Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Carro protetto trasporto truppa su autotelaio FIAT 626

ItalyKingdom of Italy 1941
APC – 1 built

The need for an APC

The Italian military had determined that they required an armored personnel carrier back in 1938 during continuing reforms and modernisation within their armed forces as the majority of mechanised transport was by unprotected trucks. Little was done (mainly for financial reasons as the bulk of military funds went to the Navy) in this regard until the outbreak of World War Two, which for Italy was the 10th of June 1940. Various options were open to the Italians as to how to go about fulfilling the role of a mobile protected troop transport and various ideas were proposed. A memo dated the 24th of May 1941 summarised those options as using the Dovunque 35 truck, a smaller carrier based on the T.L.3, halftracks (the favored choice of the Army), and even a fully tracked design as an analogue to the British Universal Carrier, which the Italians had captured examples of in the North African desert. Fighting in the desert reaffirmed the importance of a mobile protected transport with large distances needing to be covered by infantry, particularly the elite Bersaglieri units. Making these units more mobile was seen to provide a significant increase in military capability.
The War in North Africa was not going well for Italy and the need for new improved vehicles was urgent. By the 3rd June 1941, a large type of troop transport was being considered, which led to the Dovunque 35 blindato. At the same time, it was also suggested to try and make such a vehicle using a standard medium truck fitted with a diesel engine. The vehicle chosen was the Fiat 626NLM (Nafta Lungo Militare), which had entered production in the second half of 1940. This was a long wheelbase (L= lungo / long) military specification (M-militaire / military) version with a diesel engine (N = naptha / diesel) and was produced in huge numbers. It was a good choice as a donor vehicle as it was both reliable and already in production as a standard truck for the Italian Army, having been set as the unified truck of choice in July 1937. So successful was it that versions of the 626 stayed in production well after the war.

Stripped chassis of the Fiat 626N showing the rugged ladder frame chassis and drivers location to the right of the engine. Source: italie35-45.com

CSM get to work

With the need for such a vehicle clear, the Centro Studi Motorizzazione (CSM) (the department which would examine new vehicles) immediately got to work and took a standard Fiat lorry and stripped from it all of the original bodywork. In its place, they modeled in wood a large rectangular shaped body with an open top.

Fiat 626 mockup with person for scale. Source: Pignato
The exact details of the project are not known, as the original paperwork is missing or destroyed, likely in the chaos following the September 1943 armistice, but some photographs and limited records do survive on which to examine the design.

Sources

A Century of Italian Armoured Cars, Nicola Pignato
italie35-45.com
Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of WW2, Ralph Riccio
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Nicola Pignato & Filippo Cappellano

Carro protetto su autotelaio FIAT 626 specifications

Dimensions (estimated) 6.3 x 2.2 x 2.5 m
Crew 1 + 12
Propulsion 5.75 litre Fiat model 326 6 cylinder inline diesel engine producing 70hp at 2200rpm
Speed (road) Estimated 50 km/h (road)
Armament 20mm Solothurn anti-tank rifle on 360 degree mount
Armor Estimated 8mm to 10mm thick steel
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Layout

The vehicle itself is remarkably clean lined with a large, single panel of armor on each side angled inwards and, below it, a long vertical plate covering the underside of the vehicle and the top part of the rear tires.

Front view of the Fiat 626 showing the very simple arrangement of the front armor. Source: Pignato
The front of the vehicle was made from four armored panels to create a classic pointed shape. A single large rectangular hatch was in the front right-hand side for the driver. Both of the lower two sections had large rectangular holes cut in them to facilitate the armored grilles for the radiator. No loopholes were provided for the mounted troops to use at all in any sides of the vehicle, unlike the Dovunque 35 design which had 3 on each side and two in the rear. A large bumper covered the full width of the vehicle at the front, harking back to its days as a normal truck.
The driver actually sat quite a long way forwards because he was moved to sit alongside the engine which divided his seat from a further front passenger seat. Next to each of the front seats on each side was a single opening large rectangular door. Mounted troops would be sat along two bench seats which ran the full length of the vehicle from the cabin to the rear. Given the length of the vehicle, it would easily seat 8-12 soldiers or a sizeable quantity of stores. It should be noted that the unarmored truck version, the standard Fiat 626N had a seating capacity for 18 soldiers, but when the vehicle was armed by mounting a 20mm anti-tank rifle, it would likely reduce the capacity. At the rear of the vehicle, there was a single large one-piece rectangular door fitted into the angled rear armor for the soldiers to mount or dismount through.
Power for the vehicle, assuming no additional modifications to the existing engine used in the 626NLM were made, was supplied by the 5.75 litre Fiat model 326 6 cylinder inline diesel engine producing 70hp at 2200rpm (it was only 67hp on the 626N) and had a standard fuel capacity of 75 + 5.5 litres (80.5 litres). As with the A.S.37, which had additional fuel tanks added, it would be expected that this armored personnel carrier version could adopt the extended range fuel tanks as used on the 626N (colonial service) which was in production until 1940. This additional 135 litre tank, (mounted on the 626N Colonial under the rear of the chassis) would have provided a significant extension to the operating range for a total fuel capacity of 215.5 litres.
With a maximum laden weight of 6.5 tonnes and a payload capacity of 3 tonnes, the truck was ideal for a variety of roles. Stripping off the body and using just the frame allowed for a new armored body to be constructed instead. The 626NLM extended the standard truck wheelbase from 3 metres to 3.32 metres, allowing for a significantly longer load bed for the truck.

Layout details of the Carro protetto T.T. su autotelaio Fiat 626. Source: Pignato

Protection

The exact thickness of the armor is not known, but every other project for the same basic role as this vehicle, such as the Autoprotetto S.37, used flat steel plate between 8mm and 10mm bolted to a steel frame. This armor provided sufficient protection for the driver and troops carried in the back from small arms fire and shell splinters, but nothing else.

Armament

In the design, unusually, a machine gun is omitted, replaced this time with the powerful Solothurn 20mm anti-tank rifle, already used mounted in the CV.3 series light tanks. This rifle would provide much needed additional firepower for tackling lightly armored enemy vehicles such as armored cars, Universal Carriers and even some tanks. The rifle was fitted to a tall mount, fixed to the floor centrally aligned down the length of the vehicle and just ahead of the centre line from the side. This mounting point permitted the weapon movement around a full 360 degrees of the vehicle and could elevate up to around 45 degrees, although it is not clear how useful it may have been against aircraft.

Termination

The project did not go anywhere. The Dovunque 35 based armored personnel carrier was selected instead and was put into a formal evaluation as a prototype. It was a better overall design than the Fiat attempt with firing ports for the troops etc. meaning they would be better protected but the exact reason why the Fiat was not chosen isn’t so clear. Either way, the Fiat 626 based APC idea never saw service and the mockup was presumably reused as a truck.


The Carro protetto trasporto truppa su autotelaio FIAT 626, showing its simple lines and the 20 mm Solothurn rifle. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, . Paid for with funds from our Patreon page

Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Fiat 3000 L.f.

