Kingdom of Italy (1941-1945)
Field Gun/Anti-Tank Gun – 172 Built
The Cannone a Grande Gittata da 75/32 Modello 1937 (English: 75 mm L/32 Long-Range Cannon Model 1937), better known as Cannone da 75/32 Modello 1937, was an Italian field gun developed before the Second World War to equip the Italian Regio Esercito’s (English: Royal Army) infantry divisions with a high velocity and long-range field gun.
It was conceived in 1937 by reusing the carriage of the Obice da 75/18 Modello 1935 (English: 75 mm L/18 Howitzer Model 1935) and installing a new longer barrel. Although it originated as a field gun, it turned out to also be an adequate anti-tank gun. The delay in its production, which did not begin until 1941, did not allow wide use of this gun.
Before the Cannone da 75/32
In 1934, the Regio Esercito adopted the Obice da 75/18 Modello 1934 (English: 75 mm L/18 Howitzer Model 1934), which was supposed to replace the outdated Obici Škoda da 75/13 Modello 1915 (English: 75 mm L/13 Škoda Howitzer Model 1915) used by mountain artillery units, and the Cannoni da 75/27 Modello 1906 and Modello 1911 (English: 75 mm L/27 Cannon Model 1906 and Model 1911) used by artillery units of the Italian infantry divisions.
The Obice da 75/18 Modello 1934 had a range of 9,000 m and had a gun shield to protect its crew. In 1935, a new version was introduced, the Obice da 75/18 Modello 1935 (English: 75 mm L/18 Howitzer Model 1935). The Modello 1935 had a new gun shield and wheels with bigger diameter to ease towing by mechanized vehicles.
Due to low production numbers, the Obice da 75/18 never really replaced its predecessors. It was not even adopted as a mountain artillery piece, the purpose for which it was created. In fact, it was mainly deployed as a field howitzer and occasionally even as an anti-tank gun with minor success against light armored vehicles.
One of the new howitzer’s problems was the purpose for which it was created. The Regio Esercito favored a light, easily transportable gun at the cost of a small caliber for divisional artillery and a limited range. The Regio Esercito used the Obice da 75/18 as a short-range support gun, deploying heavier and larger caliber howitzers for indirect and counter-battery fire.
A few years later, the Servizio Tecnico Armi e Munizioni (English: Weapons and Munitions Technical Service) requested a new gun for divisional artillery. The main specification was an increase over the Obice da 75/18’s firing range, which only reached a maximum of 9,000 m. This was significantly inferior to the ranges of its counterparts, such as the German 10.5 cm leFH 18 (10,600 m) or British Ordnance QF 25 lb (12,200 m).
The Regio Esercito also wanted to standardize divisional artillery production as much as possible, so the new gun was mounted on the same carriage as the Obice da 75/18 Modello 1935.
During a meeting of the Comitato Superiore Tecnico per le Armi e Munizioni (English: Superior Technical Committee for Weapons and Munitions), the importance of the use of the Cannoni da 75/32 for long-range anti-tank firing was emphasized, which was useful for hitting vehicles outside the range of the Cannoni da 47/32 Modello 1935 (English: 47 mm L/32 Cannon Model 1935), the main anti-tank gun of the Regio Esercito.
History and Development
In 1937, the Comitato Superiore Tecnico per le Armi e Munizioni (English: Superior Technical Committee for Weapons and Munitions) had approved the creation of the Cannone da 75/32 to enable use against tanks and to increase the range of the field cannon.
The first prototype was built by the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Napoli or AREN (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Naples), one of the biggest artillery producing plants in Italy. It was unveiled by Ansaldo in 1937.
After some tests of an experimental battery of 5 Cannoni da 75/32, the gun barrel was shortened to 32 calibers (2,400 mm) and equipped with a “pepper pot” muzzle brake which was also used by the Obici da 75/18 mounted on Semoventi.
The original 34 caliber-long barrel version was modified and then used to equip the Carro Armato P26/40 heavy tank and some Italian semoventi.
In 1938, 192 Cannoni da 75/32 were ordered from Ansaldo, but production was not given high priority and it was not until 1941 that the first pieces were delivered.
