As such, the 90 mm was almost identical to the 88 mm in performance and ergonomics without being a direct copy. However, this meant that it shared the same drawback of very long rounds that were difficult to handle in the tight confines of the crew compartment. It also meant that the tank still had to be quite big.

This gun was undoubtedly on the higher end of Western tank armament of the time, reaching greater kinetic energy with AP (Armor Piercing) rounds than the 90 mm and 20 pdr armaments of American and British medium tanks, being surpassed only by 105 and 120 mm guns at the time being tested on the T29 and T34 heavy tanks and the French 120 mm gun then proposed for the self-propelled gun derivative of the AMX M4. However, the AMX M4 medium tank carried the same 90 mm piece, so firepower was not the outstanding feature of the tank destroyer.

The SA45 suffered heavily from the poor state of the early post-war French industry, with many defects encountered during production and testing of the ARL-44. The mechanical properties (rupture and elastic limits, elongation) of the barrel were also relatively poor compared to later production guns, such as the 75 mm SA50, limiting tube life relative to the operating pressure, and thus, the overall longevity of this armament. Its old technology led to excessive weight by post-war standards. By the early 1950s, even more powerful guns, such as the 100 mm SA47 and a 120 mm gun, superseded it in the AMX 50 program. Had the AMX CdC survived until this period, it would likely have evolved to carry either of these two weapons.

Layout of the fighting compartment in the manually-loaded configuration.
Source: Mémoire des Hommes

The CdC had a rather unique ready rack layout, even in its manually-loaded configuration. Thirty-six rounds were stored below the turret ring, facing nearly upside down in a crown or carousel covered by a metal sheet. The crown could rotate independently of the turret to present a new round to the loader, who had a small door next to him. This layout greatly simplified his job, as he only had one specific place to access the ready rack, and it freed space in the crew compartment. The metal cover for the rack may have also increased the survivability of the crew somewhat in case of ammunition detonation, but this would have depended on whether its thickness could stop fragments or not. Conversely, it may actually have been intended to provide additional protection for the ammunition in case of penetration by low-energy fragments and small-caliber ammunition.

Layout of the turret and ammunition crown controls as of January 9th, 1946.
Source: Mémoire des Hommes

Fifty-four additional rounds were available, 24 in the bustle, and 30 in the front hull, at the right. It is unclear exactly how that latter rack could be accessed from the inside, so it may have been purely intended to replenish the bustle rack from the outside, while the easily-accessible bustle ammunition was used to replenish the carousel. The presence of an unprotected bustle rack alongside a covered carousel is quite surprising from a survivability standpoint. Compared to Cold War vehicles, 90 rounds of ammunition was excellent for the caliber, but more or less in line with the Tiger II and the AMX M4. If one also considers the bustle rack as ready ammunition, then the CdC carried a whopping 60 ready rounds, nearly as many as Western Cold War tanks with 90 or 105 mm guns (or the Chieftain) carried in total.

The secondary armament consisted of one 7.5 mm MAC 31 Reibel magazine-fed machine gun mounted to the left of the driver and operated by him (but seemingly fixed) and the same machine gun mounted coaxially to the gun. Twelve drum magazines were installed to the right of the driver for his machine gun, and 6 on the turret roof inside the turret for the coaxial machine gun. Assuming the magazines carried 150 rounds each, as usual, this would be 2,700 bullets in total.

Automatic Ejection and Loading Device

Layout of the proposed autoloader and ejection system in the turret.
Source: Mémoire des Hommes

Automatic loading and ejection of spent cases were also contemplated. This made a lot of sense considering the difficulty of manually handling the very long 90 mm rounds. In this configuration, the carousel held 35 rounds instead of 36. The autoloading and ejection mechanisms were very complex but relied on springs and compressed air/water pistons for operation.

The loading process can be separated into 3 phases. The gunner would use his command stick (which also acted as a firing trigger) to select either an AP or HE round (respectively marked as “R” for Rupture or “E” for Explosif). The clamps retaining the round would open, while the clamps of the autoloading mechanism would grapple the round and rotate it. At this point, the round would be parallel to the gun and offset to the left of it. The mechanism would then rotate around the forward axis to place the ammunition in the gun breech’s axis (2nd phase). In the last phase, the round would be automatically rammed inside the breech.

Plan of the components and layout of the autoloading mechanism.
Source: Mémoire des Hommes

After firing, the empty case would be received by the ejection mechanism. The mechanism could hold 2 cases, one waiting, and one in the process of being ejected. The empty case would have been ejected out of an obturator at the base of the turret rear. The ejection also triggered the evacuation of gases outside of the crew compartment. The entire mechanism itself worked for any position of the turret and gun.

Plan of the ejection mechanism.
Source: Mémoire des Hommes

Protection and Survivability

With the exception of the cast gun shield, the vehicle used only welded steel plates. The front plates and gun shield were both 30 mm thick and well-sloped, while the other surfaces were all (except for possibly the floor) 20 mm thick and nearly vertical or horizontal. All-round protection would thus be expected against small arms and shell fragments only, although a level of resistance against US and Soviet armor-piercing 12.7 mm bullets was possible. The front might have been able to handle 14.5 mm bullets and 20 mm AP rounds, especially the area behind the gun shield, due to the locally spaced configuration of the armor and the extreme slope of the gun shield itself.

Although the turret ring sat above the hull roof, the turret was shaped specifically to hide it, limiting the likelihood of bullets and fragments jamming it to some degree.

An automatic fire extinguisher was located to the left of the crew compartment, behind the driver. Overall, the CdC followed a very similar philosophy to the American M18 Hellcat and the British Avenger of WW2, both being lightly armored but highly mobile turreted tank destroyers.

Powertrain

Following WW2, France was stuck with no indigenous solution for a high-power engine. Fortunately, the French managed to get their hands on Maybach factories, engines, and blueprints in their occupation zone in Germany. German components were extensively used and studied in early post-war powertrains.

In the case of the CdC 90, as well as other members of the AMX M4 family, the Lorraine 40t and the Somua SM, the choice fell on the Maybach HL 295 fuel-injected gasoline engine and the synchromesh AK 5-250 5-speed gearbox, a derivative of the AK 7-200 used in the Panther. This engine was developed by the Maybach design team in Vernon and was supposed to be built by the Maybach factory at Friedrichshafen, with Renault being considered as the most suitable option for French production.

The HL 295 was a water-cooled, fuel-injected gasoline V12. It was essentially a higher displacement version of the HL 234 (fuel injected, reinforced HL 230), going from 23 L to 29.5 L. Plans indicate that 27.5 L was initially considered. The HL 295 was 1,392 mm long, 1,060 mm wide, and 1,200 mm tall. In comparison, the 230 was slightly smaller, being 1,310 mm long, 951 mm wide, and 1,185 mm high. The French appreciated the compact nature of the Maybach engine, in particular its short length, which would minimize engine compartment size and weight.

This increased displacement was sought both as a way to ensure it would reach the desired performance, and to increase its future potential. The French initially thought that it could reach up to 1,200 CV (Metric horsepower or 0.986 hp), but it became clear by 1950 or so that 1,000 CV at 2,800 rpm was the most they could hope for. This is in line with fuel-injected engines of similar displacement, like the American AVSI-1790-8.

In practice, various reliability issues meant that the HL 295 was usually operated at 850 CV at 2,600 rpm. Maximum torque of 2,403 Nm was obtained at 960 CV at 2,800 rpm in one test, and usually varied between 2,354 and 2,550 Nm over the operating range of the engine. Fuel consumption varied between 230 and 250 g/CV.h.

Characteristics of the third prototype of the HL 295, as installed later on the SOMUA SM.
Source: SHD Châtellerault AA 503 1H1 27

At 34 tonnes and 1,200 hp, the CdC 90 would have had a whopping 35.3 hp/t power-to-weight ratio, far beyond even the requirements of the FINABEL 3A5 (or Europanzer) program of 1957. Even with the more conservative value of 850 hp, the CdC would have kept 25 hp/t, well in excess of most tanks of the period.

The transmission was located at the very rear of the vehicle under two large ventilation fans. In front of it was the engine. This installation occupied half of the length of the hull. Interestingly enough, this layout was low enough to allow full gun depression to the rear. However, it seemingly contributed to an increase in hull length, as the contemporary AMX M4 was nearly 50 cm shorter, with the fans on either side of the engine.

Engine compartment of the Chasseur de Char de 90 mm.
Source: Mémoire des Hommes

Suspension

The suspension was probably the most peculiar aspect of the Chasseur de Chars. The spring element chosen was the torsion bar, which was nearly the norm by this point. However, unlike contemporary French, US, and Soviet vehicles, these were mounted internally along the hull sides, going towards the front at an angle (parallel to the front-rear axis of the vehicle). The closest equivalent in a production vehicle would be the Christie-type suspension with coil springs also being mounted along the sides at an angle, although torsion bars would likely have more desirable properties. Why AMX went for such a radical design on this specific vehicle, when the M4 and 120 mm SPGs used regular transversely-mounted torsion bars, is unclear. A possible explanation is that the engineers wanted to reduce the height of the vehicle and could afford to sacrifice some of the width, which would make sense for a tank destroyer.

Outside of the sprocket and tensioning wheel, there were five double road wheels per side, each spaced 1.04 m apart. These were extremely large, with a diameter of 1 m. In this regard, they remained somewhat similar to the large wheels used on German and French interleaved suspensions. There were also three 300 mm diameter return rollers per side.

This suspension offered an impressive range of travel for the road wheels: 200 mm bump and 160 mm rebound, for a total vertical travel range of 360 mm, well above that of contemporary vehicles, limited to around 250 mm or less. Only British Cruisers or the Panther could match or exceed this level of performance. Overall, this suspension would have offered excellent mobility.

Layout of the suspension. The mounting points for the torsion bars can be seen on the right.
Source: Mémoire des Hommes

Mobility

Two 550 L and two 300 L fuel tanks were located in the engine compartment, providing an impressive 1,700 L capacity. Post-war gasoline-powered French vehicles typically carried a much greater fuel capacity than their Western counterparts to ensure an adequate (300 km) range. The CdC is referred to as having a 6-hour autonomy without refueling. Assuming that this was with a 300 km range, it would require a maximum speed of at least 50 km/h. However, if French requirements involved some off-road driving or an actual range greater than 300 km, it would be absolutely possible to go beyond this limit and towards 60 km/h or more.

In any case, the suspension and powertrain easily allowed such high speeds. Indeed, the CdC might actually have been able to achieve more than 80 km/h on roads, like the American M18 Hellcat.

Going by the ground contact length of 416 cm per track and 40 cm track width, the total ground contact area would be 16 640*2=33 280 cm². For a combat weight of 34,000 kg, this gave a ground pressure of 1.02 kg/cm² or a bit over 14.2 psi. Ground clearance was 400 mm, roughly standard for the time. The CdC’s relatively narrow tracks resulted in a somewhat high ground pressure for the period. Indeed, the ground pressure of a Comet Mk I Cruiser Tank was 13.85 psi. The Sherman with the HVSS suspension, with a more favorable ratio of track width to vehicle weight, had a ground pressure of 11 psi. This limitation was probably inevitable considering the choices with the layout of the suspension, the width taken by the carousel, and transport requirements.

Conclusion

The French showed relatively little interest in tank destroyers during the interwar period, restricting themselves to concepts of anti-tank guns slapped to existing hulls or powerful and heavily armored vehicles dedicated to the protection of intervals between fortifications.

The defeat at the hand of German tank formations in 1940 and the generally intense use of armor during WW2, led post-war France to make a considerable effort in the design of dedicated anti-tank vehicles, be they HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) slingers such as the ELCs, or ATGM carriers or AT gun carriers such as the S35 and R35 hulls with 17 pounders. The AMX CdC, however, used the most original design philosophy out of all these concepts: a turreted vehicle with a gun shooting kinetic energy projectiles with similar power to the medium tank, with an emphasis on high mobility, lower weight, and smaller size.

Unlike other members of the AMX M4/50 family, which even participated in the Bastille Day parades, the CdC never spawned any prototype. The closest thing to a spiritual successor would be the Lorraine 40t, also lighter than the medium tanks, thinly armored, and equipped with a normal (by French standards) gun with an autoloader. At present, it is unknown when and why the AMX Chasseur de Char de 90 mm project was terminated.

AMX CDC. Illustrations by the Glorious Pavel Carpaticus funded by our Patreon Campaign.

AMX Chasseur de Char de 90 mm specifications

Dimensions (L x w x h) 9.23 (gun locked for travel)-7.38 (hull) x 3.25 x 2.78 m (top of cupola)
Weight 30 t empty, 34 t fully loaded
Crew 4 (Driver, Gunner, Loader, Commander)
3 (Driver, Gunner, Commander) with autoloader
Propulsion 2.5 litre 6-cyl Daimler petrol, 55 hp (41 kW), 18.3 hp/ton
Number of gearbox speeds 5
Engine Maybach HL 295 water-cooled V12, 1,200 hp expected
Fuel capacity 1700 L
Suspension Longitudinal torsion bars
Ground clearance 400 mm
Top Speed Unspecified, beyond 50 km/h
Autonomy 6 h of travel
Armament Schneider 90 mm SA45 rifled gun (90 rounds)
2 x MAC 31 7.5mm machine guns
(1 coaxial, 1 hull, 2,700 rounds)
Armor Welded and cast steel, 30 to 20 mm

Sources

Mémoire des Hommes (AMX CDC)
Mémoire des Hommes (90mm rounds)
Armement de gros calibre, Tauzin & Marest, 2008 (90mm SA45 data)
Les Archives de Châtellerault, Colasix (HL 295 data)
Panzerworld (88 rounds)

Categories
Cold War British Prototypes Has Own Video

Straussler Main Battle Tank

United Kingdom (1960)
Main Battle Tank – None Built

Nicholas Peter Sorrell Straussler (1891* – 1966) is perhaps most famous for designing the inflatable floatation screen for tanks such as the M4 Sherman, commonly referred to as a ‘Duplex Drive’ or DD tanks.

Born in Hungary in 1891*, at a time when it was still Austria-Hungary, he had, as a young man, come to the United Kingdom in 1910 or 1911. He may have found work during World War One in one of the hundreds of ordnance factories supporting the war effort. Certainly, he was demonstrating his engineering skills when he filed his first patent in January 1911 for a rotary engine.

(*His UK death certificate indicates a date of birth which could be 1892)

Early Engineering Work

After the First World War, he remained in the UK and applied for British nationality, marrying Edith Arbib in 1923. His engineering skills quickly found purpose and, by 1928, he was running the firm of Folding Boats and Structures Ltd. He was also designing small scout cars both with and without armor, both for domestic use and for export. He was finally naturalized as a British citizen in February 1933.

Clipping from a pre-war advert for the Vickers ‘Straussler’ folding boats.
Source: Pinterest

He would eventually open a small workshop in Brentford, West London, and produced a variety of unusual-looking but highly effective designs in partnership with the Alvis motor company, which proved to be both effective off-road and ruggedly reliable, gaining him some limited production contracts. He continued with armored vehicle design work, operating as Straussler Mechanization Ltd. until it entered voluntary liquidation in 1941 and its assets sold off in 1942. He would marry a second time in 1944 to a woman twenty years his junior, Josephine Vassie, and produce one child, Roderick, in 1945. They divorced or separated in around 1958.

A complicated private life aside, his most famous contribution to the war effort was to build on his work on Folding Boats and create an erectable canvas screen and outboard motor, tested on a Tetrarch light tank in July 1940. By the spring of 1942, this unusual arrangement was accepted as part of the general solution to solve the problem of how to get tanks ashore for an amphibious assault. The Infantry Tank Mk. III, better known as the ‘Valentine’, was equipped with these screens as well. Later, by 1943, the Valentine was replaced as the primary vehicle for ‘Strausslerisation’ using a floatation screen by the Sherman.

That development was a successful addition to the Allied arsenal in WW2 and, clearly, Straussler was keen that this development see wider adoption.

Designing the Ultimate Tank

After World War Two, Straussler continued work as an engineer and was, at some point, inspired to try and design a new type of vehicle. This was to combine two of his areas of design expertise, a screen for helping vehicles cross water, and a highly flexible suspension system allowing for a wide range of movement from track units and wheels alike to improve mobility.

Key features of the main battle tank design were to reflect what he felt were the fundamentals that would be needed from an “ideal” tank, specifically:

  • A vehicle as small and light as possible with a low profile.
  • Screen around the tank to allow it to be amphibious in water.
  • As small a crew as possible.
  • The largest possible primary “heavy caliber” armament, which would be loaded, aimed and fired automatically.
  • As much ammunition as could be carried.
  • The ability to mount alternative or additional weapons as may be required or desired.
  • Simple suspension system, allowing for ease of movement cross-country with low ground pressure and allowing the vehicle to operate on wheels or on tracks equally, including the braking system.
  • Suspension units mounted or unmounted by means of the vehicle’s own power.
  • Simple driving mechanism.
  • Easy access.
  • All-round visibility.
  • A crew compartment distinct from the main gun and engine provided with its own ventilation.
  • Easy maintenance with a simple and reliable design.
  • Width of 3,150 mm.
  • Railways loading width.
  • Height “below that of a normal man” – 1,700 mm.
  • 700 – 800 hp engine.
  • 28 – 32 hp/ton. (28.4 – 32.5 hp/tonne)
  • 2 speed gearbox.
  • Wheel speeds of 80 km/h.
  • 65 km/h on tracks.

“There is no Tank either projected or existing which has only a few of the features of the ‘Straussler’ let alone all the large numbers of highly desirable properties which are assembled in a single device. There is nothing in any of the design features which are mechanically, technically, or operational of doubtful or of difficult nature and which cannot be designed, and manufactured by any competent organisation to produce a highly successful tank”

Nicholas Straussler

Layout

The whole tank was to be divided into three basic compartments. The front compartment housing the crew, behind this was the ammunition compartment, and at the rear, the engine compartment and fuel.

The outline for Straussler’s MBT shows a compact design with the crew area at the front. The weapon system is mounted in the center and the engine compartment at the rear.
Source: The Tank Museum Bovington, modified by the author

The tank was to be of a very low profile, with the gun projecting directly out of the front of the well sloped glacis and with a flat roof to a slowly sloping back. On each side of the vehicle would be two pairs of track or drive units, consisting of four double rubber-tired road wheels on a common frame able to rotate around a central pivot and around which was a track. At the rear of the tank would be a large and permanently affixed electrically-driven and steerable propeller system to provide propulsion in the water for the tank when floating. To aid in crossing a water obstacle, the tank would also have a large fabric screen that could be installed and easily erected. When not in use, this was to be held in a “perimental trough” (a recess running around the outside of the tank) and sealed with a rubber gasket.