Italy ww2 Kingdom of Italy (1932)
Light Tank Prototype – 1 Built

By the start of the 1930’s Italy’s tank fleet was seriously outdated. The Italian army (Regio Esercito) had a large number of Fiat 3000’s and a handful of light tanks and just one giant Fiat 2000, which was mostly used for training and display. The army had just embarked on a new program to build/produce light tanks which had brought them Carden-Loyd tanks from Great Britain, which had led to the CV.29.
That was a light tank though and the only tanks serviceable for combat were the machine-gun armed Fiat 3000 (it was not until later that this tank was downgraded to the status of a light tank in Italy). The Fiat 3000 was a slight improvement over the Renault FT which Italy had examined and obtained a small number of at the end of WW1. With minor modifications to the original Renault FT design, the Fiat 3000 had been formally adopted in 1921 as the ‘Carro d’assalto Fiat 3000A’ (Assault Tank Fiat 3000A) or simply the Fiat 3000 Model 1921 and became the mainstay of the Italian tank fleet. Inadequately armed to fight enemy tanks or take on enemy fortifications the Fiat 3000 needed improvements to the armament and one of the ideas to improve the firepower of the Fiat 3000 was the addition of a flamethrower.
The idea of adding a flamethrower was born in 1932 as the brainchild of Major Rodolfo Faronato and Captain Enrico Riccardi. Both were tank officers based in Bologna and proposed to fit one Fiat 3000 Mod.21 with flame-throwing equipment for evaluation.

Planned layout of the flame projector and fuel tanks in the Fiat 3000 Model 1921. Source: Pignato

Construction

Given approval for the experiment, an unidentified Fiat 3000 was modified to take the equipment, although the modifications needed were relatively minor. Three fuel tanks were planned – two long rectangular tanks were fitted within the suspension area on either side of the tank, each of which could hold 135 liters of fuel, and a smaller third tank within the actual tail skid area holding an additional 98 liters. This meant that this small vehicle was planned to carry 368 liters of fuel for the flamethrower.
The fuel tanks were connected together within the tank by means of a hose to a central point slightly behind the turret where they met at a pump. The pump then delivered the fuel to a pistol type nozzle held in the turret. By using a pump system there was no need for a large and vulnerable compressed air tank on the outside of the vehicle.

Detail of the two rectangular holes cut in the cheeks of the Fiat 3000 Model 1921 turret. Source: Pignato
The turret, which was made of nine flat panels of steel plate, had two rectangular holes cut into the cheeks, either side of the main armament. Each of these holes was presumably covered with some kind of armored flap and through either of these holes, the flame projector could be placed to spray the target with flame.

The normal rear of the Fiat 3000 with the trench crossing tail fitted.
The only known photograph of the vehicle when converted differ from the plan to have two rectangular tanks under the tracks and a small cylinder at the back, inside the trench crossing tail.

Only known image of a Fiat 3000 Model 1921 fitted with flamethrower equipment showing its large rear fuel tank. Source: Pignato (Lovati collection)
Instead, the actual vehicle (see image above) had a very large angular tank across the back of it and which is assumed to simply be the result of a modification from the original design to carry more fuel.
In addition to this, the turret front, which is out of shot does not have the twin Fiat Model 14 machine-guns raised in salute like the vehicle next to it. Although unclear, the photograph seems to instead show either a different flame-nozzle (similar to the one adopted for the CV.3 L.f.) or perhaps some kind of cover over the weapon. This suggests that the main armament may have been replaced with a dedicated and fixed flame projector similar to that later adopted to the CV.3 Lf. Research on the matter is continuing to determine whether this is a completely different flamethrower variant, a later modification to the original design, or simply that the vehicle was built that way, different to its plans. One theory for the difference is that this large rear tank simply replaced the two rectangular ones planned within the tracks as it could have been too vulnerable. Unfortunately, the photograph does not show whether this vehicle was fitted with the side fuel tanks either.

Fiat 3000 F.l.
Fiat 3000 F.l. with large flamethrower fuel tank on the rear, by AmazingAce on David Bocquelet’s work

Firepower

The Fiat 3000 M.21 converted with this flame projector retained its pair of 6.5mm Societa Anonima Italiana Ansaldo (SIA) machine-guns located in the turret, with fifty 40 round chargers for a total of 2000 rounds. The flame-projector details are not known, but it is likely to have been a converted army model with a range of up to 40m under optimal conditions. This would have been ideal for clearing a trench or dealing with an enemy pillbox where the machine-guns of the tank would have otherwise been mostly useless. The quantity of fuel provided would have been sufficient for several bursts. When not in use, it appears that the flame nozzle could be stowed on the inside of the turret. As this nozzle was not mounted, but held by the commander, it would have seriously hindered any attempts to command the vehicle or use the machine-guns whilst in use and also risked some backwash of heat coming into the tank. It is likely therefore that the commander would have to have been provided with standard equipment such as flame/heat-proof gloves and hood – both of which would have reduced his ability to see and operate.

Performance

The ‘Carro d’assalto Fiat Tipo 3000’ M.1921 was a small tank, just 2 crew, commander, and driver and protected by armor only 16mm thick at best. At just 5,500 kg it was light too but even powered by the 6.236 liter Fiat Model 304 4 cylinder petrol engine produced just 50hp and a power to weight ratio of just 9.1 hp/t. Whilst the flame-thrower had no extra armor, it also had no new engine but had to carry the additional load of the fuel and flame equipment. Even with just the original small tanks, this would have been about 500kg and with the large tank at the back perhaps as much as 1000kg. Not only would this additional weight have reduced the performance to below the 20km/h the Fiat 3000 could usually manage but it would also reduce the power to weight ratio to between 8.3 and 7.7 hp/t. Carrying a large weight on the back, whilst providing improved protection for the fuel tank from enemy fire would have also seriously affected the ability to cross obstacles and affected the balance of the tank.

Conclusion

It is possible that the answer as to why the photograph differs from the design may never be known. It could be that the vehicle in the photo is the original or just a modification, or a completely different experiment. What can be concluded, however, is that Italy made at least one modification to a Fiat 3000 for the carriage of flame equipment. Given the widespread use of such equipment from the infantry, to light tanks and even trains, it seems that the experiment must not have met with approval or else would have seen wider manufacturer.

Specifications

Total weight, battle ready 8500 – 9000 kg (9.36 – 9.92 tons)
Propulsion superior to 50hp, four-cylinder engine of at least 75hp desired
Maximum speed (road) 14.2 mph (24 km/h)
Armament Flame projector
2 x 6.5mm SIA machine-guns
Armor 10 – 20 mm (0.39 – 0.78 inches)

Resources & Links

La meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano. (1989). Lucia Ceva and Andrea Curami, Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito, Uffico Storico – Rome
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’esercito Italiano. (2002). Nicola Pignato, Filippo Cappellano. Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito, Uffico Storico – Rome
Italie39-45.com

Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Italian Panther

Italian armour ww2 Kingdom of Italy (1942-43)
None Built

Having been somewhat opportunistic in joining in the war on the side of Germany against her First World War allies, Britain and France, Italy had come into a new long conflict ill-prepared. Hoping for a quick victory and share of the spoils, Italy found herself at war while its army was still not fully modernized. Their stock of tanks was outdated and ill-suited for the coming war. The primary tank for Italy was the diminutive CV.3 series vehicle.
On top of this ill-timed entry, Italy had major problems with tank production. The army (Regio Esercito, RE) had little money with which to develop such vehicles, as the majority of government money for the military went to the Italian Navy. What tanks they did possess were intended for use in colonial wars in Africa or for fighting in the mountainous Italian north, much along the lines of the fighting in WW1. Consequently, Italy had little experience with large, heavy tanks. Fighting in mountains required small tanks, narrow enough for mountain tracks, light enough to cross small wooden or stone bridges, or even capable of being recovered with rudimentary tools by troops. For this, light tanks like the CV.3 series or the L.6 were ideal.