Although little consideration was given to the Cannone da 75/32 Modello 1937, some members of the Regio Esercito’s High Command understood the capable anti-tank characteristics of this piece. One of these was Ispettore Superiore dei Servizi Tecnici (English: Superior Inspector of Technical Services) General Mario Caracciolo di Feroleto, who in November 1940 made a proposal to the Stato Maggiore del Regio Esercito (English: General Staff of the Royal Army) to adopt the Cannone a Grande Gittata da 75/32 piece on a large scale. The proposal was rejected by the Regio Esercito, which on 9th December 1940 denied the permission to increase production of the cannon in roundup No. 39853. This was justified by stating that crews needed too much time to put the gun in position, aim accurately, and fire against moving targets, such as armored vehicles.
In 1943, modifications were planned for the Cannoni da 75/32 ordered in the second batch from OTO and Ansaldo Pozzuoli. The new Cannoni da 75/32 would have improved performance against armored vehicles by adopting an automatic breech, providing a thicker shield, and adding an elevation and firing lever to the left of the breech but in the end, none of them were built with these modifications.
The Cannone da 75/32 Modello 1937 began to be produced in 1941 by Ansaldo in its plant in Pozzuoli with a price of 470.300 lire for each gun, and the first examples left the factories at the end of this year.
Production proceeded very slowly. By September 1942, there were only 49 pieces available, while by summer 1943, there were 172.
In 1943 a second order was placed by the Italian Army for a total of 483 guns: 303 to Ansaldo Pozzuoli (170 guns ordered by Regio Esercito + 133 guns previously ordered by Portugal and taken over by the Army) 180 to OTO.
A document from the Direzione Generale Artiglieria – Reparto Produzione (English: General Artillery Directorate – Production Department) dated June 1943 stated that Ansaldo Pozzuoli could produce 60 Cannoni da 75/32 per month
No guns of this order were completed due the armistice.
Production of the Cannone da 75/32 Modello 1937
* Until 8th September 1943
One of the goals of the Regio Esercito was to standardize the production of field artillery, so the Cannone da 75/32 Modello 1937 gun was created by mounting a 32 caliber barrel on the Obice da 75/18 Modello 1935 carriage. The muzzle brake was intended to increase the accuracy and range and absorb some of the recoil which decreased as the elevation of the cannon increased.
The carriage was 2-tailed and could be spread apart and folded into 2 parts, which allowed for adaptability to various terrain elevations and allowed a 50° traverse and an elevation of -10° to +45°. The cannon was also equipped with a 4,2 mm shield.
The breech block is exclusively manual.
The spoked wheels were initially made of Elektron, a Magnesium and Aluminium alloy. During production, steel sheet was used instead.
The suspension was elastic and formed by torsion bar axles, the same as those of the Obice da 75/18 Modello 1934 and 1935.
The mount has two wheel tracks available: wide (for fire and mechanical towing) and narrow (for mountain towing).
The cannon weighed 1,160 kg. It was designed to be towed by light prime movers like the FIAT-SPA TL37, although animal transport by horse was also possible. Officially, a towing speed of 45 to 60 km/h was estimated, but in regular use, the speeds were probably much lower.
In 1943, two different versions of the gun were studied. The first was an aviation version of the Cannone da 75/32 Modello 1937, while the second was to be installed inside the fortifications of the Vallo Alpino del Littorio (English: Littorio Alpine Wall), the complex of bunkers and other defensive positions that defended Italy’s Alpine borders with Austria, France, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia.
Unfortunately, nothing is known about the fate of these projects, but they were most likely abandoned because of the Armistice of 8th September 1943.
There are some photos of a Cannone da 75/32 at Ansaldo in Genoa Cornigliano in 1942 that appears to be undergoing testing for installation on an aircraft. The cannon was placed inside a structure that simulated the nose of an aircraft, possibly to test the resistance of the nose to the muzzle flash during firing.
The Cannone da 75/32 had a crew of four men, including the aimer who sits on the left and has control over horizontal aiming while the shooter sits on the right and has control over the firing lever and elevation adjustment. The other two crew members were responsible for supplying ammunition to the cannon.
The Cannone da 75/32 Modello 1937 used a variety of semi-fixed ammunition types.
Ammunition for the Cannone da 75/32 Modello 1937
Muzzle velocity (m/s) with first charge
Muzzle velocity (m/s) with second charge
Penetration in mm of a RHA angled at 90° at
Penetration in mm of a RHA angled at 60° at
Granata Dirompente da 75/32
Granata Dirompente da 75/32 a d.e.