Each track unit was designed to be fitted with a pair of large cantilevered spring leaf units, providing cushioning on the move. Braking was to be provided within the unit as well, in the form of 8 large disc brakes, constituting a pair per track unit. Further, because of the electrical drive system, electrical braking could be employed as well, providing an easy and simple method to control the speed of the tank. The 600 mm wide track itself was not particularly important to Straussler, although he did suggest the use of a “spring leaf” type of track, as it was cheap and light and could resist the sort of sideways forces imparted on a track during turning using its flexibility.

The middle compartment, designed to house the ammunition, had within it a cage which was rigidly attached to the breech of the gun, which projected through the front of the tank, through the crew space, and into this section. Ammunition would be loaded through the roof via a large trap-door style hatch into the middle compartment. Likewise, in order to refuel or access the powerplant, another hatch was on top of the hull over the rear section as well.

Date

Sadly, there is no date on Straussler’s design for this low profile main battle tank. The design can, however, be roughly dated by some of the technology within it. For example, the ‘perimental trough’ mentioned by Straussler is similar in description and purpose to a patent design granted to Straussler in 1947. That design was for a collapsible screen, as before, for imparting buoyancy on an armored vehicle. However, this was to be fitted into an armored box around the vehicle to prevent damage, instead it would be a permanent ‘trough’ into which such a screen could go on a purpose-designed vehicle.

An armored protective enclosure for an integrated collapsible waterproof screen allows an armored vehicle to carry a permanently fitted screen protected from damage.
Source: British Patent GB623427 of 1947.

A second clue is the use of the folding propeller at the back of the tank. In March 1942, Straussler filed a patent in the United Kingdom for this design shown on a Valentine tank with a wading screen clearly in place. Although filed in 1942, this design was not granted a patent until 1945.

The folding rear propeller to move a floating tank in the water.
Source: US Patent: 2398057 of 1946 from British Patent GB487622.

A further clue is found in the name itself ‘Main Battle Tank’. The term itself originated after WW2 and was first used around 1957. These three clues combined would imply a date of design of not earlier than around 1957 and perhaps as late as 1965 or so.

Armor

Armored side skirts could be fitted to enhance the protection of the vehicle and especially to protect the drive units. However, no other mention of armor is included in his letter accompanying the design and the drawing itself shows no implicit thickness of armor either. Based solely on the drawing, it can only be inferred that protection was to be very light and this would be in keeping with a planned weight of just 25 tonnes. Given the low weight, a relatively low level of protection could be expected and the vehicle would have to rely for its primary protection on its low profile. At just 1.7 m high, allowing it to be easily concealed or camouflaged, the armor, or lack of it, would leave the vehicle highly vulnerable to even just cannon fire.

Crew

Just two men were supposed to operate this vehicle according to Straussler’s design, specifically a commander and a driver. Access for them was by means of a large hinged “trap-door” arrangement on the roof of the tank, with one for each man. Each man would sit in the forward section of the hull, on the right, sitting upright alongside each other. This meant only their compartment would need forced ventilation.

As well as telling the driver where to go and operating the radio to receive their own instructions, share combat information etc., the commander was also tasked with firing the primary armament. Aiming and loading were done automatically as the primary sight (a telescopic periscope) for the gun was placed on the roof between the driver and commander’s positions. The sight could be shared so that, in theory, both men would be able to aim the main gun.

Armament

The ‘ideal’ characteristics for a main battle tank, as outlined by Straussler, had to include the largest possible primary armament which could be carried. For this vehicle, Straussler proposed a 120 mm gun, although he does not mention if it were to be rifled or smoothbore. Considering a probable design date of the mid to late 1950s and his British experience, this would strongly suggest a rifled gun as a logical assumption.

Straussler had proposed that guns should be loaded, aimed, and fired automatically and that the tank should carry as many rounds as possible. However, his design principles included the smallest possible size characteristics as well, and the result was that just 31 shells could be carried inside in the “shellcage”. With a predicted firing rate of up to 12 rounds per minute (one every 5 seconds), this meant a continuous barrage of fire of just 2 ½ minutes if firing took place without a break. The automatic loading system was to be driven by an independent electrical motor moving new shells into the breech and the casing from spent shells out of the breech. As the gun was fixed in a side-mounted gimbal, it could move in both traverse and elevation, both of which were controlled via a hydraulic motor by the commander.

Front cross-section of the design, showing the angled position of the loading system and eccentrical position location of the main armament in the front left of the hull. The gimbal mount is to the side of the gun, shown without a blue outline.
Source: The Tank Museum, Bovington modified by the author
With the original drawing removed, the positioning of the loading system is even clearer.
Source: Author

Possibly, the most unusual part of the armament plan for the vehicle was the position of the main gun. The basic layout of the vehicle and the protrusion of the gun from the front implies a centrally ( or close to center) mounted gun, as this is commonly seen on numerous other vehicles of a roughly similar design, from the Jg.Pz. 38 t and Jagdpather, to the Swedish S-tank. However, this is not the case at all. Close examination of the drawings show that the gun was in fact offset to the front left, meaning that both of the crew were sequestered inside not only the front ½ of the vehicle, but also the front right of that third.

An advantage of this layout was that it obviated the problem of the mounting of the gun being too far back. As such, when the gun elevated, depressed or traversed, it would leave a large ‘track’ in the frontal armor which had to be empty to allow gun movement. Given the arrangements, this ‘hole’ in the front armor would not leave any weakness in protection for the crew, who would be separated by both a lateral and transverse bulkhead, meaning that all the barrel might need was some kind of flexible canvas shroud to prevent water ingress. The gun itself was rigidly fixed to the “shellcage” of 31 rounds and automatic loading mechanism. The drive motors were fixed at an angle, causing the shells to be carried at around 25º to 30º to the vertical in the center, directly behind the crew compartment. The drive motor was inside the right sponson. If the gun rotated or traversed, this angled arrangement would prevent fouling.

Primary armament for the design, loaded and mounted centrally, along with the optional rockets on the roof.
Source: The Tank Museum, Bovington modified by the author

As well as the 120 mm main gun, 4 machine guns were also to be carried, of either a ‘heavy’ (i.e. 0.50 caliber) or ‘light’ (i.e. 0.303” or 7.62 mm caliber) type. These machine guns would be placed in a pair of turrets, with one on each side of the front of the tank’s hull, mounted on top of the mudguards over the tracks. These turrets would be rotated, aimed, and fired remotely from inside the tank, although this would seriously occupy the crew inside, who already had plenty to do. Nonetheless, the position of these twin machine gun turrets would, in theory, allow for a level of protection across a wide arc on both sides as well as to the front, although how these were to be aimed was not explained by Straussler.

Engine, Steering, and Propulsion

The vehicle was to make use of a hybrid-type of drive system, whereby an engine drove an electrical generator which, in turn, drove electric motors to drive the tracks and provide the vehicle’s propulsion.

Straussler wanted a multifuel engine, i.e. one which could run on petrol or diesel or any available fuels. This type of engine could be the ‘normal’ kind of piston-driven engine or the Wankel type of engine as an alternative system. The Wankel type engine consists of a single triangular piston with curved faces with reciprocates within a roughly ‘8’-shaped cylinder. They are commonly known as rotary engines and have seen commercial use in some sports cars but were, and still are problematic for some issues like lubrication. The advantages, however, offered by a Wankel engine would have appealed to Struassler, not only because of the larger proportional size to weight and power output characteristics, but also because this type of engine produced a more uniform torque than a ‘normal’ type of piston engine as well as less vibration.

Nonetheless, this desire or at least the consideration of a Wankel type motor harkened back to Strausssler’s work decades earlier and his 1911 patent for an engine of exactly that type.

Straussler’s rotary engine design of 1911. Note that this image has been digitally cleaned.
Source: British Patent GB1611.

This engine would drive a single generator which would then drive the electrical motors. One motor was provided for each track. With four tracks, that meant four motors. In his design submission, Straussler does not expressly detail the use of the motors, but this sort of system would have allowed the driver to vary the electrical current being supplied to each track in order to provide turning forces as well as providing redundancy from damage. For example, even if one track unit on each side was damaged by enemy fire and the motors stopped working, as long as there was at least one operational motor and drive unit on each side, then not only could the vehicle still move under its own power, but it could also turn. With a fixed gun, not being able to turn meant not being able to fight, so providing this kind of redundancy with 4 tracks was a rational and logical step. What it also meant was that the vehicle would be able to neutrally steer around the center of the four units by powering one side one way and the other side the opposite direction.

Straussler’s MBT with engine in the rear compartment, large air intakes above and folding propeller system at the rear.
Source: The Tank Museum, Bovington, modified by the author

The system had other advantages in common with some other hybrid designs, namely in the layout of the vehicle. Lacking the need to have the engine and gearbox mechanically connected (as this system did not need a gearbox) to the final drives, it meant that it would create a more efficient internal volume unencumbered by rotating shafts and differentials, etc. Instead, the engine and generator could be simply connected by electrical cabling to the motors. Each motor would then drive one wheel within each track unit, so that, of the four double rubber-tired road wheels, the lead wheels on the front track units would be powered and so would the rearmost wheels on the rear track units.

Improved Mobility on Land and Water

The intention of Straussler was to have the tank as capable of moving on wheels as it was on tracks. This was not new, in the sense that the concept had been around for decades, most famously with wheel-cum-track machines, and the reason was exactly the same. Tracked vehicles tend to be better off-road, especially on a soft surface, as the tracks spread the load on the ground and gain more traction, whereas wheeled vehicles are better on hard surfaces, like roads. With less weight moving around, there was also less wear and tear.

In order to change between wheels and tracks, Straussler envisaged a hydraulic jacking system, whereby the center 2 pairs of rollers on each side could be lifted. By doing this, it would transfer the weight of the vehicle to be borne by the large driven rollers at opposite ends of each side. The tracks, once removed, could then be gathered up and stowed on the tank, as it would be driving on just the four driven rubber-tired road wheels.

When in the water, propulsion would be provided by both the tracks and by the electrically driven propeller at the back, which could be both steered as well as raised, so it did not foul with obstacles under the vehicle when not in use. When traveling in the water, the fabric screen would be erected from its collapsed position in the trough around the outside edge of the tank. The screen would neither make the tank taller than it had been beforehand, nor wider or longer. It would, in fact, only serve to displace enough water to provide the buoyancy the tank needed whilst floating in the water. The closest vehicle showing how this might have looked in real life if it had ever been made, is the Swedish S-tank.

Screen used on the S-tank followed Straussler’s basic floatation principle and method for tanks. Note how the design has to be modified to go around the barrel – something his MBT design circumvented by mounting the screen on the roof.
Source: Pinterest

Of note during the transit of the tank through water by this method is that Straussler envisaged that it could be used as a transporter too. Specifically, he stated that between 15 and 20 men could be accommodated on the roof, enough to form a small assault party to seize a structure or other without the need for boats.

This was not the only potential use for the roof space either. Quite why Struassler thought that adding a rocket launcher might add value to his design is unclear, although his inspiration perhaps might stem from something like the ‘Calliope’ system. He declined to outline what sort of rockets or other items might be mounted. It is possible, therefore, that he was thinking of this type of chassis for being the basis for vehicles like a bridge layer, but he declined to elaborate on the comment. Be it for rockets or men, the roof was available for transport, but hopefully not at the same time for safety reasons.

Suspension

The most complicated part of Struassler’s design was not the unusual gun mount, vehicle layout or even the roof-mounted screen and rockets. Instead, it was the suspension and this, perhaps more than anything else, is the primary defect of the design.

Nicholas Straussler was undoubtedly a talented engineer and had paid a lot of attention to vehicle suspension before WW2. In 1935, he filed a patent for a centrally pivoted system with separate sprung wheels as outriggers on each end and secondary sprung wheels underneath to provide tension and spread ground pressure.

Straussler’s patented suspension system from 1935. Note that this image has been digitally cleaned.
Source: British Patent GB453200
Straussler’s 1935 patent suspension shown on his 10-tonne V-4 design before WW2. The amount of movement from the front and rear wheels is readily apparent during this movement of the vehicle by a crane.
Source: Pinterest

The lineage of thought from this 1935 design to his MBT design is readily apparent with a close examination of the drawing provided. The same basic system was maintained, with a central pivot (dark blue) on a longitudinal frame (orange) and with a pair of large wheels (yellow) at each end of the beam. Around these wheels would go the track (green), but this design provided track tension and springing slightly differently. Instead of the coil springs as used in 1935, this design clearly made use of long leaf springs (light blue) linking the large wheels via their pivoting sub-frame (pink). With that long spring leaf above the central pivot, there was a single return roller (light orange) mounted centrally, directly above the pivot for the whole unit. Directly below this central pivot was another addition to his 1935 idea, and second tensioning wheel (light orange) and one which also served to provide track tension, as it was attached to another spring leaf (light blue) which was shorter than the top one but also attached to the sub frame for the main road wheels. In this way, whichever way the entire unit rotated during passage over the ground, this wheel would be pushed down against the track, providing tension and contact of the track with the ground. Likewise, when the hydraulic system was used to rotate the track units, it would be done to put one end of the unit in contact with the surface, presumably a road. With or without the track units fitted, this would serve to elevate the tank somewhat.

However, despite the seemingly advantageous nature of this suspension, Straussler chose not to patent it.

The complex suspension and track unit from Struassler.
Source: The Tank Museum, Bovington, modified by the author
In ‘wheel-mode’ for road-marching, the track units hydraulically rotated with or without tracks. The vehicle would be elevated by this process, as identified by the change in ground level shown in by the red arrows.
Source: The Tank Museum, Bovington, modified by the author.

Conclusion

This vehicle was far from Straussler’s last design for anything, let alone military items. By the late 1950s, Straussler had retired from running a business but not from inventions. Living in Geneva, Switzerland, he continued to produce designs including a folding boat and a folding motorized tricycle, amongst other things. He returned to England and died in London in 1966, aged 75, leaving a long history of inventions and his folding screen floatation system as his defining legacy.

The Straussler MBT, however, was not one of them. The design was not going to get any interest from the authorities who, at the time, would have been building more conventionally designed vehicles, such as the Chieftain. The concepts in inherent amphibious capacity were useful ones, but not essential and the light armor and unusual suspension were perhaps just a step too far for the authorities to engage with. Likewise, the roof-mounted rockets were an unnecessary addition and added nothing to the fightability of the design and in fact detracted somewhat from the otherwise clever idea to have the roof plate serve as a means of transport for troops over a water obstacle.

Perhaps the cleverest part of the design is the hardest to see in the side view – the loading system. The British were not advocates at the time of automatic loading systems, let alone one mounted in the manner Straussler designed, but the ability to mount the gun in this way would have provided the vehicle with the ability to deliver substantial firepower quickly against an opponent, creating the effect of more than one conventional tank for less than half the crew.

It is hard to assess Straussler’s design as being perhaps a step too far as an invention and this perhaps is reflected in the lack of a patent submission for what was a novel layout and could quite rightly have received legal protections. Straussler was certainly no stranger to the process and maybe it is the fact that he did not specifically try and protect this layout that indicates that even he felt it had serious limitations too. The design today is in the files in the archive of The Tank Museum, Bovington, a mostly forgotten idea from one of the foremost engineering freethinkers of his generation.

Straussler Main Battle Tank. Illustrations by the Glorious Pavel Carpaticus funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Straussler Main Battle Tank specifications

Dimensions (L-L-W-H) ~4.50 (hull), ~6.80 (over gun), 3.15, 1.70 m
Weight 25 tons
Crew 2 (driver, commander/ gunner)
Engine 700 – 800 hp multifuel or Wankel type with electric drive. Propellor for propulsion in the water.
Speed 65 km/h (on land using tracks), 80 km/h (on land using wheels)
Armament Fully automatic 120 mm gun with 31 rounds
4 machine guns in a pair of remotely operated turrets

Sources

British Patent GB1622, Rotary Internal Combustion Engine, filed 21st January 1911, granted 21st September 1911
British Patent GB453200, Improvements in or relating to wheel suspensions for endless track vehicles, field 4th March 1935, granted 4th September 1936
British Patent GB623427, Improvements in buoyancy imparting means for vehicles, filed 10th December 1946, granted 17th May 1949
England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005, Page 746, Volume 1A.
England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005, Page 801, Volume 1A.
England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007, Page 268, Volume 17.
England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007, Page 701, Volume 5C.
England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008, Page 530, Volume 1A.
Fletcher, D. (2020). Strausslers and Alvis. https://www.keymilitary.com/article/strausslers-and-alvis

Categories
Has Own Video WW2 Italian Armored Cars

Autoblinda AB41 in Regio Esercito Service

Kingdom of Italy (1941-1943)
Armored Car – 667 Built

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In 1937, the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) realized that the Lancia 1ZM armored cars in service in the reconnaissance units since 1915, still employed in the Italian African Colonies and in the Spanish Civil War, even if still efficient, were obsolete because they were not fast, were weakly armored and had bad off-road driving capabilities. This led to the development of the Autoblindo Fiat-Ansaldo series, of which the most prominent was the AB41.

AB41 in Italian Police Force in Africa
An AB41 of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana during a mechanical revision. The words “O LA VA O LA SPACCA” above the driver’s hatch mean “We either win or we fall”. Source: Istituto Luce

History of the AB Armored Car Series

The Italian Army, which was one of the first armies to use armored cars in 1912 with the FIAT Arsenale, held armored cars in high esteem for their role of long-range reconnaissance vehicles for armored divisions and support to infantry actions. The armored cars used in World War I received positive comments from the Army High Command who were impressed by the usefulness of the new vehicles. Between 1918 and 1932, there were a number of prototypes of various armored vehicles which, however, led to nothing other than the 46 FIAT 611s produced by Ansaldo with a maximum road speed of only 28 km/h and a range of 180 km. Italian officers were not satisfied with the new armored vehicle which during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, received more criticism than the older Lancia 1ZM. This led the Italian Army to give an order to all Italian companies for a new wheeled vehicle to replace the Lancia 1ZM which was being used in Spain and the FIAT 611.

Lancia 1ZM in Royal Italian Service
The Lancia 1ZM employed by the Royal Italian Army in Ethiopia before the Second World War. Source: Istituto Luce
FIAT 611 with Vickers Temi 37mm cannon
The FIAT 611 armored truck armed with the Vickers Terni 37 mm cannon. Source: pinterest.com

Around the same time, the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana or PAI (English: Italian Police of Africa) unilaterally requested the development of an armored car for reconnaissance duties from Ansaldo to be used in the Italian African colonies of Libya and Ethiopia, where anti-colonial resistance groups were still present and light tanks could not adequately perform the long-range reconnaissance role that armored cars provided. This request was also aimed to replace the old FIAT-Terni-Tripoli and Lancia 1ZM that arrived in Africa after 1918, which by that point, had experienced 20 years of continuous service and suffered from several problems due to a lack of spare parts.

History of the Prototype

The two orders were answered by the FIAT-SPA and Ansaldo consortium, which began to develop a wheeled vehicle that would meet the requirements of the Italian Army and the Colonial Police. The feature that was most taken into consideration was the off-road driving, in fact, the vehicle used as the basis was the TM40 (Trattore Medio Modello 1940 – Medium Tractor Model 1940), a vehicle used to tow artillery, in development since 1938 which only entered service in 1942.