Italian CV.3 (left) next to a wooden mockup of the Panther tank to same scale (right)
In North Africa, the quick victory which had awaited Italy in 1940 over the numerically inferior British forces had not transpired. Despite the numerical advantages they possessed over the British forces in those early months of WW2, the Italian command squandered their opportunity to attack when their enemy was weak and instead took very little offensive action, allowing the British to build up their forces. When the war in North Africa did start in earnest, the Italian armor was outclassed by the faster and more maneuverable British Cruiser tanks and the armor of the British A.12 Matilda II. The response from Italy was slow and came too late. This was the Italian’s own desert cruiser; the ‘Sahariano’. A well-designed machine with well-angled armor, good maneuverability, and decent firepower, but it was too late for the North African war in which it was needed. After losing North Africa to the Allies, work was eventually stopped on that project and the focus was moved to protecting mainland Italy and Sicily.

Hunting for a Heavy Tank

By April 1942, the Ansaldo company had already begun construction of a self-propelled gun mounting the 149/40 cannon with the intention of mounting it on a vehicle based on the P.40 hull. At the same time, a study was started on the use of a 105mm howitzer on the hull of a heavy tank. This latter project was abandoned in favor of using the hull of the M.15/42 medium tank which was already in production. The 149/40 self-propelled gun project ended up using the M.15/42 chassis as well, with the engine originally planned for the Sahariano instead, which does at least demonstrate a good level of interchangeability between the engines in Italian hulls. It did not though, solve the problem of the complete lack of a production heavy, or for that matter effective medium tank on a par with a contemporary enemy or allied vehicle.

Crisis

Italy in 1942 was in a bad state of affairs. The war was not going well for them and back home Italian industry was in a crisis of production. Despite having the spare industrial capacity and large stockpiles (in 1943, after the Germans audited Italian stocks they found 3 years worth of steel supply had been hoarded) of material the Italians were still requesting materials from Germany. They could not meet the demands from the Regio Esercito for their own tanks, engines, or guns. The Italians had had formal authorization from the Germans to produce the Panzer III in Italy since the 5th of August 1941 and a license for production of the Panzer IV in 1942. Even the Skoda T.21 which at one point had been considered wasn’t going to be produced despite being seen as favorable, simply because production would have had to include companies like Alfa, Reggiane, OTO, and Lancia. The duopoly that existed between Fiat and Ansaldo wasn’t going to be broken easily. So, none of these perfectly acceptable vehicles would ever enter production in Italy and at that time the first P.40 was still not complete and ready for examination as there were significant problems with the original petrol engine.
The P.40 was a well thought out design in its own right but it appears that the actual orders for it were delayed because the Italian High Command (Commando Supremo) had favored local production of the Panzer IV instead. A lead engineer at Ansaldo remarked in December 1943 that, despite opening a new production plant to increase capacity, the manufacture of tanks for the Italian army was taking too long and in his opinion, this shortfall should be addressed by the purchase of large numbers of Panzer IV tanks instead. This presumably was an idea to take the pressure off production to allow the plants to convert to new production lines but it did not take place. Regardless though, while the P.26/40 (P.40) heavy tank, (which was supposed to have already been in service by 1942) was still in development hell, the Germans were already putting the Pz.Kpfw. V Panther into production. With more armor and a bigger gun, the Panther was clearly a far more impressive tank on paper.

An Offer Rejected then Accepted

The Italians were still wedded to their own anemic tank construction program and perhaps as an attempt to spur development, on the 6th December 1942 General (Generalmajor), Ernst Von Horstig contacted General Ugo Cavallero. General Von Horstig (1893-1969) was the head of the German Economic Office at the German Embassy in Rome (since November 1941), and the head of the Italian Army Office (HWA) (from the 1st March 1942). General Ugo Cavallero (1880-1943), was the Chief of the Italian Defence Staff.
Out of the blue, General Horstig offered General Cavellero the possibility of construction of the German Panther tank in Italy. At 0945 hours that day, Gen. Cavellero formally turned down the offer from Gen. Horstig on the basis that he thought the ‘equivalent’ (the P.40 was far from equivalent to the Panther but Gen. Cavellero seems to have considered it as such) Italian P.40 tank was enough. The P.40 was still classed as a heavy tank ( ‘P’ being ‘Pesante’ for the ‘heavy’ tank) despite only weighing 26 tonnes and Gen. Cavellero had believed this vehicle to already be in a “programme of construction” only to find out from General Pietro Ago an hour later that “in reality the P.40 does not exist” because it was not in production at all. This was a stunning lapse in oversight by the Italian Chief of Staff. Whatever the reason for the oversight was, the plan now would be to obtain Maybach engines as used in the Panzer IV for the P.40 program to spur that project into life.