Granata Dirompente da 75/27 Modello 1932
Granata Perforante da 75/32
Granata da 75 Effetto Pronto (early type)
High-Explosive Anti Tank
Granata da 75 Effetto Pronto (late type)
High-Explosive Anti Tank
Granata da 75 Effetto Pronto Speciale (early type)
High-Explosive Anti Tank
Granata da 75 Effetto Pronto Speciale Modello 1942
High-Explosive Anti Tank
* Data not present
** British estimation
*** Muzzle velocity of the projectile fired from the L/34 gun
**** Muzzle velocity of the projectile fired from the L/27 gun
The Cannone a Grande Gittata da 75/32 Modello 1937 saw very limited use. The first unit to use this piece was the 201° Reggimento d’Artiglieria Motorizzato (English: 201st Motorized Artillery Regiment) assigned to the Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia or CSIR (English: Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia), which was later renamed ARMata Italiana in Russia or ARMIR (English: Italian Army in Russia, or 8th Army). Under the overall command of Colonel Enrico Altavilla, the regiment and its 36 guns were organized into 3 groups: Lieutenant Colonel La Guardia’s 1° Gruppo (English: 1st Group), Lieutenant Colonel Francesco Zingales’ 2° Gruppo (English: 2nd Group), and Major Vitale’s 3° Gruppo (English: 3rd Group).
On the Eastern Front, a gun battery supported the attack of the Battaglione Alpini ‘Vestone’ (English: Alpine Battalion), belonging to the 2a Divisione Alpina ‘Tridentina’ (English: 2nd Alpine Division), against a Soviet stronghold in the village of Scach on 31st August 1942. Another battery was sent as reinforcement, along with the 1a Compagnia Motociclisti (English: 1st Motorcycle Company), to the village of Bolschoj to reinforce the 2a Divisione di Fanteria ‘Sforzesca’ (English: 2nd Infantry Division) on 5th September.
The whole 201° Reggimento d’Artiglieria Motorizzato was destroyed during the Second Defensive Battle of the Don (during Operation Little Saturn and the Ostrogozhsk-Rossosh offensive) between December 1942 and January 1943. There is little information on the Regiment’s employment during this time. On 16th December 1942, the 1a Batteria (English: 1st Battery) of the 1° Gruppo, assigned to the 9a Divisione di Fanteria ‘Pasubio’ (English: 9th Infantry Division), was involved defending against the attack of the Soviet 38th Guards Division. The battery of Cannoni da 75/32 was completely destroyed by Russian forces who killed all the artillerymen. On 18th December, a section of the 3° Gruppo defended the village of Taly together with an amalgamation of Italian and German troops until the next day, when the defense passed into the hands of German units only.
By 1943, there were only 4 Cannoni da 75/32 Modello 1937 groups left. Two (24 pieces) of which were assigned to the 135a Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ (English: 135th Armored Division), which was deployed near Rome. They took part in the clashes against the Germans after the Armistice of 8th September 1943.
The other two groups were assigned to the 11a Divisione di Fanteria ‘Brennero’ (English: 11th Infantry Division) deployed in Greece and Albania. A photograph shows two guns of the 11a Divisione di Fanteria ‘Brennero’ used by the Battaglione Partigiano ‘Gramsci’ (English: Partisan Battalion) formed after the Armistice of 8th September 1943 by soldiers from the 41a Divisione di Fanteria ‘Firenze’ (English:41st Infantry Division), the 11a Divisione di Fanteria ‘Brennero’, and the 53a Divisione di Fanteria ‘Arezzo’ (English: 53rd Infantry Division). The Italian soldiers, under the command of Sergeant Terzilio Cardinali, joined the 1st Partisan Brigade of the Albanian Liberation Army in the days after the Armistice, preferring to fight against the Germans.
After the Armistice, the Germans captured 48 guns intact, naming them 7.5 cm FeldKanone 248(i) (English: 7.5 cm Field Cannon 248 Italian), using them both on the Italian front and in Yugoslavia against Tito’s partisans.
The only photo of German use shows us a Cannone da 75/32 used by a Fallschirmjäger unit, probably in Italy.
In the book Latin American Wars. 1900-1941 “Banana Wars, Border Wars and Revolutions” by Philip S. Jowett, it is mentioned that Peru acquired some Cannoni da 75/32 in 1941, but no further information is available.
Portugal ordered 133 Cannoni da 75/32 during the war, but it was later canceled and taken over by Regio Esercito, and no cannons were built afterward.
Use on Vehicles
The Cannone da 75/32 was mounted on a few vehicles, but it was also the basis for the creation of the Cannone da 75/34, which was mounted on the Carro Armato P26/40 and on some self-propelled artillery vehicles.