FIAT-SPA TM40 Medium Artillery Tractor
The FIAT-SPA TM40 Medium Artillery Tractor. Source Wikipedia.it

One of the biggest issues that had been found in the previous armored cars was the time it took to disengage from a firefight and flee, which was made harder by the narrow streets in the villages of the colonies. The problem was solved by adding another driving position on the right side of the rear of the new armored car. The steering system was then modified, allowing the front and rear driver to steer with all four wheels.

The armament was composed of three 8 mm caliber Breda Modello 1938 machine guns and placed, as on the Lancia armored car, two in the turret and one on the rear, on the left side of the rear driver. The engine was a Fiat SPA ABM 1 6-cylinder petrol engine 78 hp.

On May 15th, 1939, the two prototypes produced, at the time called AutoBlindoMitragliatrice Modello 1940 or ABM40 (English: Machine gun Armored Car Model 1940), were presented to Benito Mussolini and the Italian Army during the inauguration of the FIAT production plant in Mirafiori, Turin together with the FIAT 626 medium truck prototype and the FIAT 666N heavy duty truck prototype.

Two weeks later, one of the prototypes was sent by sea to Africa Orientale Italiana or AOI (English: Italian East Africa), modern-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, where it covered 13,000 km during tests. After some modifications to speed up production, even if the tests revealed that the main armament was not powerful enough, the vehicle was accepted into service in March 1940 and ordered in the first batch of 176 units due to the imminent entry into the war, under the name of AutoBlinda Mod. 1940 (Eng. Armored Car Mod. 1940) or more simply AB40.

AB40 and Crew
The prototype of the AB40 sent to Africa with its crew. Source: forumfree.it

The first 5 vehicles were sent to the Centro di Addestramento Autoblindo (English: Armored Car Training Centre) of Pinerolo in March 1941. Twenty-four examples of the new armored car were produced with the temporary Modello 1940 turret, while a prototype was created with the Modello 1941 turret of the L6/40 light tank.

The new version, called AB41, was armed with the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935, overcoming the lack of firepower of the AB40, and a more powerful petrol engine, the FIAT SPA ABM 2 6-cylinder 88 hp. The modifications increased the weight, from 6.85 to 7.4 tonnes. After a few tests, it was judged favorably by the army, which authorized its production. After a short while, the new Mod. 1941 turrets, which were already being produced for the L6, arrived at the assembly lines. The new engines took longer, as the assembly lines had to be modified, so it was decided to modify the AB40 armored cars by mounting the Modello 1941 turret on a hull powered by the FIAT SPA ABM 1 engine. These “hybrid” armored cars are indistinguishable from the AB41 from the outside, and the total production number is 435, 65% of the whole AB41 production.

The AB41 was the standard reconnaissance armored car of the Royal Italian Army which used it with excellent results in the African Campaign, the Russian Front and the Balkans from mid-1941 to September 8th, 1943. After the September 1943 Armistice of Cassibile, all the AB41s were requisitioned by the Wehrmacht, which went on to reuse them in France and Germany. Some of them were given to the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (English: National Republican Army), the collaborationist army of the Benito Mussolini’s Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic), which was founded on 23th September 1943 on Italian territories still under German control. In total, about 660 were produced even after the German occupation. After the war, they were still employed by the Polizia di Stato (English: State Police), Arma dei Carabinieri (English: Arm of the Carabinieri) and the Esercito Italiano or EI (English: Italian Army) until 1954.

The Royal Army considered the AB41 to be fundamental, so it ordered FIAT to give priority to the delivery of armored cars over light tanks. According to FIAT archives, a large number of L6 were parked in the warehouses of FIAT factories for months, practically finished, but without the radio system and the optics of the cannon, because the production of these parts common to the AB41 was insufficient and priority was given to the armored cars.

Design

Crew

The crew consisted of four: the front driver, who also operated the radio when not driving, placed in the front; the vehicle’s commander who was in the turret in the middle of the vehicle, who in addition to giving orders to the rest of the crew, had to operate the main gun and control the battlefield; the rear driver on the left of the rear; and the machine gunner/radio operator, to the rear driver’s right. Throughout the war, the lack of a loader for the main gun negatively affected the performance of the armored car.

A Polizia dell’Africa Italiana‘s AB41. The Italian flag on the left, the half-opened door, the motto ‘Col Cuore e Col Motore Oltre Ogni Meta’ (English: ‘With Heart and Engine Beyond Any Goal’) and the Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tire are visible. Source: pinterest.com

AB40 with Modello 1941 turret or AB40/41

The Italian High Command immediately found that the two machine guns in the turret could not provide adequate support fire to the infantry and did not allow the AB40s to engage other armored cars.

Ansaldo proposed to install a new turret, tht in the article it’s called Modello 1941 (even if it was produced in 1940), developed for the L6/40 light reconnaissance tank, armed with a 20 mm automatic cannon, on the chassis of the AB40.

The modifications increased the weight, from 6.8 to 7.45 tonnes, and to avoid some stress problems for the armored car caused by the extra weight, a more powerful petrol engine, the 88 hp FIAT SPA ABM 2 6-cylinder, was mounted.
Following a few tests, it was judged favorably by the army, which authorized its production. After a short while, the new Modello 1941 turrets, which were already being produced for the L6/40, arrived at the assembly lines. The new engines took longer, as the assembly lines had to be modified at the SPA plant, so it was decided to modify the AB40 armored cars by mounting the Modello 41 turret on a hull powered by the FIAT SPA ABM 1 engine. These ‘hybrid’ armored cars are indistinguishable from the AB41 from the outside.

The registers of the Ufficio Autonomo Approvvigionamenti Automobilistici Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army Autonomous Automobile Procurement Office), which lists the vehicles produced with their registration, chassis and engine number, mention the AB40 version as a vehicle still produced in 1941 and early 1942. According to these registers, the armored cars registered from plate Regio Esercito 116B to Regio Esercito 551B would be AB40, i.e. 435 vehicles, 65% of the whole AB41 production. Those with registration Regio Esercito 552B onward would be AB41s. This means that a large number of the AB40s actually had the Modello 1941 turret mounted.

Engine and Suspension

The engine in the AB40 hull version armed with Modello 1941 turret was a 78 hp FIAT SPA ABM 1 6-cylinder water-cooled inline petrol engine, while in the standard AB41, it was a 88 hp FIAT-SPA ABM 2 6-cylinder inline petrol engine cooled by a water circuit driven by a centrifugal pump. The engine cooling water tank was placed under the rear driver’s hatch on the left of the fuel reserve tank. In both ABs, the engine was coupled with a Zenith type 42 TTVP carburetor housed in the back of the engine compartment.

PAI engine compartment open
An armored car of the PAI with the engine compartment opened and the engine taken out and placed near the vehicle. Italian East Africa, winter 1942. Sources: Istituto Luce

The two engines were designed by FIAT and produced by its subsidiary Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA (English: Piedmontese Automobiles Company) in Turin. The second engine was chosen because the new turret armed with the Breda gun increased the weight of the vehicle, from 6.85 tonnes in the AB40 with 3 machine guns to 7.4 tonnes in the AB41. Although increased by only 550 kg the performance of the first engine had decreased, decreasing the maximum speed and maximum range.

Increased engine power brought speeds to these levels:

‘AB’ armored car series velocity by gears
AB model AB40 AB41 AB42 AB43
With engine FIAT SPA ABM 1 FIAT SPA ABM 2 FIAT SPA ABM 3 FIAT SPA ABM 3
With gears
First gear 7.68 km/h 7.89 km/h // 8.20 km/h
Second gear 12.88 km/h 13.22 km/h // 14.00 km/h
Third gear 22.80 km/h 23.35 km/h // 24.20 km/h
Forth gear 36.40 km/h 37.30 km/h // 38.60 km/h
Fifth gear 55.60 km/h 57.06 km/h // 59.10 km/h
Sixth gear 76.40 km/h 78.38 km/h 88.20 km/h 81.20 km/h
Note The values of the AB40 equipped with Mod. 41 turret are not known

There were three fuel tanks with a capacity total of 195 liters. The main one, with 118 liters, was in the double bottom of the floor, the 57 liter secondary tank was mounted in front of the front driver in front of the steering wheel, while the 20 liters reserve tank was placed under the machine gun spherical support in the rear of the crew compartment.
The oil bath air filters were of satisfactory quality, giving great results even in the desert environment.

general AB fuel system
The fuel system of the AB armored car series. On the left, the rear 20-liters reserve tank, on the right the 57-liters frontal tank, and in the center, down the first floor, the main tank. Source: modellismopiù.it

The electrical system composed of a Magneti Marelli 3 MF15 battery with 4 accumulators was used to power the 4 external headlights, the three lamps for the internal lighting and the horn placed on the front right mudguard.

The engine could be started manually using a crank or electrically with an ignition key from either dashboards.

The single dry plate clutch transmitted the movement of the drive shaft to a gearbox. The differential from which the four drive shafts departed.

AB series frame
The AB frame of an unknown model armored car. In the foreground, the radiators, the oil tank, and the engine can be seen. The reserve fuel and the water tanks were side by side, with the rear driver position moved to the left. In the background, the steering wheel and the dashboard can be seen. The 57-liter secondary tank and the brake fluid tank are missing. The tires are of the ‘Artiglio a Sezione Maggiorata’ type. Source: Modellismopiù.com

The front driver had six gears at his disposal while the rear driver had only four gears at his disposal, meaning that 37 km/h was the maximum speed in this configuration.

AB41, probably from a Cavalry School in Italy, unarmed, demonstrates the usefulness of the spare wheels. Source: Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II

The suspension was a four-wheel drive and four steering wheels with independent shock absorbers on each wheel which, coupled with the large diameter tires gave excellent off-road mobility to the armored cars.

The ‘AB’ armored cars and Camionette AS42 series independent suspensions. Source: pinterest.com

Supports for extra jerry cans were mounted at the factory on the last production vehicles along with a new exhaust, being able to carry up to a maximum of 5 or 6 (three or four on the right sides of the vehicle and two on the front fenders), but there are photos of AB41 in Africa equipped with jerry cans attached to racks built and welded by the crews on the battlefield.

The engine compartment was well cooled with grilles on the engine deck, right behind the rear armored plate of the superstructure, grilles on maintenance hatches, and inclined grilles on the rear for the radiator’s water cooling. It should also be considered that the lack of a bulkhead allowed for easier cooling.

AB41 during training
Two AB41s during training in Corsica. The vehicles had some jerry cans on the rear of the turret. Source: pinterest.com

Hull and Armor

The armor on the entire hull and superstructure consisted of bolted plates. This arrangement did not offer the same efficiency as a mechanically welded plate but facilitated the replacement of an armor element in case it had to be repaired. The hull was 9 mm thick, front, sides, and rear while on the turret, the bolted plates reached a maximum thickness of 40 mm on the front plate and 30 mm on the sides and back. The wheel fenders were also armored to prevent enemy fire from piercing the tires.

In general, for the tasks the armored car had to perform, the armor was more than adequate, protecting the crew from enemy infantry light weapons.

The hull of the armored car had an internal structure on which the plates were bolted. At the rear of the superstructure were the two armored access doors, divided into two parts that could be opened separately. The upper part had a slit so that the crew could use their personal weapons for close-quarters defense. On the left was the antenna, which rested on a support at the back of the superstructure. In fact, to open the upper part of the left door, it was necessary to raise the antenna a few degrees.

On the right, the horn was placed at the front, a pickaxe was placed on the right side and the exhaust pipe was placed on the rear wing. The two spare wheels were placed in two fairings on the sides of the superstructure. In the ‘Ferroviaria’ version, the support in the fairing allowed to attach two wheels on each side. Above the engine compartment, there were two air intakes and two hatches for engine maintenance. On the back were the cooling grille and the two rear lights.

Radio Equipment

The radio system mounted on vehicles built before March 1941 is unknown. The Transceiver Station model RF 3M, produced by Magneti Marelli, which was installed on all vehicles of the AB series from March 1941 onwards, was placed on the left wall of the superstructure, in the middle of the crew compartment.

Magneti Marelli RF3M radio equipment
The transmitter and receiver parts of the Magneti Marelli RF3M radio equipment. Source: ha5kdr.hu

The RF 3M consisted of a transmitter placed on a shelf on top of the receiver placed on another shelf on the spare wheel fairing. Underneath them, on the floor, the power supplies and accumulator were placed, while the batteries were placed in the double bottom of the floor. There were two pairs of headphones and microphones for the interphone, one which was used by the front driver and the second by the rear machine gunner. The mounted antenna could be lowered to 90°. When ‘hoisted’ up, it was 3 m high but could reach 7 m fully extended with a maximum range of 60 km and 25/35 km when 3 m high.
Some armored cars received an RF 2CA radio, also produced from Magneti Marelli, with the antenna mounted on the rear of the fighting compartment, but, apart from the antenna mount, there were no external differences between the normal AB41 and the command version. The RF 2CA was used for communications among tank squadron commanders, so it is logical to assume that the AB41 equipped with this type of radio were used by squadron/company commanders.

Radio equipment locations in AB41
The radio equipment in a standard AB41. Source: pinterest.com

The Stazione Ricetrasmittente Magneti Marelli RF 3M operated in graphic (Morse Code) and voice mode on frequencies from 1,690 to 2,790 kHz. The transmitter was 350 x 250 x 250 mm with a weight of 14.2 kg while the receiver was 350 x 220 x 195 mm with a weight of 8.4 kg. It was produced from 1940 and was later updated in 1942, under the new name RF 3M2 Modello 1942 with some internal improvement and a different front panel. Maximum communication range increased to 70 km.

AB41 with radio antenna
An AB41 command armored car with a radio antenna mounted on the rear of the superstructure. Source: Istituto Luce

The Stazione Ricetrasmittente Magneti Marelli RF 2CA operated in graphic and voice mode. Its production began in 1940 and had a maximum communication range of 20-25 km.

Some Autoblindo AB41s of the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ (first one plated Regio Esercito 528B) with 7 meters long antennas. Source: Archivio Lancia

Interior

Apart from the frontal slit and the episcope, the front driver had in front of him the steering wheel, the dashboard, the 57-liter tank, and brake fluid tank.

On his right was the gear lever with 6 gears, the hand brake, the intercom panel, and the directional control lever which, when lowered, allowed the rear driver to take control of the vehicle. On the left, at the top, there was a crank that facilitated the raising or lowering of the radio antenna.

AB41 rear driver position
The rear driver position of the AB41. Source: pinterest.com

On either side, above the wheel fairings, there was a headlight on armored hinges that were raised and lowered by the driver with two levers.

Behind the driver’s seat, with a foldable backrest, there was the position of the vehicle commander/gunner. The position did not have a turret basket and the commander/gunner operated the cannon and the machine gun by the use of pedals. There were no electric generators in the turret, so the cables that connected the pedals to the weapons in the turret were the ‘Bowden’ type cables, the same as on bike brakes. On the sides of the hull were the ammunition racks that occupied most of the free space on the interior sides of the superstructure.

On the right was a large container that was used to store the crew’s personal belongings and equipment, whilst fixed on the outside of the container was the support for the spare barrels for the machine guns.

Behind the racks, there was additional room for a couple of small containers for equipment and three fire extinguishers, two on the left side, and one on the right side.

Interior of AB43
Interior of an AB43. Although different in many ways, the interior remains almost identical to that of the AB41. The steering wheel, dashboard, and ammunition racks are clearly visible on the right side. On the right side, in front of the spare wheel fairing is also visible the large storage box with the two Bersaglieri tankers helmets. On the left, above the spare wheel fairing, you can see the radio transmitter and behind the ammunition racks. Source: pinterest.com

At the back were the rear driver’s position on the left and the machine gunner’s on the right. Their seats were foldable and the steering wheel was secured with a butterfly screw which was easily removable, to facilitate crew access and exit. Between the two seats were the dashboard, gear lever with 4 gears, hand brake, and the directional control. The intercom panel was between the slit and the machine gun ball support. Between the two crew members and the engine compartment, there were two tanks, on the right a 20-liters fuel tank and on the left, one for the engine cooling water. Under the machine gunner, there was the vehicle’s power battery and to the right of the machine gun, the headphones, and the radio microphone.

Behind them, there was the engine compartment which was not easy to access for maintenance because it had only two access doors. Behind the engine, there were the radiator and the oil tank.

Cutaway of AB41
A cutaway of an AB41 showing (1) the 20/65 Breda cannon Mod. 1935 (2) the headlight (3) the 57-liters reserve tank (4) the front driver’s seat (5) the pedals to open fire (6) the commander/gunner’s seat (7) the machine gunner’s seat (8) the battery compartment (9) the transmission shaft (10) the starter engine (11) the cooling fan (12) the radiator (13) the FIAT-SPA engine (14) the case bag (15) the Breda machine gun Mod. 38 (16) the radio transmitter (17) the commander’s panoramic periscope, and finally (18) the crank to rotate the turret Source: zonwar.ru

Turret

As aforementioned, the AB41 turret was the Mod. 1941 developed and produced by Ansaldo for the L6/40 light tank. The one-man turret had an octagonal shape with two hatches: one for the vehicle’s commander/gunner on the roof and the second one on the back of the turret, used to facilitate the disassembly of the main armament during maintenance operations. On the sides, the turret then had, in addition to two slits, two air intakes as the vehicle did not have fans or smoke extractors. On the roof there was a periscope for the commander next to the hatch, which allowed him a partial view of the battlefield because it was impossible, due to the limited space, to rotate it 360°. After some time it was realized that the turret had some balance problems, so a counterweight was put on the back, under the rear hatch.

AB41 turret with counterweight
An AB41 turret with counterweight and the rear hatch opened for the cannon mounting. Source: pinterest.com
Breda 38 machine gun mount on AB41
Support for the Breda 38 machine gun on the turret of an AB41 fitted by the Ansaldo factory after 1943. Source: Ansaldo archives

Primary Armament

The main armament was the Cannone da 20/65 Breda Mod. 1935 L/65 with a rate of fire of 220 rounds per minute with an x1 sight produced by the San Giorgio Optics Factory. The elevation was +18° while the depression was -9°. The Breda cannon could fire Armor Piercing (AP) and High-Explosive (HE) rounds of Italian production caliber 20 x 138 mm, but also those used by the German FlaK 38 cannon and the Solothurn S18-1000 anti-tank gun, increasing the anti-tank capacity of the cannon. With the Italian armor-piercing bullets, the Mod. 1935 cannon could penetrate a 38 mm armor plate inclined at 90° at 100 mmeters and a 30 mm armored plate at 500 meters. With German Pz.Gr. 40 ammunition, it could penetrate a 50 mm armor plate inclined at 90° at 100 m and a 40 mm armored plate at 500 m.