Left to right: General Pietro Ago (1872-1966), General Ugo Cavellero (1880-1943), General Luigi Efisio Marras (1888-1981). Photos: composite image compiled from biographies at it.wikipedia.org
Faced now with the reality that Italy wasn’t producing any ‘heavy’ tanks at all, it seems that Gen. Cavellero then rescinded his previous rejection of Gen. Horstig’s offer and agreed to some production although the nature of the deal remains unclear.
Negotiations were made regarding this contract for production at the Ministry of War between the 13th and 24th of February and the idea of constructing the Panther in Italy would have solved some large problems for Italy. It would almost certainly have resulted in abandoning the M.15/42 tank design, which was still in production, admitting the failure of the P.40 project (it was late), and abandoning other plans to focus on a single more capable platform. This new vehicle would likely have to be capable of fulfilling the medium and heavy tank duties the army wanted as well as having the flexibility to be used for the Semovente conversion to fulfill support, artillery and tank destroyer duties. The Germans would end up doing exactly this, using the Panther tank as a basis for numerous types of vehicles.
What is known is that, following the phone call between Generals Cavellero and Horstig, Gen. Cavellero went on to state that if they (Italy) were given certain (unspecified) equipment and a Panther tank to work from that it would significantly speed up Panther tank production. This was agreed to by Gen. Von Horstig, who invited Gen. Cavallero to Berlin to discuss the matter.
The Germans, however, expected production of the Panther to begin just one year after receipt of the drawings in Italy. Plans which would take three months to prepare in Italian. Combined together this would mean an expectation of starting Panther production in Italy by the Ansaldo-Fiat consortium no earlier than March 1944. On the plus side, unlike the licence for production of the Panzer IV, there would be no licence fee due.
Hitler had ordered, a month earlier, in January 1943, that Panther production was to take place in Italy without any licence fee payable. The firm of Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (MAN) was also (per the directive) to supply not one, but four complete Panther tanks to Italy. As it happened though, MAN was unable to comply due to their own manufacturing problems. A further directive from Hitler came on the 16th February 1943 on the subject as to whether Italy should build the Panther or Panther II tank. However, Italy did not seem to have had expressed an interest in the Panther II although the Italians were generally in agreement with the German proposals. From the Italian end though it was clear that due to a complete change in manufacturing that production of Panthers ‘from scratch’ could not start in Italy before 1945.
Likely as a result of trying to speed up the production of the Panther and to examine the tooling needed, an exchange of technical experts was agreed to by General Luigi Marras (Italian Military Attache in Berlin). Two engineers from each country would jointly examine the Italian P.40 and the German Panther, the small problem being that the P.40 wasn’t actually finished.
Allied bombing of Italian industry, including engine factories, had helped to grind Italian tank production to a near standstill. Gen. Cavellero subsequently contacted Gen. Von Horstig about the sale of Maybach engines for the P.40 and more about the Panther. In order to expedite tests, a request was made for a 12 cylinder Maybach HL-120 TRM V12 296hp petrol engine supplied from Germany to be installed in the P.40. Around this time too (early 1943), license production of the Maybach engine was approved in Italy. Following examination of the P.40 fitted with the German engine the tank was approved, although it was noted that improvements would be needed to the armor.
For the Panther though, a tentative (and optimistic) production schedule was organized that in the first 18 months of production the Italians were to produce 50 tanks a month. Half of that production was to be supplied back to Germany (presumably in lieu of the payment of the waved license fee), leaving Italy with 25 per month for their own use. On the 22nd February 1943, the testing of the Maybach in the P.40 probably still had not happened. The Germans were offering to supply major components of Panther tanks directly to Italy working on the contingency that if Italian industry could not start production until 1945, Panther tanks would have been supplied directly from Germany without guns, sheet metal work and probably other fittings such as radios.
If this option was to be selected, then Germany would supply just 10 nearly complete Panther tanks to Italy per month starting in December 1943 and let the Italians finish the vehicles there. The fact that the Germans would make this contingency would suggest that they expected it to take a long time to get Italian production up to speed.
The historian Jonathan Steinberg recounts that the problems with production really lay not in actual manufacturing but gross corruption within the Italian regime. Either way though, a second Ansaldo plant being built at Pozzuoli could have been ready by the middle of 1943 for Panther production, presumably with the tooling required.
Construction of this plant, however, would have necessitated taking off the short-term pressure from the factory production lines which were producing Italian vehicles, and instead purchasing Panzer IV’s, as had been suggested. As this was not done, the plant for local Panther production was delayed and therefore so was the Italian Panther.
It is confusing that so much effort was made to get the Panther into production considering the Army High Command preferred the Panzer IV, which was much closer to the tank requirements for a new medium tank for Italy. Presumably, the failure of their own heavy tank program to provide a suitable design forced the decision to select the Panther to fill both roles.
In hindsight, this was a poor choice, as a production license was already in place for the Panzer IV and could have been started by Spring 1943 with an estimated 130 tanks producible each month, compared to just 50 Panthers per month. Regarding Panzer IV production the first five months would have been solely for Italy after which half of the tanks would have been supplied to Germany which in comparison would mean that one year of Panzer IV production would have theoretically produced 1,560 Panzer IV’s (1,105 for Italy and 455 for Germany) compared to just 600 Panthers (300 each for Italy and Germany). Italy could, therefore, under ideal circumstances have had over three times the number of Panzer IV’s compared to Panthers. Given the state of Italian manufacturing, Allied bombing, and corruption, such figures are extremely optimistic but nonetheless, Panzer IV production was better suited to Italian capabilities than the Panther.
As an added confusion to the production of the Panther tank in Italy they would also have to produce the special Pmx series rail cars for moving the tanks, just yet another complication their industry was not going to be able to manage. Even so, a license for their production was also arranged.

Italian panther
Illustration by David Bocquelet – Artist impression of the Italian panther

How Different Would an Italian Panther be From a German One?

Assuming the Panther entered production in Italy, then certainly the radios would have been changed and so would the machine guns. It is logical to assume that the Breda 7.7mm machine gun would have been adopted for the hull and coaxial mounts, as well as another on the Italian anti-aircraft mount. The historian Walter Spielberger confirms that, as part of the February 1943 negotiations at the Ministry of War (which took place between the 13th and 24th February), it was agreed that the German team would be responsible for optics and electrical equipment. It is not known if this refers to simple optical devices like periscopes which could simply have been substituted in Italy or for the telescopic sights to ballistically match the guns.
A question still remains if German-built Panthers supplied to Italy would have included engines. Bearing in mind contracts had already been exchanged for Maybach engine production in Italy it is logical to assume that some or all of the engines would also be manufactured in Italy and be Maybachs.

Designers model line up of P.26/40 (left), P.43 (centre), and Panther (right) showing the size and suspension differences to good effect.
There is no mention at all in the licensing discussion about the production of the guns so the working assumption is that the Italians would fit a gun which they had on hand, likely to have been a 75mm gun like on the P.40 given the inability of the industry to supply other guns in the quantity required. Fitting any guns other than the German 7.5cm or something very closely balanced to it would have necessitated additional changes to the mounting in the turret – work that would have only slowed down production.
The complexity of the entire Panther deal was further deepened by the separate licenses for the Maybach engine production and the desire to use the Maybach in the P.40 design which was a direct competitor to the Panther for production contracts. With production problems especially with tank engines in short supply the option to use the German engines in the P.40 program was a very desirable option. It is possible that the license was only given to Italy with the hope or intention that it be used to make Maybach HL-230 engines for Panther tanks rather than for the P.40. Possibly to avoid this problem, Fiat SPA produced their Model 344 700 hp engine, which was essentially a straight copy of the HL-230 rather than a license-built version. The preceding model, the Model 343, was an exact duplicate and license-built a copy of the Maybach HL-120 (for the German Panzer IV and Italian P.40 program). With the HL-120 licensed for production back in early 1943 for the P.40 but with a limitation on a license for the HL-230 limiting it to use in Panther tanks it is possible that the goal was simply to produce the copy of the more powerful engine without having to build the German tank.

Comparisons between the German Panther and the Italian P.26 and P.43 designs showing how much more compact the Italian designs were to their German rival albeit at a price of less armor and firepower.
Licences to produce Maybach engines had been provided from Germany to Italy in early 1943 and there could have been issues relating to payments leading to this renaming confusion but information is lacking in this area. The confusion over licenses is additionally complicated by Field Marshal Kesselring. When he returned to Rome on the 8th  June 1943, he was clear that his instruction, coming directly from Hitler, was that whatever Italy wanted, they just had to ask for, whether it was tanks, troops, or self-propelled guns with no discussion over licensing or reciprocal manufacturing agreements.