Carro Armato P26/40
In July 1940, General Mario Caracciolo di Feroleto, the Ispettore Superiore dei Servizi Tecnici (English: Superior Inspector of Technical Services), had two mock-ups of the Carro Armato P26/40 tank built, one by Ansaldo and the other by the Direzione della Motorizzazione (English: Directorate of Motor Vehicles).
Both models were armed with a Cannone da 75/32 Modello 1937 and a 20 mm Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 in the turret. The Cannone da 75/32 on Ansaldo’s mock-up did not have a muzzle brake, as it was not yet necessary for recoil management.
The Cannone da 75/32 Modello 1937 was chosen because it had already been in development since 1937 and preferred over the Obice da 75/18 included in earlier mock-ups.
The first prototype of the Carro Armato P26/40 was equipped in December 1941 with a Cannone da 75/32 Modello 1937 wooden dummy. Eventually, in spring 1942, the Cannone da 75/34 was chosen as the main armament because it was specifically developed for use on vehicles. It featured a fully semi-automatic vertical sliding breechblock and a completely revised and more suitable recoil mechanism designed for enclosed vehicles.
Semovente M40 da 75/32
In summer 1941, the Army General Staff had to choose whether to mount the Obice da 75/18 or the Cannone da 75/34 Modello SF [Sfera] (English: 75 mm L/34 Cannon Model Spherical Support) on self-propelled guns. With circular No. 11914 of 21th June 1941, the choice fell on the latter, but since the Cannone da 75/34 was not yet available, a Cannone da 75/32 was mounted on the hull of the Semovente M40 self-propelled gun on an experimental basis. The model, however, was not approved.
The Semovente was armed with a Cannone da 75/32 Modello 1937 and an 8 mm machine gun.
Some sources mistake the main gun of the semovente with the Semovente M40 da 75/32 itself. In fact, they state that 24 or 25 of these semoventi were deployed by the 135a Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ during the defense of Rome on 9th and 10th September 1943. This is wrong. The 135a Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ had only 24 Cannoni a Grande Gittata da 75/32 in its ranks and these were deployed in the defense of the Italian capital city. Apart from the prototype, license plate R.E. 4443, on an early production Carro Armato M14/41, the Semovente M40 da 75/32 was not produced.
Autocannone da 75/32 su Autocarro Semicingolato FIAT 727
The Cannone a Grande Gittata da 75/32 Modello 1937 was a potent artillery piece, perhaps the best anti-tank gun developed by the Kingdom of Italy. Nevertheless, it suffered greatly due to the underdeveloped Italian industry and the lack of foresight of the Regio Esercito’s high command.
Mass production starting from 1937 would surely have allowed equipping Italian soldiers with a decent anti-tank weapon with which to counter enemy armor, primarily the Matilda tanks in North Africa, which spearheaded the British counteroffensive in Libya in winter 1940-1941.
Although it also performed well in Eastern Front against T-34s, the Cannone da 75/43 (Italian designation for the German PaK 40), which was adopted in 1943 by the Regio Esercito, was eventually preferred by the Italian troops for its precision and better anti-tank characteristics, even if many soldiers considered it too heavy.
A big thanks to Arturo Giusti and Enrico Micheli
Specifications of Cannone a Grande Gittata da 75/32 Modello 1937
Kingdom of Italy (1935-1945)
Anti-Aircraft/Anti-Tank Gun – 1,088 Built in 1940, Total Number Unknown
The Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 was the main Italian light anti-aircraft gun during the Second World War. The gun was developed as an anti-aircraft gun but was also used against light armored vehicles, especially if mounted on the numerous Italian autocannoni (truck mounted artillery), both on captured trucks and Italian produced vehicles. It was the main armament of the Carro Armato L6/40 light tank and of many models of the AB armored car series.
The name Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 means 20 mm L.65 Automatic Cannon [produced by] Breda, Model 1935. The gun was used by the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army), Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy), and Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) until 1943, and the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army), Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Air Force), and Marina Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Navy) from 1943 to 1945.
The automatic gun was also used by Commonwealth troops, in particular during the North African campaign, and the German Army after the Italian surrender in 1943. Many guns were also used by Italian and Yugoslav partisans.
After the war, many guns were deployed by the newborn Esercito Italiano (English: Italian Army), by the Italian police, by the Israeli Defense Forces in the first years of Israeli existence, and Finland.