Cannone 20/65 on a Modello 1941 turret
The Cannone 20/65 Breda Mod. 1935 on a Modello 1941 turret. Source: bundesarchiv.com

Secondary Armament

The secondary armament consisted of two Breda Modello 1938 8 mm caliber machine guns, the first coaxial to the cannon, on the left, and the second in a ball support on the rear of the vehicle. These machine guns were the vehicle version of the Breda Mododello 1937 medium machine gun and had a top-mounted curved box magazine with 24 rounds.

The machine gun at the rear had an x1 optics and could be disassembled and used in an anti-aircraft position. For the whole duration of the African Campaign, the AB41 crews used a variety of handcrafted supports for anti-aircraft machine guns. Often, machine guns captured from the Allies, such as the Browning M1919 or Bren gun, or other Breda Mod. 1938s taken from Italian vehicles destroyed in combat, were used in these mounts. From 1943 onward, an anti-aircraft support for the AB41 was produced by Ansaldo, but very few were produced and not much is known about their use.

2 AB41s of the R.E.Co. Lodi
Two AB41s of the R.E.Co. “Lodi” in Tunisia armed with a 7.62 x 63 mm Browning M1919 with two different anti-aircraft supports. The first vehicle had the support welded on the housing of the panoramic telescope. The second AB41 had the Browning mounted on a support that was fixed to the side of the turret. Source: Pinterest

From 1943 onwards, a smoke grenade launcher mounted on the side of the engine compartment and a box containing the smoke grenades were added on the back of the armored car. It is not clear if the last AB41s delivered to the Royal Army were equipped with them or if only the Germans used them.

Ammunition

The ammunition on the AB41 armored car consisted of 38 magazines of 12 rounds (for a total of 456 rounds) of 20 mm and 83 magazines of 24 rounds (for a total of 1,992 rounds) of 8 mm. As aforementioned, the magazines were placed in white painted wooden racks on the sides of the hull, 14 20 mm magazines and 40 8 mm magazines were placed on the left side together with the radio and intercom of the commander. The remaining 24 20 mm and 45 8 mm magazines were placed on the right side.

In the one-man turret, there was no space for a loader and it was the vehicle commander who had to load the cannon in addition to commanding and firing the cannon, even though it was not uncommon for one of the two drivers, when not driving, to pass the magazines to the commander to facilitate loading.

Tires

The tires used on the AB41 were produced by the Pirelli factory in Milan, as were almost all the tires on Italian vehicles. Pirelli produced several tires for the 60 cm (24″) rim used on the TM40 transport vehicles and also AB series armored cars.

Three types of tires were used for the African campaign, the most common being the Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ 9.75 x 24″ (25 x 60 cm). There was also the Tipo ‘Libia Rinforzato’ with the same dimensions but run-flat and the Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ introduced in 1942 for the Camionetta FIAT-SPA AS42 and rarely fitted on armored cars.

Replacing the tire of an AB41
Replacement of a ‘Artiglio’ tire from an AB41 of the IV Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ stationed in Tirana, Albania. Photo taken before the Armistice. Source: piciuki.com

For the use on ‘continental’ soils, such as Italy, the Russian steppes, France, and Germany, AB41s instead used the Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’ 9 x 24″ (22.8 x 60 cm), Tipo ‘Artiglio a Sezione Maggiorata’ 11.25 x 24″ (28.5 x 60 cm) and finally, from 1942 onwards, the Pirelli ‘Raiflex’ tires. There is photographic evidence that shows AB series armored cars fitted with the AS42’s specific tires and vice versa, as, due to the troublesome supply lines of the Royal Army and the Republican Army, the crews were not always supplied with spare wheels. Some photographs show armored cars with non-standard tires of German or Allied origin of a suitable size.

2 AB41s in Dalmatia
A pair of AB41s from the Aufklärungs-Abteilung 114. Jäger-Division in Dalmatia, modern-day Croatia, in September 1943. The first is equipped with Pirelli tipo ‘Libia’ type on the right side and a non-standard wheel on the left side. The one at the back also had a non-standard wheel on the right side. Source: pinterest.com

Flaws of the AB41

The AB41 was a well-designed vehicle but it was not without its flaws The steering system was very delicate and forced the crews to make continuous and long overhauls to make it continuously efficient. The mechanism which allowed the dual drive took up a lot of space inside the vehicle, thus making it very cramped.

The turret Mod. 1941 suffered from several problems too. It was very tall, therefore causing problems as it was easier to spot even at long distances and for balance. This latter issue was solved in the middle of 1942 with the addition of a counterweight on the back. Furthermore, it did not have a fume extractor but instead only two air intakes, often causing the gunner to become intoxicated. The turret was also very narrow, making loading very difficult.

The AB41 had a one-man turret, forcing the commander to perform too many tasks, including locating targets, firing, loading the cannon and giving orders. This obviously caused many problems for the commander, whose task was made even harder by the lack of a laryngophone and was forced to give orders through the intercom placed on the left side of the superstructure.

During the war, the Italian war industry failed to provide an adequate amount of high-quality ballistic steel armor for the Italian Army, in fact, the crews often complained about the armor on armored cars, which in some instances, during off-road marches, cracked whilst traversing rough terrain.

Although the armor was thick enough to defend the crew from light infantry weapons, making it adequate for a reconnaissance vehicle, due to the lack of suitable vehicles and the lack of organization, the Italian Army often employed the armored car as a vehicle to break the enemy’s defensive lines. This caused a lot of losses, as these long-range reconnaissance vehicles were an all too easy target even for anti-tank rifles that could penetrate the armor of the armored cars of the AB series over 100 meters away.

When having to attack enemy positions, the crews often advanced with their vehicles facing backward, as the rear-facing machine gun provided superior offensive capabilities and the presence of the engine at the rear increased the armor protection for the crews, even if making the vehicle as a whole more vulnerable.

Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 cannon supporting infantry
A Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 cannon supporting an infantry advance alongside a rear-facing AB41, using its engine for increased protection. Source: pinterest.com

The 20-liter reserve tank was not protected by an armored bulkhead, a problem which was never solved and the risk of fire was always very high. Even during the use in the desert, this problem worsened because the heat emitted by the engine forced the crews to keep the doors and the hatches open to allow the crews to properly breathe. In one occasion, on 21st November 1941, during a reconnaissance mission on board of a Polizia dell’Africa Italiana AB41 armored car, the radio operator, Guardia Mario Sforzini, was hit by grenade splinters because the crew kept the hatches opened due to the heat.

The problem of the heat generated by the engine certainly benefited crews in the Soviet Union and the Balkans during the rigid winters.

One interesting fact is that crews of the armored cars deployed in the North African deserts often did not fill the reserve tank and relied on externally transported 20 liters jerry cans of the same capacity to avoid the risk of fire.

A column of AB41 entering the Siwa oasis, 1942. All three had the upper part of the door opened to ventilate the interior. Source: pinterest.com

Production and Organization

Many companies competed in the production of the ‘AB’ series armored cars: Società Piemontese Automobili of Turin produced the chassis and the engines. Lancia of Turin produced a small percentage of chassis; San Giorgio of Sestri Ponente near Genoa produced all the optics devices of the armored car; Magneti Marelli of Corbetta, near Milan, produced the radio system, batteries, and engine starter; the armor plates were produced by Società Italiana Acciaierie Cornigliano or SIAC (English: Italian Steelworks Company of Cornigliano); Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche of Brescia produced the automatic cannons and machine guns; and Ansaldo-Fossati of Sestri-Ponente assembled the hull and produced the turrets.

Companies that participated in the production of the Autoblinda AB41
Name Place Production
Fabbrica Italiana Automobili di Torino (FIAT) Turin Brakes
Società Piemontese Automobili (SPA) Turin Engines and frames
Lancia Veicoli Industriali Turin Frames
Zenith Turin Carburetors and fuel filters
Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche Brescia Machine guns
Magneti Marelli Corbetta and Sestri Ponente Engine starter, radio systems, and batteries
San Giorgio Sestri Ponente Optics devices
Società Italiana Acciaierie Cornigliano (SIAC) Cornigliano Armor plates
Pirelli & Company Milan Tires
Brevetti Ferra Turin Fire Estinguisher
Costruzioni Aeronautiche Officine Meccaniche e Fonderie Somma Lombardo Petrol pump
Industria Radiotecnica Italiana Rome Intercom
Ansaldo Sestri Ponente Final assembly
Duco Milan Paint

In the ten months of 1941 during which the AB41 was produced, only 250 were delivered to the army, with an average monthly production of 25 armored cars out of 30 planned. In total, 269 chassis were produced by Società Piemontese Automobili and 282 armored superstructures by the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in 1941. In 1942, 302 AB41 armored cars were delivered to the army, also with an average monthly production of 25 armored cars. In 1943, due to various problems, between January and July, only 72 were delivered to the army, an average production of only 10 armored cars per month.
Under German Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (English: Inspector General of the Armed Forces) on 13th November 1943, production was resumed after German’s evaluations for the Wehrmacht and totalled 23 AB41s produced until December 1944.

AB41 production during the war
Year 1941 1942 1943 November 1943 to December 1944 Total
Average production per year 250 302 92 23 667
Average production per month 25 25.16 6 1.6 14.5

In late 1942 and early 1943, the Regio Esercito began evaluating which vehicles to prioritize for production and which others to give less attention to. The High Command of the Regio Esercito, well aware of the importance of the medium reconnaissance armored cars of the ‘AB’ series, ordered to give precedence to the production of the AB at the expense of the L6/40 reconnaissance light tanks.

AB41 armored cars lined up for the final assembly phase at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, near Genoa. In the foreground are some Semoventi M41 da 75/18. Source: italie1935-45.com

This led to a drastic decrease in the production of this type of light tanks. When the L6/40s came out from the assembly line, there were not enough San Giorgio optics and Magneti Marelli radios for them because these were delivered with priority to the AB41s. This left the Società Piemontese Automobili’s plant’s depots, where the L6s were produced, full of vehicles waiting to be completed.

The AB41 armored car units were composed, aside from rare exceptions, of coppia (English: couple) consisting of 2 armored cars, plotone (English: platoon) composed of 2 couples, compagnia (English: company) or squadrone (English: squadron) composed of one command platoon (one command car) and four platoons, for a total of 17 armored cars, and Gruppo (English: group) or Battaglione (English: battalion) composed of one command company or squadron and from two to four companies or squadrons, for a total of 35 or 69 armored cars.

Prospective armored car crew members were assigned to cavalry schools and to armored Bersaglieri schools (Bersaglieri were the Italian assault infantry). The cavalry used squadrone and gruppi nomenclature, while the Bersaglieri used battaglioni and compagnie nomenclature, even if the sources often do not pay attention to this detail.

During a march, a platoon had three different types of formations: the standard column, with one armored car behind each other; a line, with all lined up side-to-side; and the stormo (English: wing), in which the four armored cars formed a ‘V’ shape pointing backward.

Companies and battalions had other types of formations. These could be the 17 vehicles forming a long column or four lines composed of four AB41s in a column, with the command armored car in front. They could also form a bigger stormo or a rhombus.

The maximum distance between each armored car could not exceed 100 meters, but, in case of air strikes, this would be extended to 200 meters.

A group of AB41s under fire while approaching an enemy position. The vehicles maintain adequate distance between them and zigzag to avoid being easy targets. Source: pinterest.com

For vehicle repairs and recovery, each squadron or company had a Modello 1938 mobile workshop, composed of two heavy trucks, a heavy duty Lancia Ro NM or Lancia 3Ro recovery truck and a SPA 38R light recovery truck.

In late 1941, the Regio Esercito designated a list of units that needed to be equipped with the AB41 armored cars. Each Italian armored division’s reconnaissance group needed a group or battalion with 35 AB41s, totalling 175 armored cars. Each mechanized division’s reconnaissance group was given 26 AB41s, a total of 208. A company or a squadron plus another platoon (17 + 4 armored cars) were needed for each of the 8 different army corps, 168 armored cars in total. A platoon plus a command armored car (8 + 1 armored cars) were needed for each Italian infantry division’s reconnaissance group. A total of 650 armored cars were needed to be produced. At the theoretical rate of 30 armored cars per month, this would take 21 months, just under 2 years.

However, the Italian Army had not considered the Balkan theater, where some AB units were assigned to fight against the Yugoslavian partisans.

In very late 1942, the AB41 received some small upgrades, the most important ones were the new muffler and some 20 liters cans supports, one on each frontal mudguard and 3 or 4 on the right side of the superstructure. In general, the can’s supports were rarely used on the upgraded ABs, as when they entered service in early 1943, the North African Campaign, where the need to increase range was necessary, had concluded, and none of the upgraded AB41s was ever sent across the Mediterranean to Africa.

Service History

Regio Esercito – North Africa

In late 1941, the RECAM was equipped with an experimental armored car platoon from the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘Nizza’ (English: Armored Squadron Group). This unit was not destroyed by the German air strike, but, due to the very limited number of armored cars assigned to it, by January 1942, it was disbanded.

Two of the three AB41s and the Autoblindo TL37 assigned at the Raggruppamento Esplorante del Corpo d’Armata di Manovra in Sidi Rezegh in November 1941. The motto of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘Nizza’, “Nicaea Fidelis” (English: Faithful Nice), is visible above the driver port. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

On 26th April 1942, RECAM was disbanded, and, in its place, the Raggruppamento Celere Africa Settentrionale (English: North African Fast Group) was created.

It was composed of two Gruppi Celeri (English: Fast Group), each composed of an armored car squadron with 24 AB41s with FIAT SPA ABM 1 and standard AB41 armored cars, one Gruppo Batterie da 65/17 Autoportate (English: Truck-mounted 65/17 Battery Group), one Gruppo Batterie da 75/27 Mod. 11 Autoportate, one Gruppo Batterie da 100/17 Autoportate, and one Batteria Antiaerea da 20/65 (English: 20 mm Anti-Aircraft Battery). These units were supported by 2 infantry battalions and a logistic unit.

Strangely enough, there is some unclear information about where the armored cars of the Raggruppamento Celere Africa Settentrionale came from. A total of 48 armored cars are claimed to have come from the III Gruppo Esplorante corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’ or GECo (English: 3rd Armored Exploration Group) which, however, was sent to Africa in July with 18 armored cars and arrived in August 1942, under the command of Major Riccardo Martinengo Marquet. The Raggruppamento Celere AS was disbanded in May 1942.

Some sources claim that the unit was equipped with an unknown number of armored cars from the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ (English: 3rd Armored Squadron Group) that was formed in Turin in July 1941 and sent to Africa “during 1942”. It is plausible that the unit was equipped with a few armored cars from this unit or from others.

In the book ‘La meccanizzazione dell’Esercito fino al 1943’ by Lucio Ceva and Andrea Curami, it is stated that 20 AB41s with FIAT SPA ABM 1 and standard AB41 armored cars arrived in Africa in February 1942 and another 63 in April of the same year. The same book reports that, in May 1942, there were a total of 93 armored cars in North Africa, assigned to various units:
The III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’, with a theoretical organic strength of 47 armored cars, but equipped with 38 in service (serviceable or needing repairs).
VIII Reggimento Bersaglieri Corazzato, also with a theoretical organic strength of 47 armored cars, but equipped with 31 in service (serviceable or in need of repairs).
The 3ª Compagnia della Polizia dell’Africa Italiana, with a theoretical organic of 10, but the exact number of armored cars is unknown.

Considering that, of 93 armored cars, 69 were assigned to the first two units, this means that the remaining 24 armored cars in North Africa were assigned to the 3ª Compagnia della Polizia dell’Africa Italiana and to the Raggruppamento Celere AS. This number was less than half compared to the 48 armored cars theoretically assigned to them.

III Gruppo Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’

The III Gruppo Esplorante Corazzato (GECo) ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’ was created in April 1941 at the Deposito Reggimentale (English: Regimental Depot) of Voghera in Lombardia. The Group was composed of two armored car squadrons and was assigned to the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ (English: 131st Armored Division) as a reconnaissance unit. It was then assigned to the XXI Corpo d’Armata (English: 21th Army Corps) stationed at Agedabia, in the Sirte district.

In September 1942, the GECo took part in the occupation of the Jalo Oasis in Cyrenaica, Libya, and then the Siwa Oasis in Egypt, together with the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ (English: 136th Armored Division). After the defeat of the Axis troops in the Second Battle of El Alamein (23rd October – 5th November 1942), the III Gruppo Esplorante corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’ fought in southern Tunisia against Allied armored units.

Two AB41s of the III Gruppo Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’ in North Africa. The two vehicles do not have coats of arms. The radio antennas were hosted to about 55° on the AB in the foreground and 75°. Source: pinterest.com

In late 1942, the group consisted of one armored car squadron, a batteria autocannoni (English: autocannon battery) with captured Morris CS8 light lorries, a motorized company with 47 mm anti-tank cannons, a Willys platoon with captured Jeeps, 20 officers, 16 NCOs, and 213 soldiers.

The equipment consisted of 14 AB41 with FIAT SPA ABM 1 armored cars, 6 Willys Jeep, 4 Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8, 3 Lancia RO heavy duty trucks, 4 FIAT 666NM heavy duty trucks, 2 motorcycles, 1 ambulance, 2 FIAT 626NM medium trucks, 1 FIAT-SPA 38R light truck, 1 Morris CS8 light lorry (probably a 65 mm ammunition carrier), 1 staff car, 17 Cannoni Breda da 20/65 Mod. 1935 anti-aircraft autocannons, 18 Breda Mod. 37 medium machine guns, and 2 Cannoni da 47/32 Mod. 1935 anti-tank guns.

Although it was a reconnaissance unit, after late 1942, it was used to counter the attacks of the British Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). It managed to capture the LRDG commander, Lieutenant Colonel David Stirling, on 20th January 1943, near Al Ḥāmmah (now El Hamma), an oasis town in the south of Tunisia.

After this very lucky action that earned the unit the praise of their German comrades in arms, the GECo was employed in reconnaissance actions in southern Tunisia from 15th February to 17th April 1943, in the areas of Dour-Kébili and Bir Sultane, on the right wing of the Mareth defensive line. During the Battle of Al Ḥāmmah, in March 1943, it actively participated in the retreat from the area of Kebili, fighting against the Free French forces and the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards.

On 29th March, the 3rd Group, deployed in Kebili, was hit by two enemy units equipped with armored fighting vehicles. It was able to oppose their attacks, protecting the retreat of the Raggruppamento Sahariano ‘Mannerini’ (English: Saharan Group) and then carrying out considerable reconnaissance activities for the new defensive line, 24 km to the rear of Gabès, at Wadi Akarit.

On 8th April, with a company of the Raggruppamento Sahariano ‘Mannerini’ and the II Gruppo of the 21º Artiglieria (English: 21st Artillery), it formed a combat group that went to Garaet Fatuassa, where it fought against enemy reconnaissance and sabotage units.

On 13th April during one of these fights in the town of Djebibina, it captured prisoners and armored vehicles from an enemy unit, probably one of the LRDG.