Conclusion

Regardless though of existing plans, September 1943 turned everything upside down and Italy became split in half politically with a cobelligerent force fighting with the allies on one side and other troops continuing to fight on the side of the Axis under German control. The Germans after the September 1943 capitulation took over control of northern Italy including the armaments manufacturing plants. The Italians were no longer in charge of their own manufacturing after that point and ideas of producing the Panther in Italy seems to have been forgotten about, although some sources state that component parts were manufactured. It may have been a moot point anyway as a different design was ready at the time to replace the P.26 which had barely begun to roll out of the factories. Just two months after the capitulation the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen reported by November 1943, that “The firm of Ansaldo-Fossati in Genoa planned to produce a Heavy Tank Model 1943 armed with a Kanone 90/42, weighing 35 tons with 80mm frontal and 60 mm side armor (imitating the Panther). The engine and wooden model are not yet available.” That replacement tank was never built but the existence of this planned project perhaps gives an idea as to why the Italians had tried to get the engine for the Panther and not the Panther itself – they had something better planned.
The story of the Italian Panther then is a drawn out and complicated one.
A combination of Italian bureaucracy and the industrial oligarchies of Breda, Fiat, and Ansaldo, had managed to ensure that relatively little in terms of license production of engines or tanks had been achieved since the summer of 1940.
Negotiations over Italian production of various tanks had taken place between June 1941 and April 1943 with licenses agreed on 5th August 1941 (Panzer III), in 1942 (Panzer IV), and in 1943 for the Panzer V Panther. None of these plans ever came to fruition and no finished vehicles were actually produced though.
The Italians had at least gotten as far as being able to produce the HL-120 and HL-230 engines for their own heavy tank projects through which while slow was at least still in development. The final note on the matter is that just prior to the capitulation in September 1943, “several PzKpfw V Panther tanks were… to be purchased from Germany, while a P.43 tank armed with a 90mm gun was under development”
Had Italy ever fielded the Panther it would have been expected to fulfill their needs until at least 1947-8 if the war had continued. It was likely the better long-term choice than the Panzer IV production in such a ‘what-if’ scenario, even though the Panzer IV made more sense numerically and logistically as well as being far better suited to the abilities of Italian industry at the time. As it turned out though, the Italians never got to put a Panther tank into combat and the only such vehicles seeing action in Italy were German vehicles or one of the 37 Panther turrets installed as fixed defenses.

Mussolini inspecting a brand new Panzer turret defensive bunker somewhere in Northern Italy. The concrete is still held in place by shuttering which would then be removed and backfilled with dirt

Panther specifications

Dimensions (L-w-h) 6.87/8.66 x3.27 x2.99 m (22.54/28.41 x10.73 x9.81 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 44.8 tons max. (98,767 lbs)
Armament Main: 75 mm (2.95 in) KwK 42 L/70, 79 rounds
Sec: 2x 7.9 mm (0.31 in) MG 34, 5100 rounds
Armor Sloped, from 15 to 120 mm (0.59-4.72 in)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, gunner, loader, radioman/machine gunner)
Propulsion V12 Maybach HL230 P2 gasoline, 690 hp (515 kW)
Transmission ZF AK 7-200 7-forward/1-reverse gearbox
Suspensions Double torsion bars and interleaved wheels
Speed (late model) 48 km/h (29 mph)
Operational range 250 km (160 mi)
Vehicles Disquised 10
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Links, Resources & Further Reading

I Panther del Regio Esercito: L’Affare che non si fece digilander.libero.it
Panzer Tracts 19-2
Beute-Kraftfahrzeuge und -Panzer der deutschen Wehrmacht, Walter Spielberger
Panzer V Panther – Walter Spielberger
Veicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano dal 1939 al 1945
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’esercito italiano, volume 2, Nicola Pignato
Italian Armoured Vehicles of WW2, Nicola Pignato
Minute, 8th June 43, item 165, Minutes of Conferences, Comando Supremo, IT 26.
US Army in WWII; Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy by Garland and Smith
Maybach Engines www.fahrzeuge-der-wehrmacht.de
Italian Medium Tanks by Cappellano and Battistelli
Veicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano dal 1939 al 1945, by Cesare Falessi and Benedetto Pafi
German Defences in Italy in World War II, Neil Short, Osprey Publishing fortress #45, 2006
PANTHER TANKS FOR THE ROYAL ARMY, Nicola Del Bono
HISTORY militate 1994 n6, The Chimera of the RE: Welcome Wagon P40 Bruno and Andrea Curami
Osprey – Italian Armored Vehicles of World War Two
Peter Chamberlain, Chris Ellis, Tanks of the World 1915-1945
OKH (Chef der Heeresrustung und Befehlshaber des Ersatzheeres) Wa. Pruf. 6.Bb.Nr.5/43 gKdos vom. 8 Januar 1943)
All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust 1941-43, Jonathan Steinberg
Guide to Foreign Military Studies 1945-54, Historical Division, USAER, 1954
www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de
A Military History of Italy, Ciro Paoletti
Quellen und Forschungen aud italianischen Bibliotheken und Archiven Bd.71, 1991 – Zwischen Bundnis und Ausbeutung: Der deutsche Zugriff auf das norditalianische Wirtschaftpotential 1943-1945*, Maximiliane Rieder

Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Fiat 3000 Tipo II

Italy ww2 Kingdom of Italy (1925)
Light Tank

Tipo I

The Italians copied the successful French Renault FT tank in the form of the Fiat 3000 right at the end of World War I and produced a large number of those vehicles. They were marginally better than the Renault FT forebear but, just like the Renault, suffered from some significant flaws. The interior was too cramped for the crew, the engine was underpowered, the armor was insufficient, the armament was too light, and the vehicle was effectively outdated when compared to the developments of armor in other countries.
Schematic for the Fiat 3000 Tipo II. Source: Pignato
Schematic for the Fiat 3000 Tipo II. Source: Pignato
Comparison between the size and shape of the Fiat 3000 Tipo I to the Fiat 3000 Tipo II
Comparison between the size and shape of the Fiat 3000 Tipo I to the Fiat 3000 Tipo II, dated the 24th May 1925. Source: Pignato
Many of the complaints about the Fiat 3000 seem to have come from the office of Colonel Maltese. They may have been influenced by decisions from more senior officers to replace the (then) machine gun armed Fiat 3000’s in service with something more useful. A medium or even heavy tank armed only with machine guns was not ideal. The Italians had already gained experience with a 37mm armed tank when they acquired a Renault fitted with a French 37mm gun in 1918. Why it took so long to appreciate the deficiency of being armed solely with machine guns is not clear.
Recommendations for the development of the new vehicle were that the company in charge should work more closely with the military so that the military criteria could be more closely matched by industry. As the military wanted a 37mm armed tank, the industry would have to provide it. It would ideally come in a new improved tank rather than just a retrofit of the existing Fiat 3000 as that 37mm gun-armed tank was already available in the form of the near identical Renault FT. Copying the 37mm armament would have been simple as to not require a whole new tank program.