Origin and Development
Starting in the 1920s, the Italian Regio Esercito was looking for a heavy weapon intended for anti-aircraft and anti-tank use. In fact, until the late 1930s, the Italian Army still considered even the 8 mm armor piercing rounds fired by medium machine guns as capable of dealing with enemy armor. The reason for this was because the 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 machine guns with Armor Piercing rounds were capable of piercing 11 mm of vertical armored plate at 100 m. Whilst arguably an adequate performance in the 1920s, it was totally useless in the 1930s, when modern tanks were well protected.
To seek a solution to this problem, in the late 1920s, the Italian Regio Esercito opted to adopt an automatic weapon that had greater caliber in order to improve the anti-tank capabilities.
Various weapons were tested, such as a 12 mm and 14 mm caliber FIAT machine gun (derived from the FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914), a 12.7 mm caliber heavy machine gun developed by Società Anonima Fabbrica Armi Torino or SAFAT (English: Weapons Factory of the Turin Limited Company), a 14 mm Breda heavy machine gun, a 13.2 mm Brixia heavy machine gun, and a 12.7 mm Vickers heavy machine gun, but none were satisfactory.
In 1932, the Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche (English: Ernesto Breda Italian Society for Mechanical Constructions), or more simply, Breda, proposed the prototype of a 20 mm automatic gun to the Regio Esercito. This gun was tested until 1935. During the Breda’s gun trials, other 20 mm automatic guns from Lubbe, Madsen, Oerlikon, and Scotti, among others, were tested. The first three guns were not pursued, mainly because the Italian Fascist regime had a policy of Autarky and wanted to equip the armed forces only with guns developed and produced in Italy. The Scotti was abandoned due to its complex mechanisms.
Without competition, the Breda automatic gun came out victorious and was adopted as the Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Modello 1935.
Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 for Regio Esercito
The Breda was a gas-operated automatic gun, with a sliding shutter, fed by 12-round strips (8-rounds strips on vehicles) loaded on the left side. In the field carriage version, the gun was mounted on a 360° rotating platform on a three-tailed carriage. The gunner fired sitting on a seat attached to the rotating platform.
The barrel was fitted at the end with a flame-quenching sleeve, fitted in the center with the gas circle crimped at the height of the vent hole that connected it to the cylinder containing the recuperator spring. At the rear, the barrel was screwed into the carriage that contained the movable assembly on which the breech was placed. The latter was pierced to allow the firing pin to pass through. The barrel had a service life of 7,000 to 8,000 rounds.
When transported, the two rear tails were folded and two wheels were mounted. For equine transport, the gun could be divided into four parts: receiver, barrel and wheels (100 kg), rotating platform and cradle (105 kg), carriage (95 kg), and central tail and ammunition (90 kg).
Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1939 and 1940 for MACA
The Breda was also used by the Milizia Artiglieria Contro Aerei or MACA (English: Anti-Aircraft Artillery Militia), a militia assigned to the anti-aircraft defense of the Italian peninsula. In this case, a stationary version of the gun was developed in 1939, which was then fitted with a seat for the gunner in 1940.
It was mainly used to protect important targets in the main Italian cities, such as factories, military headquarters, etc. Many others were also deployed for the same purpose in the Italian colonies, mainly in Libya, where many were removed from their fixed positions and mounted on vehicles.
Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935, 1939, and 1940 for Regia Marina
The Italian Regia Marina adopted three versions of the Breda, one for capital ships (Modello 1935) and two for ‘minor units’ [Italian term for torpedo boats or similar small, light, and fast boats] (Modello 1939 and Modello 1940).
The ship version went on to replace the antiquated Mitragliera Breda da 13.2 mm Modello 1931 heavy machine guns and consisted of two 20 mm guns mounted on a support positioned on a rotating cradle, with a depression of -10° and an elevation of +100°. The left barrel was positioned on a different axle, a bit higher, so it did not block the feeding port of the right gun.
The Modello 1939 had a limited elevation and depression and therefore was not very successful, while the Modello 1940 was widely used on the Motoscafo Armato Silurante (MAS) (English: Armed Torpedo Boat) and other smaller boats of the Regia Marina.
Two versions were proposed for submarines in 1941, but remained in the prototype stage. One of these, really innovative for its era, could be lowered inside the submarine during undersea operations.
Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 per Truppe Celeri
In 1937, Breda developed a version of the gun intended only for use against land targets, such as fortifications or light armor. This gun was also known by the name Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 per Truppe Celeri (English: 20 mm L.65 Automatic Cannon [produced by] Breda for fast-moving units).