On 22nd April, the commander of the 1ª Armata italiana (English: 1st Italian Army), General Giovanni Messe, decided to reinforce the ranks of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato (R.E.Co.) ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ (English: Armored Exploration Group) ,which had lost, in 5 months of fighting, 50% of its soldiers and 60% of its armored fighting vehicles. All the remaining armored units in Tunisia, including the III Gruppo Esplorante corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’, fought in the Defense of Cape Bon until the surrender of the Axis troops in Tunisia, which took place on 13th May 1943.

Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’

On 15th February 1942, at the Scuola di Cavalleria of Pinerolo, the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ was founded under the command of Colonel Tommaso Lequio di Assaba. The first unit that complete the training was the ‘I Gruppo A di Savoia Cavalleria’, which was deployed in the area of Pontinia, under the orders of Major Prince Vitaliano Borromeo Arese, employed in coastal defense with 4 squadrons and a command platoon.

This unit was accompanied by the ‘Gruppo Corazzato di Addestramento’ (English: Armored Training Group) of the Cavalry School, located in None, under the orders of Major Ettore Bocchini Padiglione.

The units were completed with tank drivers and soldiers taken from other regiments and from the School, with a prevalence of those who had attended training courses for armored cars. The Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘Nizza’ had already trained crews for 3 squadrons.

On 15th April, the General Staff of the Royal Army decided that a Gruppo Semoventi M41 da 75/18 (English: M41 Self-Propelled Guns Group) with 2 batteries was to be assigned to the RECo.

In the spring, the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ was sent to the area of Pordenone, at the orders of the 8ª Armata Italiana, waiting to leave for the Russian front. By order of the General Staff of the Royal Army, on 19th September, the destination was changed to North Africa, to the XX Corpo d’Armata di Manovra, for the defense of the Libyan Sahara.

Initially, however, only the equipment of the Squadrone Carri Armati L6/40 (English: L6/40 Tank Squadron) arrived in Africa, with personnel transferred by air. This was meant for the Oasis of Giofra. The other convoys were attacked during the crossing from the Italian mainland to Africa, causing the loss of all the equipment of the Squadrone Semoventi L40 da 47/32 and the rest of the Tank Squadron could not leave until much later, after the tanks were replaced by AB41 armored cars. They reached the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ in mid-November, while another ship was diverted to Corfu, then reaching Tripoli.

Some AB41s on an Italian merchant ship ready to be disembarked in North Africa. Source: Istituto Luce

The remaining personnel, airlifted from the airports of Sciacca and Castelvetrano between 20th and 25th November, were attacked by US-made fighters that inflicted heavy losses.

When the first units of the R.E.Co. ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ reached Tripoli on 21st November 1942, the Anglo-Americans had landed in French North Africa. At that point, the task of the R.E.Co. changed from the defense of the Libyan Sahara to the occupation and defense of Tunisia. Once gathered, the regiment left for Tunisia.

On 24th November, after leaving Tripoli, the units of the R.E.Co. ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ reached Gabes, and then, on 25th November, occupied Médenine, where the command of the I Gruppo was then stationed, with the 2º Squadrone Motociclisti (English: 2nd Motorcycle Squadron) and a platoon of anti-tank guns. The 1° Squadrone Motociclisti, the armored car squadron and the anti-aircraft gun squadron instead went to Gabes, sustaining losses to Allied air attacks during the march.

The AB41s of the R.E.Co. ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ passing through Gabes in Tunisia. Source: pinterest.com

The regiment was divided as follows: elements in Gabes, with the commander, Lequio, the main part of the I Gruppo in the Tunisian south, all with the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ (English: 131st Armored Division), the Squadrone Carri Armati L6/40 in the Libyan south, temporarily assigned to the Raggruppamento Sahariano ‘Mannerini’.
A part of the RECo ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ was still in Italy.

The units assigned to the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ took part in the Battle of Tebourba. During the final phases, they were deployed, together with the 1ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Superga’ (English: 1st Infantry Division) in the sector of Gafsa-el Guettar.

On 27th November, by order of German general Nehring, the whole sector of Gabes, with the detachments of Médenine and Fountatuine, were entrusted to Colonel Lequio, who had to go as far as Kébili to handle the communication lines.

In the area of Gabes, the units of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’, with the command unit, a motorcycle squadron, armored car squadron, and anti-aircraft squadron, carried out reconnaissance in the area south and north of Chott El Fejej and escort duties to the columns between Gabes and Sfax, a road threatened by units of the LRDG. They then participated in the occupation of Oudref-Achichina-El Hafay to improve the situation in Gabes.

The I Gruppo Squadroni, reinforced by two companies of the LX Battaglione Mitraglieri Autocarrato and by the Sezione Mobile d’Artiglieria da 76/30, garrisoned Medenine and Foum Tatahouine. They also occupied the narrows of Ksar El Hallauf, scouted the mountains of Ksour and sent motorcycle patrols up to Kebili.

AB41s of the R.E.Co. ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ in Tunisia. Source: Le autoblinde AB 40, 41 e 43

On 9th December 1942, Kebili was occupied by a group made up of one platoon of the armored car squadron, one L6/40 light tank platoon, two 20 mm anti-aircraft platoons, the Sezione Mobile d’Artiglieria and two machine gun companies. These were followed two days later by the 2º Squadrone Autoblindo (English: 2nd Armored Car Squadron) in order to reinforce the garrison and to extend the occupation up to Douz, thus holding under control the whole territory of the Caidato of Nefzouna. The commander of the vanguard was second lieutenant Gianni Agnelli of the armored car platoon. From December 1942 to January 1943, the I Group, 50 kilometers away from the main Italian base, in a hostile area and in difficult terrain, continued intense operations in the whole area of the great Chotts and the southwest territories.

The tank squadron, composed of L6/40s, stationed in the area of Giofra and then Hon, received orders from the Comando del Sahara Libico (English: Libyan Sahara Command) on 18th December 1942 to move to Sebha, where it passed under its command, constituting the Nucleo Automobilistico del Sahara Libico (English: Automobile Squad of the Libyan Sahara), with 10 armored cars.

On 4th January 1943, the retreat from Sebha began. The Squadrone Carri Armati L6/40, after having destroyed all the tanks for lack of fuel, reached El Hamma on 1st February, where the squadron rejoined its I Group.

A fundamental role that the Italian scouting units played in Tunisia was to monitor, find, and destroy the enemy scouting units, so as to interfere with enemy information gathering.

Another role played by the unit was anti-aircraft fire, which shot down a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, a Bristol Beaufighter and an American four-engine aircraft, probably B-17 or B-24, whose crew was entirely captured before they could destroy the aircraft. This last plane, originating from Algeria and bound for the Middle East, had a new type of optical device on board, which was found intact and sent to Army Headquarters. Two American fighters were also shot down at Mezzauna by a platoon of 20 mm automatic anti-aircraft guns and a platoon of armored cars fought against enemy armored vehicles near Krechen.

At the end of January 1943, the units of the RECo ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ in the Gabes sector (RECo command, 1º Squadrone Motociclisti, an Armored Car Squadron, a half squadron of 20 mm anti-aircraft guns) were passed over to the 50ª Brigata Speciale di Fanteria (English: 50th Special Infantry Brigade). Together with the III Gruppo corazzato ‘Monferrato’ of the Raggruppamento Sahariano ‘Mannerini’, they moved further north, to the area of Triaga Fauconnerie. The units of the I Group remaining in the area of Kebili passed to the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’.

An AB41 destroyed by its crew in Tunisia after the surrender. Photo taken while the vehicle was still burning. The antenna was raised and the door was opened. This was done to a number of Axis vehicles to avoid the Allies Forces the capture. Source: pinterest.com

On 23rd February 1943, the remains of the Italian-German Armored Army were included in the new 1ª Armata Italiana (English: 1st Italian Army), under the command of Italian General Giovanni Messe.

During the Battle of Kasserine Pass, all the units of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ were engaged, starting from the preliminary operations until the end of the offensive. In cooperation with the 21. Panzer Division, they occupied the passes of Kralif, Rabeau, and Faid, the starting point for the attack of Sidi Bou Zid. The garrison of Kebili, with a special division and a company of German Fallschirmjäger under the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’, contributed to the occupation of the important command center. The 1º Squadrone Motociclisti, which had followed the 21. Panzer Division, was employed in the area of Raban and Kralif. Between 10th and 19th March 1943, the reconnaissance activity became even more intense.

The I Group, under the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’, defended the city of Gafsa. Between 24th February and 17th March, the 2° Squadrone Motociclisti and one Armored Car Platoon attacked the enemy scout units in various locations on the road to Sidi Bou Said on a daily basis.

During the defensive and counter-offensive battle, which took place between 21st March and 7th April east and southeast of El Guettar, the 2° Plotone Autoblindo distinguished itself by capturing several enemy armed Jeeps in the Wadi Halfay area.

On 10th March, in order to prevent any enemy attack from the west and south, part of the 1st Group, which had occupied Douz on 6th March, moved to Kebili, then moved 26 km to El Hamma on 14th March, and was subjected to fierce aerial bombardment until 26th March. An offensive of the British 8th Army caused the capture or destruction of all the units of the group employed in this action.

The group was reconstituted with the Gruppi Corazzati ‘Nizza’ and ‘Monferrato’, with a Batteria Semoventi M41 da 75/18 and one with Autocannoni da 65/17 su FIAT 634N.

On 9th April 1943, the retreat of the German’s 5. Panzerarmee to the north resulted in the outflanking of the 1st Italian Army. The Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ blocked the British attacks from Hammam Lif, on the road to Tunis, effectively delaying the enemy troops in order to cover the retreat of the 1st Army.

After the Battle of Mareth and the retreat of the front to the area of Enfidaville, the armored car patrols of the RECo continued their engagements with enemy reconnaissance units, also fighting a brief battle at the Bled Dicloula pit. They fell back between 9th and 12th April to Kairouan, then through Djebibina and Ben Saidana to Zaghouan.

In this action, the armored cars under the command of Lieutenant Masprone and the Plotone Semoventi L40 da 47/32 of Lieutenant Birzio Biroli claimed to have inflicted 22 tank and an unknown number of armored personnel carriers and other vehicle losses on the enemy.

On 13th April 1943, the 2º Squadrone Motociclisti, along with a 20 mm AA gun platoon, was assigned to the 16ª Divisione fanteria ‘Pistoia’ in order to reinforce the Gebel Gargi stronghold, west of Tarhuna. The III Gruppo corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’ was reduced to a machine gun section.

On 21st April, the remains of Gruppo I returned to the RECo. On 22nd April 1943, the command of the 1st Army decided to unite all the Italian mechanized elements in the RECo. In some sources, the unit is also designated as Raggruppamento Sahariano ‘Lequio’, from the name of its commander. The unit passed under the command of the Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK) for the defense of Cape Bon.

Two tactical groups were constituted, one assigned to the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’, near Bouficha, and one to the 16ª Divisione fanteria ‘Pistoia’, near Saguaf. These were committed, from 24th to 30th April, to the extremities of the Italian-German defenses.

On 10th May 1943, Cape Bon was attacked by enemy armored units and the RECo resisted. The advance of the Anglo-American forces supported by French forces, superior in number and equipment, caused very heavy losses to the Italian-German units. On 11th May 1943, after fighting northwest of Boufichia, what remained of the RECo was annihilated in very bitter fighting that caused the destruction of the last armored artillery vehicles of the unit. War Bulletin n.1083 of 13th-14th May 1943 mentioned the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ for its actions.

Stuart light tanks pass near destroyed AB41s in Tunisia, 20th May 1943. Source: reddit.com

III Gruppo corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’

On 15th April 1942, the III Gruppo corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’ was established at the Deposito Reggimentale di Novara. It was composed of 3 squadrons equipped with L6/40 light tanks (52 vehicles) and sent to Africa as a reconnaissance unit for the 133ª Divisione corazzata ‘Littorio’.

In July 1942, it received three armored cars to try to make up for the loss of L6 tanks (78 out of 85). Reduced then to only five vehicles after the Battle of El Alamein, the unit followed the other units of the Italian-German army in the retreat from Egypt, Cyrenaica, and Tripolitania, on foot, continuing the war as a machine gun section attached to the Raggruppamento Sahariano ‘Mannerini’ during the Tunisian campaign.

III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’

The III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ had at its disposal a theoretical force of 47 armored cars, 13 assigned to the Command Company and other two companies with 17 armored cars each.

In July 1941, it was initially named the 132° Battaglione Autoblindo per R.E.Co., then became the CXXXII Battaglione Esplorante Corazzato in December 1941 and, finally, III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’. During 1942, it was assigned to the 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’ becoming, with an attached medium tank unit, the Reparto Esplorante Corazzato (English: Armored Reconnaissance Unit) of the armored division. In March 1942, the unit was assigned the XIV° Gruppo of the autocannoni’s Batterie Volanti (English: Flying Batteries) equipped with four Autocannoni da 65/17 su FIAT 634N heavy duty trucks. Their service and destiny was unknown.

After a short period of time, it was renamed the III Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’ (English: 3rd Armored Car Group). In May 1942, it operated in Africa, with two squadrons within the 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’ in the XX Corpo di armata. It participated in the offensive against the British 8th Army, especially in the fighting at Bir Hakeim on 27th May. The unit was successfully supported by the 132° Reggimento Carri Armati (English: 132th Tank Regiment) at Bir Harmat on 28th and 29th May. It had reconnaissance tasks at Ain El Gazala, in the preparatory battle for the reconquest of Tobruk, supported by the 132° Reggimento Carri Armati of the Ariete division. Afterwards, the III Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’ operated in the Siwa Oasis and in the Qattara depression. In June 1942, it had only 38 armored cars in its ranks, but not all were serviceable.

In August 1942, following the loss of other armored cars, a single squadron was formed by consolidating the remains of the two squadrons.

An AB41 of the III Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’ knocked out and abandoned in the desert. On the rear armored plate is readable “III° Gr. Corazzato Nizza Cav.”. The license plate was Regio Esercito 136B. Source: pinterest.com

In the months following the defeat of the Battle of El Alamein, the III Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’ also carried out, together with the surviving motorized units and with those that arrived from Italy in the meantime, the rearguard role for the retreat of the infantry towards Tunisia. It fought on 3rd February 1943 at Bir Soltane and at Ksane Rhilane, and again at Bir Soltane between 10th and 20th of March, facing the attack of a New Zealand column alone.

Due to heavy losses, it was forced to retreat, facing the reconnaissance units of the 6th English Armored Division, protecting the retreat through the Chotts up to Enfidaville. On 22nd April, it also joined the Raggruppamento Sahariano ‘Lequio’.

On 10th May 1943, when the surrender order came from Rome, the few armored cars still operational with the III Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’ were destroyed to keep them from falling into Allied hands.

Three AB41s of the III Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’ as they return to base after a desert patrol. The coat of arms were much larger paintings. Source: Le autoblinde AB 40, 41 e 43

VIII Battaglione Bersaglieri Blindato Autonomo

On 10th August 1941, at the Scuola di Cavalleria in Pinerolo, the 133° Battaglione Autoblindo per R.E.Co. was created, which should have been assigned to the 133ª Divisione corazzata ‘Littorio’.

In October, after training, the unit moved to Veneto and was restructured. It had a Compagnia Comando with 13 AB41s, and 2ª Compagnia Autoblindo with 34 AB41s in total, 3ª Compagnia Motociclisti, and 4ª Compagnia Anticarro.

For the needs of the North African Campaign, the 1ª Compagnia Autoblindo, 3ª Compagnia Motociclisti, and 4ª Compagnia Anticarro were assigned to the 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’ to replace its losses. On 25th November of the same year, the 133° Battaglione Autoblindo per R.E.Co. was renamed CXXXIII Battaglione Esplorante Corazzato and meant to be assigned to the 133ª Divisione corazzata ‘Littorio’. However, the unit was composed of a single company and, in the end, the III Gruppo corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’ was assigned to the ‘Littorio’.

Two AB41s in Pinerolo, Italy, in February 1943. They had 20-liters can supports, obviously useful for the Italian territory and the 2st type muffler. Source: Quadrini

In February 1942, the 1ª Compagnia Autoblindo was recreated and the battalion was renamed VIII Battaglione Bersaglieri Blindato Autonomo (English: 8th Autonomous Armored Bersaglieri Battalion). It only had the 1ª Compagnia Autoblindo and 2ª Compagnia Autoblindo, for a total of 40 or 47 armored cars, as sources do not agree. On 11th May 1942, it was assigned to the 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ as its reconnaissance unit.

AB41s of the VIII Battaglione Bersaglieri Blindato Autonomo on a reconnaissance mission in the North African desert. The AB41 in the foreground has the Savoia Cross (white cross) on the front to avoid friendly fire incidents. Source: pinterest.com

The 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ fought in the Battle of Bir Hakeim, where the VIII Battaglione Bersaglieri Blindato Autonomo took part in the bloody fighting against Free French troops and British units.

On 26th May 1942,Second Lieutenant Cimino Luigi, the commander of an armored car platoon, was put in command of a reconnaissance mission. During the mission, having sighted some enemy armored reconnaissance vehicles, the unit launched itself at maximum speed against them. The attack allowed the capture of two vehicles with some prisoners, including an officer and ammunition.

AB41s of the VIII Battaglione Bersaglieri Blindato Autonomo while commanders discuss the mission (top) and ready to go into action (bottom). North African Desert 1942. Source: Museo Virtuale del Bersagliere – facebook.com

At 2100 hrs, from the north of Bir Hakeim, the unit attempted to reach positions in the north to northeast, behind the enemy infantry line in order to attack them from behind. Unfortunately, after midnight, the unit was stopped by minefields. The mine explosions attracted the enemy’s attention, which began to open fire against the unit.

The 2° Plotone and the 4° Plotone of the 1° Compagnia Autoblindo distinguished themselves, responding effectively against the enemy fire in the fighting on 27th May.

On 28th May 1942, the Battalion tried to conquer the Gott el Ualeb stronghold, as the situation was escalating into what was called the “Battle of the Cauldron” by the Italian troops, due to the disorganization of the troops employed in the clash. The commander of one of the battalions, Major Silvano Bernardis, was killed while fighting.

Infantry Corporal Aldo Scolari repaired four armored cars rendered immobile by mines or artillery shells near Bir Bellafarit. For this action, he earned the Gold Medal of Military Valor.

On 29th May, the situation did not improve. The chaotic fighting continued, and ammunition and gasoline were running out because the battalion was not in contact with the rear lines. High Command ordered the Bersaglieri to advance without waiting for the opening of gaps in the minefields by the sappers.

Three AB41s destroyed in the North African desert. Date and location unknown but it could be during the Battle of Bir Hakeim. Source: pinterest.com

The major gathered his men and communicated the order. Then, he led the unit and began the advance through the middle of the minefields under intense enemy fire. In a short time, the Plotone ‘Castelnuovo’ lost all the armored cars but managed to recover all the crews, passing on foot over the minefield. After the battle, the unit was deployed at first to the Oasis of Siwa and was then sent to the coast for anti-shipment reconnaissance.