Tipo II – Initial Specification Laid

A summary of the specifications this new tank would have to meet was presented on the 12th January 1925. It was to be significantly heavier than the Fiat 3000 Tipo I, at about 8500kg (with a limit set at 9000kg), compared to the previous tank at just 5300kg. The reasons for the weight increase were simple. This tank would have improved offensive and defensive capabilities and be more maneuverable than the previous vehicle. The crew was not specified but the old 2 man crew arrangement with a very overloaded commander, having to load, aim, fire and command the tank had been an obvious problem. Adding a third crew member in this larger vehicle is very likely for the command and control advantages it offered.
The new improved tank proposal was ready by May 1925 and very closely resembled the overall shape of the Fiat 3000/Renault FT and is even described as a “Renault Type Tank”. Fully tracked with a larger fully rotatable turret and an effective cannon, the new tank, named ‘Fiat 3000 Tipo II’ (Type 2) represented a genuine improvement over the Fiat 3000 ‘Tipo I’.

Armament

The Fiat 3000 Tipo II was to improve on both the firepower and ammunition capacity of the Fiat 3000 Tipo I. The single SIA machine gun with 3640 rounds of the Tipo I would be replaced with a 37mm cannon with 270 rounds and a Fiat M.1924 machine gun with 4500 rounds. A larger gun could have been fitted along with a new machine gun (improved from the Fiat M.1924) relatively easily but instead, the focus was on the newly made 37mm rapid-fire tank gun. This missed opportunity for a significant improvement in tank armament happened before the project had even been fully explored.
An addition to the offensive power of the tank was the rather unconventional ‘spurs’ projecting from the front and rear of the vehicle. Despite looking like mounting points for some kind of trench crossing tail these were instead felt to provide some additional advantage in combat against enemy tanks and defences although quite what that might be was not expounded upon. The ideal 37mm gun would eventually be found but only after the Tipo II project was already over. It was a 40 caliber long gun and was eventually retrofitted into some of the existing Fiat 3000’s.

Illustration of the FIAT 3000 Tipo II by Amazing Ace
Illustration of the FIAT 3000 Tipo II by Tank Encyclopedia’s own Amazing Ace

Protection and Convenience

The armor on the Fiat 3000 Tipo I had not been sufficient. The Tipo II would increase the armor by 25% in some areas, to no less than 20mm in all exposed areas and use specially treated steel to obtain some marginal protection against smaller calibre cannon fire and artillery shells. The roof of the turret and presumably the hull roof would be 10mm thick and, like the rest of the armor, of good quality armor steel. The large octagonal turret would also have the benefit of a 68cm x 52cm wide double-doored hatch in the back to assist with entry and exit as well as ventilation. The fumes from the gun were to be removed by means of fans, also an improvement over the Tipo I. An additional bonus was the requirement for electric lighting.
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Comparison between profiles and armor of the Fiat 3000 Tipo I and Fiat 3000 Tipo II showing the improved armor thickness and profile of this vehicle, dated the 24th of May 1925 Source: Pignato

Mobility

No particular engine was specified, but the Tipo II was to be faster and have a longer range than the Fiat 3000 Tipo I and it was decided that it should ideally be a four-cylinder petrol engine producing at least 75hp, although it is not clear what engine this would be. The vehicle would be steered by means of levers and epicyclics. The Tipo I could ford streams up to 1m deep whereas the Tipo II was to be able to ford 1.4m deep. A small change like this makes a large difference for a tank in terms of mobility and usefulness and as the role was one of assault and support it would have to be able to cross obstacles better than the tank it was supposed to replace. To this end, the trench crossing ability of the Tipo I, which was just 1.4m (without tail), would also be increased to 1.9m. This is the same as the Tipo I with a tail and the design of the Tipo II is such as it would easily permit the same type of tail used if required which would further extend the trench crossing ability to over 2m.

Conclusions

The idea for the Fiat 3000 Tipo II was well conceived in terms of replacing the first model Fiat 3000. Improving the tanks fighting capability from just having light armor and a machine gun with improved protection, on a faster tank, and armed with a 37mm rapid firing tank gun. It is not clear why this tank was not adopted but resources were limited and, while this model offered improvements, maybe these were insufficient to warrant serial production of a new tank.
As it happened, the Fiat 3000 ended up being upgraded with a new 37mm cannon. Trials were carried out with the short (L.27) 37mm gun and then high-velocity 37mm gun by 1927. This was probably another reason to discontinue this Tipo II tank idea. The Tipo I could be cheaply upgraded to carry the same armament at the price of the other advantages the Tipo II offered. It simply didn’t have a significant edge so as to render the Tipo I obsolete. No Tipo II vehicles were ever made and the project was soon forgotten about.

Specifications

Total weight, battle ready 8500 – 9000 kg (9.36 – 9.92 tons)
Propulsion superior to 50hp, four-cylinder engine of at least 75hp desired
Maximum speed (road) 14.2 mph (24 km/h)
Armament rapid-fire 37mm gun and rapid-fire machine gun specified
Armor 10 – 20 mm (0.39 – 0.78 inches)

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Italy 1935-1945.com
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Nicola Pignato & Filippo Cappellano
La meccanizzazione dell’Esercito fino al 1943, L.Ceva, A.Curami

Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Semovente B1 bis

Italy ww2 Kingdom of Italy (1941)
1 Prototype

The French Char B1 bis is probably one of the most recognizable tanks ever made. An impressive union of a hull-mounted 75mm gun, thick armor, and a 47mm gun in the turret made this tank a formidable enemy in 1940. Despite its less than handsome appearance, this was a technologically advanced tank and was the product of a huge amount of time and money invested in its development. In 1940, it was the most powerful tank fielded by any army during the battle for France.
Despite its many advantages though, the Char B was unable to prevent the collapse of France. When the country was occupied, huge stocks of war material in factories plus those captured in the field, came into the hands of the Germans and her allies. While the Germans made good use of a lot of captured tanks, a large amount was also supplied or permitted to be taken by her allies and the Kingdom of Italy was no exception to this.
Colonel Keller (the Italian Inspector General of Tanks) had already reported on the advantages of the Char B (referred to as the ‘Carro B’) back in 1935. In 1940, after the fall of France, the Italians, occupying parts of the south of France, took the opportunity to seize some of these tanks when they could get their hands on them. The Italian author Nicola Pignato states that some twenty B1 Bis’, in various stages of preparation and construction, along with a single 36-tonne B1 Ter prototype were recovered from the FCM factory, of which an unknown number were to be destined for Italy. An official report, however, from 1943 related that just 2 turretless B1 tanks were taken directly from the factory along with an additional 4 which had their turrets, and the single experimental 36-ton vehicle along with a quantity of engines, parts, and armor plate.
The French author Pascal Danjou states that the Italians got hold of only 8 Char B1 bis tanks though, six made by FCM (Compagnie des Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée) and two made by FAMH (Compagnie des Forges et Aciéries de la Marine et d’Homécourt). These vehicles had been rapidly pushed by the French into action in June 1940, half of which had no turrets (which would make 4 tanks although which turretless vehicles of those 8 came from which factory is not clear) and none of these vehicles were captured but were instead hidden by workers in a cave. Their hiding place was later revealed by an Italian worker to the Commission d’Armistice Italienne pour la France, the CAIF (Italian Commission for Disarmament in France), who then seized them in October 1940 for Italy. Whatever account of how these vehicles or even exactly how many came into the possession of Italians is correct, the Italians got hold of some Char B1 bis tanks of their own.
The exact number shipped to Italy cannot be determined as not all of them received official army registration numbers, but at least two vehicles did receive registration numbers R.E. 508 and R.E. 750 on 30th April 1941.

Turretless B1 bis with an armored plate covering turret ring undergoing trials in Italy 1941. Source: Pignato

Role

It is debatable as to what function the Italian Army wanted to use these tanks. The Italian author Nicola Pignato classifies the Italian use as one of a ‘Semovente’, literally a self-propelled gun; one used to both indirectly shell enemy forces and also provide direct fire against the enemy. Lacking a turret, this is the most likely consideration for its use, as the poor mobility and relatively low velocity of the French hull gun did not lend themselves to the role of a tank destroyer.

Evaluations

In 1940, the heaviest Italian tank in service was barely half the weight of the 32-tonne B1 bis. Even without the turret, the Char B1 bis weighed about 28 tonnes and was still a significantly larger vehicle than the Italians had used since the Fiat 2000. The tank was also not as easy to operate as other similar vehicles and the design called for well-trained crews proficient in the use of the machine.
The sheer size of the vehicle though was the biggest problem. The standard means of moving tanks was on the back of a truck or small trailer, neither of which would be possible for this tank meaning it could only be moved long distances by rail. Even then, it wasn’t going to be an easy task.
Two of the B1 bis chassis were subjected to trials in November 1941 against anti-tank obstacles. The hulls, lacking turrets, had the hole in the roof of the hull covered with a rudimentary 60mm thick armor plate. Photographic evidence from France shows a captured turretless Char B1 bis in German hands with an identical circular plate over the missing turret suggesting that this modification was done in France and not in Italy.

Captured French B1 bis. Sent into action with the turret replaced by a circular cover as seen on the example in Italy. Source: Les chars B
Against all the obstacles tried, the only one which the tanks could not get past was an anti-tank ditch with a 45-degree escarpment. Experiments were terminated on the 24th of May 1943, a ridiculously long testing time for a production-quality vehicle simply being repurposed. The time involved though does suggest that the concept of using the vehicles in the Semovente role had long since expired and they were more suited to experimental work relating to the design of obstacles than anything else.

Illustration of the Semovente B1 bis by David Bocquelet
Illustration of the Semovente B1 bis by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Armament

There is no information to suggest any gun other than the French 75mm hull gun was ever considered but the Italians did have large numbers of antiquated field guns of various calibres which could have fulfilled the role if required. Even so, the French 75mm hull gun was still a potent weapon against tanks or enemy defences and in the turreted vehicle the French would carry up to 74 rounds of armor-piercing or high explosive shells. It is reasonable to assume that, without a turret, at least that amount or slightly more could be carried had this vehicle entered service with Italy.

Turretless B1 bis undergoing trials in Italy in 1941. Source: Pignato

Conclusion

Despite some initial interest in using the B1 bis turretless for the role of an assault gun, it was simply not adopted. Italy had already got its own Semovente program using the hull of the M series tanks to carry a short-barrelled 75mm gun for exactly the same type of fire support the B1 bis offered. This had the same firepower but in a much smaller, lighter, simpler vehicle, one which could be built in large numbers and shared parts with their other tanks meant that the B1 bis was not needed. With the program of trials terminated and any remaining combat value remaining in the vehicles now gone in 1943, records state that they were instead sent for testing out as ammunition carriers, as firing range targets and presumably some parts scrapped or salvaged.
The Italian author Nicola Pignato recounts that, on 4th June 1943, the situation was lamented that the 20 B1 Bis and single B1 Ter (36 tonne prototype) tanks seized by the Italian military in Marseilles in 1940 could have provided a much needed heavy armored unit for the Italian Army even if by the end of 1942 the tanks had been technically outdated. Despite the advantages their armor and firepower could have brought, the problems and presumably the poor war situation led to the project’s end. No trace of the tanks is known to remain in Italy today.

Char B1 bis specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 6.37 x 2.46 x 2.79 m (20.8 x 8.07 x 9.15 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 28 tonnes (56,000 lbs)
Crew 4 (driver, main gunner, sec. gunner, commander)
Propulsion Renault 6-cyl inline, 16.5 l, 272 bhp
Speed (road/off road) 28/21 km/h (17/13 mph)
Range (road/off road)-fuel 200 km (120 mi)-400 l
Armament Unknown
Maximum armor 60 mm (2.36 in)

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento Dell’Esercito Italiano, Pignato and Cappellano
La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano, Ceva and Curami
Axis history forum
Les Chars B, Pascal Danjou

Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Ansaldo MIAS/MORAS 1935

Italian armour ww2 Kingdom of Italy (1935)
Mobile shield – 2 prototypes

MIAS and MORAS.
MIAS and MORAS.

Background

The Motomitragliatrice blindata d’assaulto ‘MIAS’ was a vehicle borne out the Italian slaughter in WWI. Instead of the infantry facing withering machine gun fire unprotected, the MIAS would provide them with a mobile shield to cover them from fire. This is what the MIAS really was; a self-propelled mobile armored shield. It was certainly not a tank in the conventional sense despite having some of the same features. It was armored, powered and fully tracked but that was as far as the similarities went. After-all, it only had a single crew member and he didn’t even get a seat.

Technical details

The MIAS was launched by the Ansaldo company in 1935 and came in two possible versions; the MIAS and the MORAS, which differed only in armament. Both vehicles were propelled by a single 250cc Frera petrol engine producing 5 horsepower at 3000 rpm with Magento Marelli ignition. They were capable of up to 5 km/h forwards and 2.2 km/h in reverse. Frera was a brand of Italian racing motorcycle but, by the mid 1930’s, was in serious financial difficulties and eventually went bankrupt.
Frera motorcycle advertising 1930’s - Source ManxNorton.com
Frera motorcycle advertising 1930’s – Source ManxNorton.com
Motomitragliatrice blindata d’assaulto ‘MIAS’ technical layout -Source: MIAS Manual, AnsaldoMotomitragliatrice blindata d’assaulto ‘MIAS’ technical layout - Source: MIAS Manual, Ansaldo
Motomitragliatrice blindata d’assaulto ‘MIAS’ technical layout – Source: MIAS Manual, Ansaldo

Armament

The armor for the vehicle provided protection against the Mauser service rifle firing SMK (7.92mm Spitzergeschoss mit kern – a steel cored armor piercing round) type ammunition at 90 degree impact at a range of 50 metres. The Mauser SMK round was capable of perforating up to 14 mm (0.55 in) of armor plate and saw extensive use in the First World War for use against tanks. The sides, being slightly thinner, were only rated against the Italian Model 1891 service rifle firing the 6.5mm 160 grain ball round from the sides at 90 degrees at 50 metres, which was still fairly respectable. The roof of the machine was hinged as well and could be elevated in order to provide additional cover for the soldier behind.
MIAS showing its diminutive sizeMIAS showing its diminutive sizeMIAS showing its diminutive size
MIAS showing its diminutive sizeMIAS showing its diminutive sizeMIAS showing its diminutive size
MIAS showing its diminutive size and tool arrangement consisting of a pick-axe, spade and a large billhook type cutting tool for clearing obstacles – Source: MIAS Manual, Ansaldo