The actions involving Lieutenant Fausto Cuzzeri, the commander of an armored car platoon,that took place on 29th June 1942 are noteworthy. In a single day, he attacked and captured two vehicles and then an entire British column, capturing many other vehicles and guns.

That same day, during a night reconnaissance mission, Second Lieutenant Giuseppe Cutrì, commander of an armored car platoon, spotted a patrol of enemy vehicles, including at least one tank. In spite of the intense enemy fire, Cutrì ordered an attack and was able to put the enemy unit on the run using only his armored car, freeing some German soldiers and their vehicles, and capturing some British soldiers and their weapons.

A Bersagliere crew member cleaning up a Breda Modello 1938 on the turret of its AB41. Note the rear turret hatch and the commander’s periscope. Source: facebook.com

On another occasion, Sergeant Major Kruger Gavioli, from the battalion’s command company, identified and engaged with some enemy armored vehicles that were trying to infiltrate between the Axis lines during a night patrol on 18th July 1942. After running out of ammunition, he returned to the base. After a quick refueling and stocking up on ammunition, he went back to where he had encountered the enemy vehicles and, after a brief pursuit, attacked them again. His armored car was hit by an anti-tank shell. Hit a second time, the armored car was immobilized but continued to fire with all weapons until a third round hit it, destroying it.

On 1st September 1942, some armored cars clashed with British scouting units also equipped with armored cars. Sergeant Cademuro Giovanni, commander of a coppia of armored cars, and another car got around the enemy armored cars and made the British troops retreat, while the rest of the group engaged them from the front.

During the Battle of El Alamein, the VIII Battaglione Bersaglieri Blindato Autonomo was at the positions of the V° Battaglione of the Raggruppamento Tattico ‘Tantillo’, assigned to the 185ª Divisione paracadutisti ‘Folgore’.

An AB41 of the VIII Battaglione Bersaglieri Blindato Autonomo in the North African desert. Clearly visible the Croce di Savoia in front. Source: Museo Virtuale Bersaglieri – facebook.com

On 6th November, VIII Battaglione Bersaglieri Blindato Autonomo assigned to the 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ lost 12 armored cars out of the 30 left, which were abandoned in the attempt to retreat. The unit was then used in the rearguard defense of the Italian-German troops retreating towards Tunisia, succeeding on several occasions in stopping units of the LRDG or scouting units of the British 8th Army.

An AB41 of the VIII Battaglione Bersaglieri Blindato Autonomo with part of its crew. It had an improvised anti-aircraft support for a Breda Modello 1938 and a “B2” painted in dark paint on the superstructure side, above the two tone camouflage scheme. Its meaning is unknown. Source: italie1935-45.com

In January 1943, because of the losses suffered, the battalion was disbanded and the vehicles and the remaining soldiers joined the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’.

Regio Esercito – Italy

18° Reggimento Esplorante Corazzato Bersaglieri and 10º R\\aggruppamento Celere Bersaglieri in Corsica

On 1st February 1942, at the depot of the 5º Reggimento Bersaglieri (English: 5th Bersaglieri Regiment) in Siena, the 18° Reggimento Esplorante Corazzato Bersaglieri was created.

The 18° RECo Bersaglieri had at its disposal the I Gruppo Esplorante (English: 1st Reconnaissance Group) consisting of the 1ª Compagnia Autoblindo (English: 1st Armored Car Company) with 17 AB41 armored cars, and 3ª Compagnia Carri Armati L6/40 and 4ª Compagnia Motociclisti. The II Gruppo Esplorante consisted of the 5ª Compagnia Semoventi L40 da 47/32 and 6ª Compagnia 20 mm anti-aircraft guns. After a few days, the two L6/40 tank companies were reassigned to form the LXVII Battaglione, officially formed in Siena on 25th February 1942.

On 3rd January 1943, the 18° RECo Bersaglieri was assigned to the 4ª Armata Italiana deployed in Provence, with garrison tasks in the vicinity of Toulon, in view of possible enemy landings.

On 25th July 1943, the regiment returned to Turin, but the 1ª Compagnia Blindata, renamed as the 7ª compagnia, went to reinforce the 10º Raggruppamento Celere Bersaglieri in Corsica (English: 10th Bersaglieri Fast Regiment in Corsica). There, it was used to patrol the coastal roads of Corsica to prevent partisan attacks and to monitor the Mediterranean Sea.

AB41 of the 7ª compagnia in Corsica in November 1942. The Tipo ‘Libia’ tires and the camouflage netting are well visible. Source: pinterest.com

After the Armistice of 8th September 1943, the company took part in the clashes against the 16. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division “Reichsführer-SS”.

Two AB41 armored cars in Corsica during a patrol. Source: pinterest.com

After 25th September 1943, Free French troops arrived on the island and sided with the Italians. On 29th September, the Franco-Italian offensive against the Germans began and was successful. The Germans were forced to hastily re-embark for the mainland from Bastia. By 5th October, all the Germans had fled or surrendered. The French confiscated the heavy weapons from the Italian units.

Same AB41s of the previous photo with crew. Source: pinterest.com @Paolo Marzioli

III Gruppo ‘Lancieri di Firenze’

The III Gruppo ‘Lancieri di Firenze’, with a Command Company, an Armored Car Company, and a Motorcyclist Company, had a total of 18 AB41s and an unknown number of motorcycles.

A gruppo squadroni of the Reggimento ‘Lancieri di Milano’, and 4 other groups of squadrons, were passed under the orders of the III Gruppo ‘Lancieri di Firenze’, under the command of Colonel Sardella. These were meant for training with a view of expanding them into mixed regiments to be sent to North Africa.

The ‘Lancieri di Firenze’ was created on 1st February 1942 and assigned to the 2ª Divisione celere ‘Emanuele Filiberto Testa di Ferro’, where it remained for little more than a month. On March 10th 1942, the unit was sent to Albania without armored cars but equipped with horses. The armored cars were transferred in July 1942 to the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’.

V Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’

A V Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ (English: 5th Armored Group) was also created, but its operational service is virtually unknown. Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano’s book ‘Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’esercito italiano’, mentions in the ‘L’Esercito e i suoi Corpi’ chapter that the Italian Army Archive has no references of the V Gruppo. ‘La meccanizzazione dell’esercito fino al 1943’, written by Lucio Ceva and Andrea Curami, concludes by saying that the authors believe that the V Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ did exist and was originally planned for use in North Africa, but was then diverted to Sicily in 1943.

In order to support their hypothesis, the authors refer to a discussion with Ambassador Umberto Bozzini, a former cavalry lieutenant at the time and apparently an expert on these units. The fate of the unit and if it was equipped with AB41 armored cars is unknown. A short article by Nicola Pignato and Fabrizio d’Inzeo mentions that the V Gruppo was equipped with 36 armored cars.

XL Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato

The XL Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato was created on 15th February 1942 at the Scuola di Cavalleria in Pinerolo and was used as a training unit. It was equipped with an unknown number of AB40 and AB41 armored cars, probably enough to equip 2 or more companies.

AB41 armored cars, probably of a training unit in Italy in column to reach the training center. Source: italie1935-45.com

Reggimento Motorizzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lucca’

On 20th February 1943, the Army General Staff ordered the establishment of the Reggimento Motorizzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lucca’, which was created on 1st March 1943 at the Deposito Reggimentale of the Reggimento Corazzato ‘Vittorio Emanuele II’ in Bologna. This unit had a squadrone comando composed of 2 anti-aircraft platoons with 20 mm automatic guns and 1° Squadrone Motociclisti. The Motorcycle Squadron was also assigned an armored car platoon with 4 AB41 armored cars in total.

The unit also had a self-propelled squadron with Semoventi M42 da 75/18, two Auto-transported Mortar Squadrons, a Support Weapons, and an anti-aircraft Squadron. It was employed to keep public order in Bologna and in various localities of the Romagna region, at the disposal of the Comando della Difesa Territoriale di Bologna (English: Command of the Territorial Defense of Bologna).

On 1st April 1943, the 135ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ (English: 135th Armored Division) was created at the Deposito Reggimentale of Ferrara. It incorporated the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ as its reconnaissance group and the Reggimento Motorizzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lucca’ as a mechanized unit.

In July 1943, the 135ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ was transferred from Ferrara to Rome by railway. The convoys that carried the RECo ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ and the ‘Cavalleggeri di Lucca’ stopped at Castelnuovo di Porto. The Motorized regiment received its armored cars, while the RECo ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ completed its ranks. Then the regiment and the RECo resumed their way to Rome, arriving in Isola Farnese, where the armored cars were unloaded and traveled by road to Olgiata, north of Rome.

Plotone Autonomo Autoblindo

In the Soviet Union, the 156ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Vicenza’ was sent with two AB41 armored cars in the Plotone Autonomo Autoblindo (English: Autonomous Armored Car Platoon). These vehicles were used together with some L6/40 light tanks and L40 47/32 self-propelled guns, but were probably quickly abandoned due mechanical wear and tear.

A really bad quality photo of an AB41 of the Plotone Autonomo Autoblindo near Stalino (now Donec’k, Ukraine) in March 1942. Source: pinterest.com

Nuclei Esploranti Corazzati

In Naples, on 5th June 1943, the 9° Nucleo Esplorante Corazzato or NEC (English: 9th Armored Exploring Squad) of the 9ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Pasubio’ was created. It had two platoons and a command car for a total of 9 AB41s.

In Palermo, on 5th June 1943, the 28° Nucleo Esplorante Corazzato of the 28ª Divisione fanteria ‘Aosta’ was created. It was probably composed of two platoons with a total of 8 AB41s, but there is no information on its service and it is uncertain if the armored cars were even delivered.

Other NECs included the 12° Nucleo Esplorante Corazzato of the 12ª Divisione fanteria ‘Sassari’, which took part in the Defense of Rome between 8th to 10th September 1943.

The 30° Nucleo Esplorante Corazzato of the 30ª Divisione fanteria ‘Sabauda’ was created on 1st August 1943. It received 8 AB41 armored cars. On 10th September 1943, the division was assigned to the defense of Sardinia and blocked the way of the Germans, which wanted to occupy Cagliari, the capital of the islandi. After the battle, the division joined the newly born Italian Co-Belligerent Army and moved to Sicily, in the areas of Enna and Caltanissetta. There, however, the Allies requisitioned all its armored vehicles due to the armistice clauses.

On 13th November 1942, at the Scuola Centrale Truppe Celeri (English: Central School for Fast Troops) in Civitavecchia, the Nucleo Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Milano’ was created. As with some of the other NECs, nothing is know about its service.

X Battaglione Esplorante Corazzato

Another 17 AB41 armored cars were assigned to the X Battaglione Esplorante Corazzato (English: 10th Armored Reconnaissance Battalion) of the 10ª Divisione di Fanteria Motorizzata ‘Piave’ (English: 10th Motorized Infantry Division) on 15th July 1943. The battalion, together with the division, took part in the desperate defense of Rome in September 1943, defending the northern section of the city.

Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’

On 15 July 1942, in Ferrara, at the Deposito Reggimentale del III Gruppo ‘Lancieri di Firenze’, the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ was created. It was composed of a command company and an armored car company, with a total of 18 AB41s previously belonging to the ‘Lancieri di Firenze’.

It had a theoretical force of 70 armored cars, but was never completely equipped. The unit was also equipped with four motorcycle squadrons, two self-propelled squadrons with Semoventi M41 da 75/18, and two self-propelled squadrons with Semoventi L40 da 47/32.

This unit was employed for about a year in public order tasks and was reorganized with a Squadrone Comando (4 AB41 armored cars), 1° Squadrone (17 AB41 armored cars), 2° Squadrone (17 AB41 armored cars) and 3° Squadrone Motociclisti.

In July 1943, the R.E.Co. was transferred by railway to Rome. The convoys that carried it stopped at Castelnuovo di Porto station, where the last armored cars were delivered to the R.E.Co., and then near Rome, in Isola Farnese, the armored cars were unloaded and traveled by road to Olgiata, north of Rome. During this period, the soldiers improved their training and the unit was reorganized with: Squadrone Comando with 4 AB41 and I Gruppo with a Squadrone Comando del Gruppo (English: Group’s Command Squadron) with 4 AB41 armored cars.

The I Gruppo had at their disposal 1° Squadrone Autoblindo (17 AB41 Armored cars), 2° Squadrone Autoblindo (17 AB41 Armored cars), and 3° Squadrone motociclisti (86 motorcycles, 10 Breda Modello 1930 light machine guns) for a total of 42 armored cars.
II Gruppo had at their disposal: the Squadrone Comando del Gruppo (4 semoventi L40 da 47/32), the 4° Squadrone Motomitraglieri (90 motorcycles, 10 Breda Mod. 30), the 5° Squadrone Semoventi da 75/18 (12 semoventi M42 da 75/18) and the 6° Squadrone Semoventi da 47/32 (12 semoventi L40 da 47/32). The III Gruppo was composed of: Squadrone Contraereo da 20 (12 Cannoni-Mitragliere da 20 mm) and Squadrone Zappatori Traghettatori (English: Sapper and Ferryman Battalion) with 12 assault boats and other equipment for crossing waterways.

On 8th September 1943, the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato received the news of the signing of the Armistice of Cassibile.

The Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ and the 135ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ received orders from Italian Prime Minister, Pietro Badoglio, to defend the city from the Germans. On the morning of 9th September 1943, the AB41s headed to Rome where the 21ª Divisione di fanteria ‘Granatieri di Sardegna’ has erected defensive positions. Between 9th and 10th September, they fought supported by the Italian infantry on the Tiber River against the Germans that were trying to capture the city.

During the night of 8th September, the 21ª Divisione di fanteria ‘Granatieri di Sardegna’ was deployed in the southern sector of Rome on a 28 kilometers long front, divided into two sectors with a total of 13 strongholds to which were added 14 internal checkpoints that barred the main roads. These defenses were initially erected by the Italians some days earlier to defend from an Allied attack, as the Italian Army High Command feared an Allied landing near Rome at any moment. However, they would soon be used to defend against Italy’s former ally.
The 1° Reggimento Granatieri was entrusted with the first seven strongholds: from the first to the fourth to the I Battaglione on the right bank of the Tiber, the other three to the III Battaglione, while the II Battaglione was placed in divisional reserve in the western sector in the area between Abbazia Tre Fontane and Forte Ostiense. The other six strongholds were entrusted to the 2° Reggimento Granatieri.

The first unit that suffered the first losses against the Germans was the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana which first encountered German forces in the fuel depot of Mezzocammino and, attacked by surprise, was forced to withdraw on 8th September, abandoning some equipment. These events took place to the south of the V Caposaldo (English: 5th Stronghold) in front of the Ponte della Magliana, the quicker way to reach Rome.

Around 11 pm, the V Caposaldo was attacked by the German attack from the 3. Panzergrenadier Division and some units of the 26. Panzer Division. The reserve battalion was called to intervene and slowed down the German attack, but shortly after the Germans began to advance again.

A German column equipped with armored cars tried to reach Rome across the Magliana Bridge but was hit by machine gun fire from Captain Pomares’ Machine Gun Company and was forced to turn back hastily, leaving dead and wounded behind. At about 2 am, the Regimental Command asked for reinforcements for the total reoccupation of the position that had lost some smaller strongholds.

The Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’, under the command of Colonel Umberto Giordani, then entered into action. It was ready to enter in action from 11:30 pm in its barracks in Isola Farnese, but only at 2:30 am was it called to intervene. It arrived from the north of Rome, crossed the streets of Rome at full speed during the night, crossed San Paolo, crossed the Via Ostiense, and at 5 am of 9th September it arrived with its AB41 armored cars and some Semoventi L40 da 47/32 self-propelled guns near the Magliana bridge, at the headquarters of the 1° Reggimento Granatieri.

The motorcyclist units were employed in diversionary and garrison actions to prevent German surprise attacks from other directions, while the 6° Squadrone Semoventi da 47/32 with ten self-propelled guns and the 2° Squadrone Autoblindo with an unknown number of armored cars were passed under the control of the I Battaglione, while the 1° Squadrone Autoblindo, with the commander of the I Gruppo, were maintained in second line defending the Granatieri’s headquarter.

After a night of intense fighting, the morning of 9th September saw the resumption of the action for the total reconquest of the 5th stronghold. At 7 am, the II Battalion of Major Costa’s Grenadiers, supported by ten Semoventi L40 da 47/32 and some armored cars, began the action to reconquer the position under attack. The Battaglione Allievi Carabinieri, Bersaglieri, and soldiers and perhaps some armored cars of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (both the police and the ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ had AB41 armored cars in Rome and the sources do not specify if also the police vehicles that took part in the battle) also took part in this action. At 10:30 am, the 5th stronghold was entirely recaptured by Italian soldiers.

During an attack, the 2° Squadrone Autoblindo the German units to retreat and they recaptured and brought back to the Italian lines a FIAT 626NM medium truck, which had previously been abandoned by the PAI, armed with two machine guns and with 20 MAB 38A submachine guns and some ammunition crates.

A civilian version FIAT 626NL. The cargo bay and trailer were full of paint barrels. This gives an indication as to how many barrels of fuel were able to take back. Source: italie1935-45.com

After the V Caposaldo was reoccupied, the 1° Reggimento Granatieri ordered Lieutenant Silvano Gray de Cristoforis, probably a AB41’s platoon commander of the 1° Squadrone Autoblindo, to attempt an attack on the German rear positions.
This plan was to reach the Caserma della Cecchignola barrack, where some trucks and trailers loaded with barrels of fuel had been abandoned. This was a desperate action ordered by the commander of the ‘Lancieri di Montebello’, which immediately needed fuel for its armored vehicles.

Under enemy fire, Lieut. Gray de Cristoforis’s unit reached the Caserma della Cecchignola and managed to transport back to the Italian lines two trailers full of fuel barrels that were used to refuel all the Italian vehicles in the area for the rest of the day.

Lieutenant Silvano Gray de Cristoforis, of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ died on 10th September 1943 during the defense of Porta San Paolo. He was posthumously awarded with the Silver Medal for Military Valor. In this photo, he poses in front of his AB41 with Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires. Photo taken probably during the Defense of Rome or some days before. Source: facebook.com

At 2:00 pm, the Germans launched a violent counterattack, with mortar fire inflicting serious lossed on the V Caposaldo. The grenadiers were about to surrender and the 4° Squadrone Motomitraglieri was sent to reinforce them and attempted a counterattack in which the commander, Captain Cipriani, was wounded and the unit was forced to retreat to new defensive positions.

The 6° Squadrone was no longer receiving ammunition and its self-propelled guns were running out of shells. However, the commander decided to remain in position, under the heavy enemy fire, to keep the troops’ morale.
The combat restarted at around 5 pm, with mortar fire, attacks from German paratroopers, and aircraft machine gunning at low altitudes, which caused many casualties.