An illustration of the MIAS mobile shield. Not to scale. Illustrator: David Bocquelet
The MIAS version was fitted with a single weapon mounting high and slightly off center in the front. It was fitted with two Isotta-Fraschini (‘Scotti’) 6.5 mm (0.25 in) calibre machine guns with 14 degrees of elevation, 10 degrees of depression and 1000 rounds of ammunition. The MORAS version (Moto-mortaio blindato d’assaulto) had the machine-guns replaced with the 45 mm (1.77 in) Brixia mortar. The mortar in its mounting could depress to -10 degrees and elevate to an impressive 72 degrees. The vehicle carried up to fifty 0.5 kg grenades.
MORAS version showing the extremely high elevation which could be reached with the 45 mm Brixia mortar. MORAS version showing the extremely high elevation which could be reached with the 45 mm Brixia mortar.
MORAS version showing the extremely high elevation which could be reached with the 45 mm Brixia mortar – Source: MIAS Manual, Ansaldo
The 45 mm Brixia mortar was designed by the Tempini company in 1932. It was a strange and complex weapon for such a small vehicle. The mortar was unusual in that in used a magazine of blank rounds to launch an individually loaded 45mm bomb. An earlier design even had a magazine for 5 bombs reloaded by means of a hand crank.

1924 Patent by Tempini for a hand cranked cartridge launched small mortar – Source: Patent GB405159
Brixia mortar as manufactured and mounted on the infantry mount
Brixia mortar as manufactured and mounted on the infantry mount
Breda made model M.1935 high explosive mortar shell for the 45mm Brixia mortarBreda made model M.1935 high explosive mortar shell for the 45mm Brixia mortar
Breda made model M.1935 high explosive mortar shell for the 45mm Brixia mortar – Source: War Office Pamphlet No.4 Handbook of Enemy Ammunition 1940 and an unnamed possibly US Military Manual
The 45mm M.35 HE shell was launched at just 83 m/s at a maximum rate of fire of 1 round every 2 seconds. However, this rate of fire that does not include the time taken to replace the shell magazine. The M.35 shell remained in use through 1940 and a second shell, the M.39 version using an aluminum body instead of a brass one was available.
Work on an armor-piercing shell for the mortar was abandoned in September 1941, meaning the Brixia was only ever fielded with a rather small high explosive shell. The shell was rather useless at range but in the MORAS, it would have allowed the vehicle to very usefully suppress or destroy enemy machine gun positions.

Brixia mortar video

Conclusions

The MIAS and MORAS were interesting designs but totally unsuitable for modern warfare. A mobile shield, no matter how well armed with machine guns or small mortars, was not going to fill the gap which Italy had in the tank department.
Neither vehicle went past the prototype stage and no orders for them are known to have been placed. The machine guns and Brixia mortar saw extensive use in WW2. These powered one-man shields remain an odd quirk, a relic of a bygone type of war.

Links

Italian Racing Motorcycles, Mick Walker
MIAS Manual, Ansaldo
New Giant Tanks, Nov 1935. By Johnson T.M.
Artillery in the Desert 25th November 1942 – US Military Intelligence Service War Department – Appendix D – Italian Artillery – Table of Characteristics
Standard Italian Weapons Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 11, Nov. 5, 1942.
Twentieth Century Artillery, Ian Hogg
War Office Pamphlet No.4 Handbook of Enemy Ammunition 1940
UK Patent GB405159 filed 24th May 1924 by Metallurgica Bresciana Gia Tempini
ManxNorton.com

Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Carro Celere Sahariano M16/43

Italy (1943)
Cruiser tank – 1 prototype

Genesis of the Italian “Crusader”

At the beginning of WW2, Italian armored divisions were equipped almost 90% with L3 tankettes, of dubious combat value, as was shown in the following years. The M11/39 was a good start, although limited by its configuration, but the M13/40 and the following M14/41 and M15/42 were much better, although still hampered by their riveted construction and old fashioned leaf spring bogie suspension, which limited top speed. After the first encounters with British Cruiser tanks, the idea soon emerged of a similar vehicle, in early 1941. Italians engineers did not have access to the Christie suspension patent, so the design was obtained after reverse-engineering a captured Cruiser Mk.III.
Despite a weak armor, speed had a quality of itself, giving a sort of active protection. Since the M13/40 and following models could not match the top speed of the A13 Cruiser Mk.III.

Development

An order to start the development of a similar tank was passed, which had to be faster and have a lower silhouette, for colonial duties. As it had to be designed with desert warfare in mind, the FIAT engine’s cooling was reworked, with the introduction of tropical features, like sand filters and a new ventilation system for the crew. First mention of the M16 came from May 24, 1941, when the proposal was formalized by the Commando Supremo and validated by the Roatta Ispettorato Superiore di Studi (Higher Inspection Technical Research).On June 23, Ansaldo produced a full-scale model of the tank. Work on the intended 47 mm (1.85 in) gun 47/40 long barrel progressed at the same time. In August 1941, the project was upgraded and designated as the Ansaldo-Fossati Carro Medio Celere (later FIAT M16/43).

Design

Its most distinctive feature was its four big road wheels suspended by Christie type vertical springs, two return rollers and auxiliary rollers in between. The hull was very elongated, with well sloped front and side plates. The overall empty weight was 13 tons, and there was a crew of four, including the commander, gunner and loader/radio operator located inside the turret. The SPA petrol engine delivered 275 hp, for an estimated top speed of 55 km/h (34 mph) on flat ground.

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A wooden 1:10 mock-up was presented and construction approved by the Commando Supremo on August 13, 1941. It was already dubbed Sahariano. Despite its revolutionary design, there were still a few anachronisms, like the riveted construction and the main armament, the long-barrel 47 mm (1.85 in) gun 47/40 and coaxial single Breda 8 mm (0.31 in), still relevant compared to the British 2-pounder, but certainly not up to date with the current requirements of the front in mid-1941 and new developments of tank guns.

Fate

A 75 mm (2.95 in) gun was studied, but never implemented. Protection was sacrificed, with the greatest thickness (30 mm/1.18 in) on the front slope and 20 mm (0.79 in) on the turret face, figures no longer relevant, as shown by the poor battle performance of the Crusader. As production was delayed, a prototype was built only in the spring of 1942, when M4 Shermans were already equipping the British Armoured units. The Celere Sahariano became outdated, despite tests showing a top speed of 71 km/h (44 mph) was achieved. In July 1942 the project was terminated, as the more conventional M15/42, then in development, was given priority. The prototype was kept in storage and scrapped in 1944.

Links

Fiat M16/43

M16/43 Sahariano prototype
M16/43 Carro Celere Sahariano

Gallery

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