The Italian grenadiers, supported by the units of armored cars and self-propelled vehicles, resisted on the positions of the V Caposaldo, while the motorcyclists of the 3° Squadrone on the Strada Ardeatina, supported the front line units.

An AB41 of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ during the defense of the Ponte della Magliana. The motorcycles were of the unit’s Bersaglieri. Source: facebook.com

Subsequently, the Italian troops withdrew to the following positions:
Via Ostiense was barricaded by the 3° Squadrone Motociclisti, elements of the 1° Battaglione of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana, elements of the Battaglione Carabinieri that had recently arrived to replace the Battaglione Allievi Carabinieri, a platoon of the 5° Squadrone Semoventi da 75/18, and a platoon of armored cars.

Via Laurentina was barricaded by the 1° Squadrone Autoblindo, by about a platoon of paratroopers, put together during the free days in Rome before the attack and recently arrived on site.

The 6° Squadrone Semoventi da 47/32 was made to fall back to the command of the 2° Gruppo where, during the night, also the other units of the ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ would arrive.

The new defensive line stopped a German attack. Around 10 pm, a company of Italian paratroopers arrived and after this, the night passed quite quietly.

The new German attack took place at dawn, involving the stronghold on Via Laurentina. The Italians started to attack with the armored cars and some self-propelled guns of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato to force the German forces to retreat. These attacks were easily repelled as the narrow streets forces the Italian vehicles to drive only in the middle of the road and were as a consequence more vulnerable to enemy mortar and to anti-tank fire from the 4,2 cm PaK 41 German Fallschirmjäger squeeze bore cannons.

Two AB41 of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ which were hit by German 4,2 cm anti-tank guns. Note that the Italian crews usually attacked enemies with the armored car backwards so the engine gave them more protection. Source: pinterest.com

At least three AB41 armored cars of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato were destroyed during the attack by some German tanks and armored cars.

At dawn, the situation was desperate, and Colonel Giordani, commander of the line, tried to receive reinforcements from the 21ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Granatieri di Sardegna’, on which he still depended. The situation became more critical when the Battaglione Carabinieri was called to intervene in another sector of the defensive line and the 1° Battaglione of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana had almost completely been destroyed.

The vice-commander of the division, General de Rienzis, informed Colonel Giordani that an armistice with the Germans had already been agreed, and therefore, ordered the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato to retreat.

At 10:30 am the radio station of the 21ª Divisionedi Fanteria recalled them and ordered the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato to return to battle, to position itself at Porta San Paolo and to resist to the bitter end, waiting for the arrival of the rest of its armored corps, already on the move.

Three AB41 armored cars and some Bersaglieri’s motorcycles behind a SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Metropolitana’ of the Battaglione d’Assalto Motorizzato armed with a Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935 47 mm gun and a Breda Modello 1937. Porta San Paolo 10th September 1943. Source: pinterest.com

Once in position, the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ realized that it was by itself, as all the other units either did not receive the order to return to action or ignored it. A unit of recruits of the 4° Carristi, and a battery of the 60° Gruppo Semoventi da 105/25, of the 135ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ helped to defend the defensive line while a group of recruits commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Nisco without armored cars of the Reggimento ‘Genova Cavalleria’, were sent to guard the Ostiense station and the adjacent streets.

After a morning of fighting, the German column joined some other German troops and approached Porta San Paolo, an ancient gate of the 4 meter thick Aurelian Walls, which dated back to Roman times, which was insurmountable even for German tanks.

The fight in the Porta San Paolo lasted until 5:00 pm and was really fierce. The Italian soldiers were also joined by civilians and police officers from the capital that fought the Germans with hunting weapons or by throwing stones.

The armored cars of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ were destroyed one by one by anti-tank fire. After these actions, the surviving armored cars were abandoned or returned to the base with the survivors.

During the defense of Rome, the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ lost 5 officers and 15 NCOs and soldiers with an additional 13 officers and 68 NCOs and soldiers wounded. Between 16th and 17th September 1943 the commander, Colonel Umberto Giornani, delivered the surviving vehicles and equipment (the number of AB41s in running order is unknown), and on 18th September 1943, disbanded the unit, allowing the soldiers to return to their homes.

9ª Compagnia Autoblindo Autonoma and other units

The last 12 AB41 armored cars were given to the 9ª Compagnia Autoblindo Autonoma that was assigned to the 11ª Armata Italiana in Greece, like the 8ª Compagnia Autoblindo Autonoma. On 31st August 1943, it was disbanded and the 12 armored cars with their crews were assigned to the Comando Generale Regi Carabinieri, which commanded the Gruppo Autonomo Carabinieri dell’Egeo (English: Aegean Sea Autonomous Carabinieri Group).

Other AB41s were delivered for a fee to some Italian units. Two AB41s with SPA ABM 1 engine (one had the number plate Regio Esercito 352B) were given to the Colonna Celere Confinaria ‘M’ (English: Fast Border Column) of the Rijeka Prefecture on 16th May 1942 and one AB41 to the Milizia Nazionale Portuaria (English: National Port Militia) on 4th October of the same year, for 410,313 Italian Liras.

Regio Esercito – Balkans

In the Yugoslavian theater, in the beginning, no AB41 armored cars were meant to be used. Due to the tenacious partisan resistance, the Italian High Command was forced to supply some armored cars to the Italian units of occupation in Yugoslavia.

Most AB41s deployed in this sector were placed within modest-sized units on the platoon or company scale. They were rarely mentioned in official documents and it is difficult to provide an adequate account of their operational service.

8ª Compagnia Autoblindo Autonoma

The 8ª Compagnia Autoblindo Autonoma (English: 8th Autonomous Armored Car Company), with 12 AB41 armored cars, was created in June 1943. It was meant to be shipped to Montenegro but, due to the need for armored vehicles to patrol and escort convoys in Greece, the unit was eventually delivered to the 11ª Armata Italiana in Greece.

AB41 in service with the Regio Esercito in Yugoslavia. Source: italie1935-45.com
One of the two AB41s delivered to the Colonna Celere Confinaria ‘M’ in 1942. Source: Istituto Luce

IV Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’

The IV Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ (English: 4th Armored Group) had two mixed squadrons, one armed with L6/40 light tanks and the other with 18 AB41 armored cars. It was sent to Albania. Some sources do not mention the use of L6/40 light tanks, but mention 36 armored cars. This could mean that a squadron was theoretically armed with tanks, but in fact, it was equipped with armored cars.

Two AB41s of the IV Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ during a parade in Tirana, Albania 1943. Note the interesting camouflage. Source: pinterest.com

The IV Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ was the largest unit equipped with AB41s in the Yugoslavian front. It was part of the Raggruppamento Celere. It was employed in counter-partisan operations and as an escort to columns. After the Armistice in September 1943, the 2º Squadrone Autoblindo, under the orders of Captain Medici Tornaquinci, joined the 41ª Divisione di fanteria ‘Firenze’ in Dibra, managing to open the way to the coast through bloody battles against the Germans, particularly in Burreli and Kruya. After the battle, the IV Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ dispersed. Many officers and soldiers went back to Italy, reaching Apulia by makeshift means and concentrating at the Cavalry Center in Artesano to join the Allied forces.

Another AB41 of the IV Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ in Yugoslavia. Source: piciuki.com

Other units used in this teather were created on 13th January 1942: the 1° Plotone Autonomo, 2° Plotone Autonomo, 3° Plotone Autonomo, and the 4° Plotone Autonomo (English: 1st; 2nd; 3rd and 4th Autonomous Platoon), with a total of 10 AB41 armored cars that arrived in 1942 and 6 in 1943. These units were assigned to the 2ª Armata Italiana deployed in Slovenia and Dalmatia.

A total of 20 AB40 and AB41s in the ‘Ferroviaria’ (English: Railway) version were deployed in Yugoslavia to prevent partisan sabotage to the railway lines in the Balkans. They were assigned to the Compagnia Autoblindo Ferroviarie Autonoma (English: Autonomous Railway Armored Car Company).

The AB41 plated Regio Esercito 373B converted to the ‘Ferroviaria’ version. It had an unusual two-tone camouflage and the aerial identification marking on the turret roof. Source: italie1935-45.com

Given the increased activity of Partisan forces in occupied Yugoslavia, the Italians were forced to introduce more and more armored vehicles in order to secure vital communication and supply lines. While most of these were improvised armored trucks, a number of more modern AB41 armored cars were also sent.

An AB41 in service with the Italian units in Yugoslavia. This vehicle was probably intended to be shipped to North Africa but was sent to Yugoslavia. This can be deduced from the presence of Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires. Source: italie1935-45.com

The usage of AB41s during 1942 is generally poorly documented. For example, Partisan sources do not specify in much detail which Italian vehicles they faced. The AB41s were sometimes used as security vehicles for the forced deportation of Yugoslav civilians into concentration camps located in Italy. One well-documented engagement of the Italian AB41 happened in April 1943 in a village named Brlog. There, two partisan operated L3 light tanks were chasing retreating Italian and Croatian soldiers. At Brlog, one AB41 was waiting in ambush for the partisan tanks to arrive. Once spotted, the AB41 began engaging the enemy armor. The L3 tanks were armed with only two machine guns and lacked infantry support, and thus could do anything against the AB41. One L3 was hit by several 2 cm armor-piercing rounds, killing both crew members. The partisans were soon reinforced with two additional L3s and one Hotchkiss tank (either a Hotchkiss H-35 or H-39 captured from the Germans).

An AB41 with desert tires in Albania, 1942. The need to stem the threat of Tito’s Partisans was so pressing that many ABs were diverted to Yugoslavia instead of replacing losses in North Africa. Sources: facebook.com

While the AB41 2 cm rounds could do little against the Hotchkiss’ armor, its crew nevertheless engaged the partisan tank. The Italian crew managed to damage the tank’s optics and even wounded its crew. As it could not destroy the tank, the Italians retreated from the village. During the retreat, the armored car managed to damage two more L3 tanks. After the Italian capitulation, the remaining AB41s were mostly taken over by the Germans. Smaller numbers were captured by Croatian forces, but also by the Yugoslav Partisans.

Other Operators

Italian Partisans

The surviving Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano and Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana AB41s were captured or destroyed in the cities of Milan and Turin on 25th April 1945. During this time, some fought the more numerous and stronger partisan forces that descended from the mountains to free the cities of northern Italy from fascist and German occupation. In the days before the general insurrection, in Turin and Milan, some AB armored cars were captured and used by the partisans. There is evidence that one was destroyed on the Via XX Settembre by German-manned anti-tank weapons in Turin. After the German and Italian surrender, two or three of them took part in the partisan parade in Turin.

When the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ was disbanded on 27th April 1945, the AB41 stored in the depot in Mairano was taken by the partisans and reused against the German garrison at Cividale del Friuli on 28th April 1945. It also participated in an attack against the city of Udine on 30th April.

Italian Co-Belligerent Army

After the Armistice, part of the Italian soldiers joined the Esercito Cobelligerante Italiano (English: Italian Co-Belligerent Army) under Allied command.

The IX Battaglione d’Assalto (English: 9th Assault Battalion) of the Corpo Italiano di Liberazione or CIL (English: Italian Liberation Corp) had 3 AB41 armored cars in service since July 1944. These were used to free some cities in the Italian region of Marche.

The Squadrone ‘F’, composed of Italian soldiers under the British 6th Armoured Division, was equipped after March 1944 with an AB41 Platoon (4 armored cars, according to sources). These probably belonged to the 7ª compagnia of the 10º Raggruppamento celere bersaglieri in Corsica, which was aggregated to the CIL in February 1944.

Three AB41s of the IX Battaglione d’Assalto. The AB41 on the left had Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’ tires while the armored car in the center had Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’. This suggests that they were recovered from two different locations. Source: Nicola Pignato
PAI giving orders atop AB41
AB41 with a PAI officer giving orders to four PAI soldiers. Notice the MAB 38A submachine gun of the soldiers. The PAI was the only Italian corps with a bayonet fitting for this gun. Source: Reddit
An AB41 in front of a FIAT 626NM medium truck in the Via Balbia during a rest. The Soldier on sitting on the turret was a Second Lieutenant of Cavalry Corp while the soldiers around (probably the rest of the crew) were Bersaglieri. On the front armor is clearly visible the Savoy Cross to avoid friendly fire incidents. Spring 1942. Source: Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II
An Italian column in Yugoslavia. In the foreground are visible an AB41 armored car of the IV Gruppo Squadroni Corazzato ‘Nizza’ and two civilian cars with Italian Royal Army plates. In the background are two trucks with armored shields on the cargo bay sides and what looks like another AB41 opening the column. These vehicles most likely form part of an escorting column for some important officers. Slovenia 1942-43. Source: Italian Armored and Reconnaissance Cars 1911-45
2 AB41s destroyed in Rome, 1943
Two AB41 armored cars of the ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ on fire on Via Laurentina in Rome on 10 September 1943. source www.beutepanzer.ru

Commonwealth

Some AB41s were captured by Commonwealth troops and the British Army supplied some of these armored cars to the Australian and Polish forces. The most famous was perhaps the AB41 of the ‘Polish Carpathian Lancers’ captured from the Italians and used against its former owner and the Germans in Egypt between May and August 1942. After that, it was requisitioned by British High Command and transported by sea to the United Kingdom, more specifically, to the School of Tank Technology (STT) in Chobham. After about a year, in May 1943, the British information service created a report on the AB41.

AB41 of the Polish Carpathian Lancers
The AB41 employed by the ‘Polish Carpathian Lancers’ showed at the School of Tank Technology in Chobham. The radio antenna was on the right side, the tyres are Tipo ‘Libia’ but the spare wheels were Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’. The name of the unit is visible on the hull side. Source: Pinterest.com

The British highly appreciated the armored car in the two versions encountered in Africa, AB40, and AB41. According to reports prepared by the British, in addition to the major criticisms regarding low-quality armor, the engine was considered reliable although difficult to maintain, the turret to be small and cramped, but the AB41 were deemed fast and well-armed, the vehicle was very effective in the task of long-range patrol and reconnaissance.

Germany

After September 8th, 1943, the Germans occupied all the assembly lines of the factories of central and northern Italy and captured the majority of the remaining Italian vehicles.

Around 200 AB41 armored cars were requisitioned, 20 were captured still in the factory and 23 were produced for the German Army, where they were renamed Panzerspähwagen AB41 201(i). A small number of the AB41s were supplied to the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano, with the Germans preferring to keep the few AB43s which were much more popular with German crews. In German service, the AB41 was used by the Divisions of the Waffen-SS, Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht, and Todt Organization, seeing service in France, Germany, Italy, and the Balkans. In the Balkans, they were used in anti-partisan operations and for patrolling airfields or military bases. Some units that used them were: 41. Panzer Spah Zug, 71. Infantry Division (1943-1944) and 162. Infantry Division, SS Polizei Gebirgs Regiment 18 and Gendarmerie Reserve Kompanie Alpenland-3.

1st SS Polizei Regiment, 1944
1st. SS Polizei Regiment in 1944 with “Artiglio a Sezione Maggiorata” tyres and the spare “Libia” type tire. Source: Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskomratištu

In France and Germany, they were used against Allied troops. Photographic evidence shows what looks like a destroyed AB41 used by the Germans in the last-ditch attempt to defend Berlin from Soviet forces between 25th April and 2nd May 1945.

abandoned AB41, Berlin, 1945
An AB41 abandoned in a street in Berlin, May 1945. Notice the absence of the rear steering wheel and of the radio antenna, but the presence of the Breda 38 with the sack for the cartridge casings. The sapper tools and the tail lights were removed and the tyres are of the Pirelli ‘Libia’ type (the spare wheel was an ‘Artiglio’ type). Source: Pinterest.com

France

During the Second World War, AB41 armored cars came under the control of French forces in two separate contexts.

With the fall of the last Axis possessions in Tunisia in May of 1943, along with more than 240,000 prisoners taken, considerable quantities of ground equipment were left, including a variety of Italian armored vehicles. While these were generally of little interest for the by this point fairly well-equipped British and American forces, the French Army of Africa, which had joined the allies just a couple of months prior in November of 1942, was still equipped with few armored vehicles, mostly obsolete pre-1940 tanks such as the Char D1, and did press into service several types of Italian vehicles, including the AB41. Two different photos of the AB41 in French service exist. One shows a column of these vehicles operating under an unknown branch in 1946. This photo shows a total of 10 vehicles, which shows that the number of vehicles captured and used by the French was not necessarily negligible. Another photo, dated from as late as 1949, shows a crew of the French Gendarmerie, a form of military police, in front of an AB41, near Bône, once again in Algeria. This suggests that the Italian armored cars remained in service for several years for security operations. The date of the vehicle’s retirement from service in French North Africa is unknown, though nothing has ever emerged that suggests the vehicles were still in service by the time of the Algerian War which began in 1954.

10 AB41s under French service
Ten AB41s used by an unknown branch of the French military, though the uniforms suggest it is still the army and not the gendarmerie, Algeria, 1946. The wheels of the first two armored cars are Pirelli ‘Libia’. Source: Delcampe.com
AB41 of the French gendarmerie
An AB41 of the French gendarmerie, with an identification symbol similar to those used in pre-1940 vehicles and a French flag, circa 1949, Bône, Algeria. Source: https://www.autotitre.com/forum/Vehicules-speciaux/Photos-de-voitures-de-Police-34001p516.htm

In the summer of 1944, after the breakthrough of Operation Cobra, Allied troops began to liberate vast areas of France, the FFI (Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur / French Forces of the Interior), organized vast uprisings which liberated considerable amounts of territory neglected by German troops attempting to contain the Normandy landings. Those resistance fighters captured a number of different vehicles that had been used by German troops engaged in anti-partisan duties in France. This included German-made vehicles, previously captured French ones, but also at least one Italian-made AB41 armored car that had presumably been captured by the Wehrmacht following the Italian armistice of September 1943 and then put back to use in anti-partisan operations in France.

The vehicle was used by an FFI company operating in Brittany at the same time German troops were being expelled from the region by a mixture of American troops and French resistance fighters. That armored car had been captured in the town of Guingamp. It was included into what was called the “Compagnie de choc Bretagne” (Eng. Bretagne shock company), which then took part in FFI operations further south, against the “forteresse du Médoc”, a fortified German-held pocket on the Southern bank of the estuary of the River Gironde, which held until it was taken by FFI fighters on 20th April 1945, after a week of fighting which resulted in around 1,300 dead soldiers of both sides.

AB41 of the Compagnie de Choc Bretagne
The AB41 of the Compagnie de Choc Bretagne photographed in Versailles, after the end of the unit’s operations in Brittany, September of 1944. The vehicle prominently features Allied stars as well as French cocards, presumably to prevent friendly fire. Source: http://polejeanmoulin.com/page33/
Compagnie de Choc Bretagne AB41 leaving Pont-Croix
Two photos of the Compagnie de Choc Bretagne’s AB41 preparing to leave the city of Pont-Croix in late August of 1944, possibly for Versailles, where it was photographed again in September. Source: http://polejeanmoulin.com/page33/

Another photo of an AB41 in use by French forces in metropolitan France exists, but its context is disputed. Showing an AB41 from the back along with FFI troops using a variety of equipment of both American and German origin, this photo has been taken to show FFI troops used to contain the pocket of Royan (a german pocket north of the Gironde’s estuary) or to have been taken post-war.

AB41 in unknown context
Photo of an AB41 taken in an unknown context. The rear of the turret at least suggests it is not the same vehicle as the Compagnie de Choc’s Bretagne, or that if it is, it received a new paint job. Source: http://www.warwheels.net/AB41INDEX.html

Yugoslavia

AB41s in Yugoslavian service
A column of Italian AB41s in Kaki Sahariano in Yugoslavia, they had Pirelli type ” Artiglio” tires and Italian flags on the fenders. Source: bundesarchiv.com

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia’s Army had tried to negotiate the purchase of the AB armored cars, but due to the Axis invasion in April 1941, this was never fulfilled.

During the war, the AB41 would see service with nearly all involved factions in Yugoslavia.

The Independent State of Croatia’s (NDH – Nezavisna Država Hrvatska) Army asked the Italians for a number of AB41s but only got 10 L/33 and L/35 light tanks. After the capitulation of Italy, they may have captured a few AB armored cars.

AB41 in Croatian service
An AB41 “Ferroviaria” used by the Croatian ‘Poglavnikov tjelesni zdrug’ (an elite unit) in Varaždin 1944. The rear wheel was the “Sigillo Verde” type while the spare one was a Pirelli “Libia” type. Note the lack of the engine compartment hatches. Source: pinterest.com

The Italians operated some AB40s and AB41s from 1942 to 1943 until their surrender to the Allies in Yugoslavia.

Yugoslav Communist Partisans managed to capture a number of AB armored cars during September 1943. While they did see action against the Axis forces, all were either destroyed or were hidden by the Partisans to avoid being captured by the Germans. By late 1944, they managed to capture more with some surviving after 1945.

Yugoslavian captured AB41
An AB41 captured by Yugoslavian partisans. The rear plate was of the Regio Esercito and the tires were of the “Artiglio” type on the front, the spare wheel was of the “Libia” type and a non-standard type on the rear. Source: Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

After the war, some AB41 armored cars remained in service with the new Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) under the name ‘SPA 7 t’ until they were replaced with more modern Soviet-made vehicles.

Greece

After September 8, 1943 6° Reggimento di cavalleria ‘Lancieri di Aosta’ (English: 6th Cavalry Regiment) began to enter into an agreement with Ellinikós Laïkós Apeleftherotikós Stratós or ELAS (English: Greek People’s Liberation Army) and the British Army to continue the war on their side against the Germans.

One year later, on October 14, 1944, ELAS disarmed the regiment that had been fighting alongside them for a whole year, killing some Italian soldiers who tried to resist.

The weapons they captured went to equip the ELAS troops, among the vehicles there was at least one AB41 armored car that was used during the final stages of the Liberation of Greece.

There is a photo of the armored car during its use with Greek partisans, date and location unknown, but probably after World War II, during the Greek Civil War.

The AB41 captured by the ELAS near a British Daimler Dingo Mark II armored car. Notice the original Regio Esercito license plate and the ‘FIAT’ painted white on the rear of the vehicle. Source: grvehicles.wordpress.com

Italian Republic

After the war, from 1945 to 1954, some AB41 and AB43 armored cars were used by the Polizia di Stato (English: Italian State Police) in the Reparti Celeri (English: Fast Departments) and used with certainty in Turin, Udine, and Rome. After 1954, they were withdrawn from service and almost all of them were scrapped, though a couple were sold to museums and private collectors.

A small number of AB41 armored cars were also used by the Arma dei Carabinieri (English: Arm of Carabiners) in their Reparti Mobili (English: Moving Departments).

In both cases, the operations in which the armored cars were used are unknown. The few times they were seen outside the barracks were for parades or training. In the 1950s there were many strikes by workers in Italy to demand better working conditions that 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. The Partito Comunista Italiano or 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 to the Italian state which feared a coup supported by the Soviet Union as had already happened in Czechoslovakia. 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, one of the leading figures in the Party at the time, was received by Stalin himself during a visit to the Soviet Union in 1946.

In order to dissuade workers from armed occupations of factories or worse the attempted coup d’état, the Italian state destroyed most of the military equipment it did not use to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands and ordered the Police and Carabinieri to keep the AB41s efficient to use them as a deterrent during demonstrations. In 1954, the arrival of new security vehicles allowed AB armored cars to be removed from service.

AB41s of the Reparti Celeri
AB41s of the Reparti Celeri of the Italian Police in a Parade in Udine, 1951. Source: Udine’s Polizia di Stato archive.

Camouflage

The armored cars were painted in the factory in Kaki Sahariano Chiaro (English: Clear Khaki Saharan) color, which was lighter than that used on Italian tanks. In Africa, the vehicles always remained in basic camouflage with only few armored cars being modified by the crews. Usually were used camouflage nettings or tarpaulins to better hid the vehicles.

Initially, there was a theoretical maximum of four squadrons (or companies) for each group (or battalion), each identified by a different color 20 x 12 cm rectangle, on which one to three white vertical stripes were painted to indicate the platoon. The colors were: red for the first squadron, blue for the second squadron, yellow for the third squadron, green for the fourth squadron , black for the command company of the group, and white with black platoon stripes for the regimental command squadron .

As the conflict went on, there was also a change in the structure of the armored squadrons (or companies), as a fourth, and sometimes a fifth, platoon were added on the African and Balkan fronts.

In 1941, the Italian High Command ordered the units to paint a 70 cm diameter circle to ease aerial identification, but this was rarely applied on the turrets or on the engine deck.

A pair of Polizia dell’Africa Italiana’s motorcyclists order holders waiting for a response from the vehicle’s commander. From this angle, the 70 cm white roundel painted on the maintenance hatches for air recognition is clearly visible. An engine ignition lever can also be seen laying on the hatches. Source: Istituto Luce

By the time the African Campaign was over and the first clashes in Sicily in July 1943 were underway, factories began to paint their armored cars with the ‘Continentale’ camouflage adopted by the Royal Army in the summer of 1943. Over the Kaki Sahariano Chiaro were added stains of Reddish Brown and Dark Green. This camouflage was also adopted on the FIAT-SPA AS42 and the Semoventi M42M da 75/34 and Semoventi M43 da 105/25 before the armistice of September 1943.

Some units independently painted some mottos on the armored cars, such as “A Colpo Sicuro” (English: Sure Shot), or symbols. The III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’, for example, painted the symbol of the unit, a stylized bomb with a flame, on some vehicles.

Some AB41s during a patrol, searching for some enemy targets. On the side of the first armored car was painted a man with a Bersagliere hat. Source: italie1935-45.com

During the North African Campaign, some armored cars of the Italian Army received the Croci di Savoia (English: Savoia’s Cross) painted in white to aid air identification.

The AB41s of the Reggimento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ were painted in Kaki Sahariano Chiaro but, when they were sent to Rome for the defense of the city, during the trip, in Castelnuovo di Porto, they were painted with green and brown spots when they were still on the freight wagons.

AB41 of the R.E.Co. Lancieri di Montebello
AB41 of the Reggimento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ in Rome before the Armistice. Source: pinterest.com

Of the armored cars of the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, there is not much information about their camouflage. The 18 AB41s of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ had all been produced before the armistice and found in warehouses or had been repaired by soldiers loyal to Mussolini and were not all painted in the same way until December 1944 when they were repainted in the ‘Continentale’ camouflage scheme.

They received only the symbol of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, the red ‘M’ with a beam, and the ‘GNR’ written in black underneath. The armored cars of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘San Giusto’ and the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani, instead, were painted in ‘Continentale’ camouflage, the RAP ones received also a Repubblica Sociale Italiana‘s flag on the sides.

Vehicles captured by the Yugoslavs did not receive new camouflage but had new markings, usually the Free Yugoslavian flag or red stars painted on the sides of the superstructure and turret to avoid friendly fire.

After the war, the AB41s of the Polizia di Stato were painted in a reddish shade called Amaranth Red which was the color of all Italian police vehicles until 1954, while the Carabinieri and Esercito Italiano armored cars were painted in NATO Green.

Variants

Between 1941 and 1943, several vehicles based on the armored car chassis were designed, most of them were just prototypes due to the Armistice of 8th September 1943, while others were accepted in service before the Armistice or were produced only for the Germans.

Unnamed AB wooden training vehicle

To train drivers with dual driving, a vehicle was created on the same chassis as the AB. The vehicle had a wooden structure similar to that of the AB’s superstructure with two benches, one at the front for the frontal driver and an instructor, and a second at the back, for the rear driver and another instructor. This version was produced in an unknown quantity and supplied to the Training Center of Pinerolo.

AB Wooden Dual-Drive training vehicle
Example of the wooden vehicles used to train drivers with the AB’s dual drive. Source: La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito fino al 1943

AB41 Command Armored Car

The AB41 Command was developed as an artillery observation vehicle for armored units. The turret was removed and replaced with a large armored plate on the roof with a 4-piece door. This vehicle was unarmed, with 3 personal weapon slots and only had the forward driving position. The vehicle carried four officers and a map table. A second prototype of the Command AB42 armored car had different armor on the roof and two of the four armored doors were equipped with armored glass windows.

AB42 command armored car
The AB42 command armored car. Instead of the rear machine gun, there was a slit for the use of personal weapons. Source: Wikipedia.it

In mid-1943, the first prototype was accepted by the Italian High Command and 50 vehicles were ordered. These were not produced because of the Armistice. When the factories were captured by the Germans, they did not consider this variant useful for their purposes and the project was abandoned.

Semovente da 47/32 su Scafo AB41

Another prototype was the Semovente da 47/32 su Scafo AB41, also known as ‘AB41 Cannone’, it was armed with a Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935. The turret, the rear machine gun, the rear driving position, the radio equipment, and the armored superstructure were removed. A 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon with a shield to protect its operators were installed in the center of the superstructure together with various other modifications to the hull. The number of projectiles carried was 100 rounds while the thickness of the armor of the gun shield was 10 mm. The crew consisted of 4: the driver, the gunner, the loader, and the commander. The speed and range remained unchanged, as was the SPA ABM 2 8-cylinder, 88 HP petrol engine.
This was Ansaldo’s first proposal to arm the AB armored cars with a 47 mm cannon. Due to the limited use of the vehicle, the project was shelved, but Ansaldo continued to develop an AB armed with a 47 mm cannon.

AB41 47/32 prototype
The only prototype of the AB41 47/32 ever built. Source: Wikipedia.it

AB42

Another prototype based on the AB41 was the Autoblinda Alleggerita Mod. 1942 or AB42, a vehicle based on the AB41 hull but with many modifications to make it a more suitable combat vehicle in North Africa. The turret was replaced by a lower profile one armed with the same 20 mm cannon. This version was designed for infantry support and combat rather than reconnaissance. The rear machine gun and the second driving position were removed. Although it was lighter, weighing only 6 tons, the engine was replaced with a 108-hp FIAT-SPA ABM 3 and the armor was better angled which greatly increased crew protection.

Due to the end of the North African Campaign and due to the fact that too many changes had to be made to the assembly lines to produce the new version, the project was abandoned.

AB42 and AB41 side by side

AB42 and AB41 adjacent
Comparison of the shorter AB42 and taller AB41. Source: Pinterest.com

AB43 ‘Cannone’

In the early months of 1943, Ansaldo proposed the new version of the AB armed with a 47 mm cannon called Autoblinda Mod. 1941 con cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938 not officially known as AB43 ‘Cannone’. The AB41 superstructure was modified with 90° inclined sides and removing the rear machine gun. The larger and shorter turret was armed with a powerful 47/40 Mod. 38 cannon, the same as the M15/42 medium tank. The ammunition capacity was 63 rounds for the cannon and 744 rounds for the coaxial machine gun. Due to the weight increase to over 8 tons, the same 108 hp engine of the AB42 was installed in the engine compartment which allowed the armored car to reach a speed of 88 km/h. Approved in May 1943, the armistice blocked the plans of the Royal Army.

AB43 Cannone prototype testing
The ‘AB43 Cannone’ prototype while it was being tested during the last days of July 1943. Source: beutepanzer.ru

AB43

In 1943, it was also proposed to mount the Mod. 1942 turret of the AB42 on the AB41 hull with the new ABM 3 engine. The resulting vehicle was called AB43 and about 100 were produced and used exclusively during the war on all front by the Germans, who denominated it Beute Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i). After the war, the Italian police used them until 1954, also in the ‘Ferroviaria’ version.

German Panzerspahwagen
October 1944, Belgrade. German Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i). Source Beutepanzer.ru

Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’

In 1942, a prototype of a Camionetta (Italian term for military big jeeps or unarored reconnaissance vehicle) on the chassis of the AB41 was presented to the Italian High Command, for a completely different task compared to those of the AB41. The SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’ was a large car with a central fighting compartment and the same engine as the AB41 at the back. This Camionetta was used for really long-range reconnaissance, ambush and to counter the British Long Range Desert Group (LRDG).

These vehicles could be armed with several weapons, including the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 automatic cannon, the Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935 anti-tank gun, or the Solothurn S-18/1000 anti-tank rifle and a maximum of three Breda Mododello 37 or 38 medium machine guns. The vehicle had 9 mm of armor on the front and around the combat compartment, while the engine compartment had only 5 mm of armor. The AS42 usually had Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires, had a range of 535 km, and could carry up to twenty-four 20-liter Jerry cans (20 with petrol and 4 with water), giving it a total maximum range of over 1,200 km. Another difference when compared to the AB41 was the absence of the rear driver position and the steering, which was done using only the front wheels because the vehicle was designed also to participate in skirmishes against other similar vehicles, not only for reconnaissance.

AS42 Sahariana
The unarmed AS42 ‘Sahariana’ with the windshield and combat compartment covered by the tarpaulin. Source: pinterest.com

Another version of the vehicle, called SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Metropolitana’, used for ‘continental’ soil, differed only by the adoption of 11.5 x 24″ Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’ tires and that two huge boxes of ammunition were used instead of ten petrol jerry cans.

In total, of the two versions, about 200 vehicles were produced. The sources are not very clear as production records were destroyed during the war. These vehicles fought in North Africa, Italy, and, after 8th September 1943, captured by German forces, they were used in France, Ukraine, and finally Germany. They too, after the war, were reused by the Italian police until 1954.

Camionetta AS42
A Camionetta AS42 ‘Metropolitana’ without jerry cans, armed with a Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun in Rome during a break in the days after the armistice. Behind it, two AB41 armored cars wait to get into action against the Germans. Source: Wikipedia.it

AB41 Ferroviaria

In 1941 the German Army, the Hungarian Army, and the Royal Italian Army attacked Yugoslavia and divided the occupied territories. Soldiers who escaped capture and civilians immediately organized a clandestine resistance that led to several sabotage and attacks. To defend the railways, fundamental to bring supplies to the various Italian and German strongholds, on 24 January 1942, the High Command of the Royal Italian Army ordered Ansaldo and FIAT to find a solution.

It was decided to produce armored trains, but in order to react promptly to the threat, 20 armored cars of the AB series were modified to also mount steel wheels to patrol the Yugoslav railways and roads. A total of 4 AB41s were modified and after the armistice, they were also used by the German Army to patrol Yugoslavian cities. After the war, another 8 AB43s and an unknown number of AB41s were used by the Italian Army to patrol the Italian railways.

the firsdt AB41 Ferroviaria
The first AB41 ‘Ferroviaria’ converted for the railway patrol in the Ansaldo Factory. Source: Pignato

Surviving Vehicles

To date, 9 AB41 armored cars have survived, three have become monuments at Italian Army barracks, four are on display in museums, two in Italy, one in Egypt in the El Alamein War Museum, and the last in South Africa in the Museum of Military History in Johannesburg.

AB41 exposed to La Wantzenau
The AB41 exposed to La Wantzenau. Source: pinterest.com

There are also two vehicles still running, one in France in the city of La Wantzenau and the second in Italy, in Grosseto, at the Barracks of the 3° Reggimento ‘Savoia Cavalleria’.

AB41 of the 3 Reggimento
The AB41 of the 3° Reggimento still in running conditions. The hole of the air intake and the absence of the radio antenna are visible. Source: masterminiatures.it
AB41 in Piazza Castello
AB41 in Piazza Castello, Turin during the Cavalry National Meeting in 2011. This vehicle used as a monument in the “Litta Modigliani” barrack in Pinerolo was painted as the PAI’s armored cars used in North Africa. In the background a B1 Centauro. Source: flickr.com

Conclusion

The chassis of the AB series, from which several vehicles were produced, was well designed for the Italian standards of the period. The armament, speed, and armor were adequate for a reconnaissance vehicle. It was used on all fronts during the war with good results, from the arid African deserts to the harsh Russian winters. After the war, the AB41 was used for many more years by the Police and Carabinieri in Italy and by the French Gendarmerie in Africa.

Autoblinda AB41
Autoblinda AB41, February 1941, Libya. The Saharan kaki tone was the most common in Africa, but a variety of complex spotted patterns were also tried later.
Autoblinda AB41
Autoblinda AB41 of the long range reconnaissance patrols of the Bersaglieri, a cavalry unit attached to the Ariete Division, Libya, May 1941.
Autoblinda AB41
Autoblinda AB41, Italy, November 1942, 15° Reggimento Cavalleria of Brescia.

AB41 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.20 x 1.92 x 2.48 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 7.52 tons
Crew 4 (front driver, rear driver, machine gunner/loader, and vehicle commander/gunner)
Propulsion FIAT-SPA 6-cylinder petrol, 88 hp with 195 liters tank
Speed Road Speed: 80 km/h
Off-Road Speed: 50 km/h
Range 400 km
Armament Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 (456 rounds) and Two Breda Modello 1938 8 x 59 mm medium machine guns (1992 rounds)
Armor 8.5 mm Hull
Turret Front: 40 mm
Sides: 30 mm
Rear: 15 mm
Total Production 667: 435 with ABM 1 Engine, 232 with ABM 2 Engine
Pak 36 guns with destroyed AB41
PaK 36 guns on the Via Laurentina in Rome with an AB41 in flames. Source: Beutepanzer.ru

Sources

With the precious help of Marisa Belhote who shared photos and information on the AB41 employed by the French resistance and gendarmerie.
Thanks also to Marko Pantelić who shared information and photographs of the Yugoslavian AB41.
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La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano fino al 1943 Tomo 2 – Andrea Curami e Lucio Ceva
Gli Autoveicoli Da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano – Nicola Pignato e Filippo Cappellano.
Le Autoblinde AB 40, 41 e 43 – Nicola Pignato e Fabio D’Inzéo.
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Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu,
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Le autoblinde AB 40, 41 e 43 di Nicola Pignato e Fabio d’Inzéo
combattentiliberazione.it