In 1939, the definitive version was developed, which consisted of a wheeled carriage with two openable tails, capable of being towed by vehicles, animals, or by infantry. It could be considered similar to the Solothurn S-18/1000 anti-tank rifle. Its main task was to be towed by armored vehicles or by the Bersaglieri (Italian assault infantry) during assaults, in order to support the attack.
The project was abandoned after seeing the limitations of the gun’s anti-tank use, even if it could be useful in some situations.
Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 version for armored vehicles
In 1936, a version of the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 was developed for use on armored vehicles. This was only a light modification, with the removal of the sights on the barrel and of the muzzle brake.
An unknown number of guns were produced for the L6/40 light reconnaissance tank and for the AB series medium reconnaissance armored cars.
In 1940, the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 used two types of ammunition: the Cartoccio Granata Contro Aereo da 20 Modello 1935 (English: Anti-Aircraft Shell Model 1935) and the Cartoccio Granata Perforante da 20 Modello 1935 (English: Armor-Piercing Shell Model 1935). Both were derived from the 20 x 138 B mm ‘Long Solothurn’, ammunition common to other weapons of the Regio Esercito and Axis armies, such as the Swiss Solothurn S-18/1000, the Finnish Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifles and the German FlaK 30 and FlaK 38 anti-aircraft guns. This permitted the guns to shoot various kinds of ammunition developed by other countries.
The Cartoccio Granata Contro Aereo da 20 Modello 1935 weighed 320 g and had a TNT charge. The Cartoccio Granata Perforante da 20 Modello 1935 weighed 337 g and had a PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate) charge that could penetrate 30 mm of vertical armor at 500 meters. Penetration was reduced to 15 mm with an impact of 60°.
In 1942, a new anti-aircraft round with a steel nose cone was introduced.
Cartoccio granata contro aereo da 20 Mod.35
Cartoccio granata perforante da 20 Mod.35
PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate)
Penetration at 500 meters
Production of the Breda 20/65 cannon began in 1935. At the end of 1938, a total of 276 were in service with the Regio Esercito, and as many as 138 were sent with the Corpo Truppe Volontarie (CTV) (English: Volunteer Troop Corps) to fight alongside Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War.
As of June 1940, the month of Italy’s entry into the Second World War, there were 1,088 Breda Modello 1935 and 116 Modello 1939 in active service. With the entry into the war, the monthly production increased continuously, passing from 160 guns per month in November 1941 to 320 guns in March 1943.
As of September 1942, 2,442 guns were in service in the Regio Esercito, while the MACA had 326 Modello 1939 and 80 Modello 1935.
Due to low production and combat losses, in spring 1943, there were only 1,655 Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935s in service in the Army.
In 1941, the Regio Esercito also adopted the Scotti-Isotta Fraschini da 20/70 Modello 1939, one of Breda’s old competitors from 1932. This gun was chosen by the Army because it was easier to maintain than the Breda, but introduction to the Army was slow. In 1942, there were only 16 active guns in the Regio Esercito. As a result, it was mainly used for the defense of airfields in the Italian peninsula.
In July 1943, there were 330 Scotti-Isotta Fraschinis in service with the Regio Esercito. There were two gun models, the Modello 1939, on a candle carriage used for the defense of airfields, and the Modello 1941 on a wheeled carriage.
A Scotti-Isotta Fraschini da 20/70 quad gun was mounted on a Carro Armato M15/42 medium tank, creating a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun destined to remain a prototype and named M15/42 Carro Contraereo or Quadruplo (English: Anti-Aircraft or Quadruple).
Use as an Anti-Aircraft and Anti-Tank Gun
The Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 originated as an artillery piece for low-altitude anti-aircraft defense and was allocated to infantry divisions, with a battery of six Cannoni da 20/65 for each artillery regiment. The first four batteries were allocated to the 7a Divisione di Fanteria “Leonessa” (English: 7th Infantry Division), 9a Divisione di Fanteria “Pasubio” (English: 9th Infantry Division), 10a Divisione di Fanteria “Piave” (English: 10th Infantry Division), and 11a Divisione di Fanteria “Brennero” (English: 11th Infantry Division) in 1935. After the 1935 summer exercises, new batteries were created for the remaining 26 infantry divisions.
The Breda 20 mm gun’s baptism of fire came during the Spanish Civil War. The Cannone da 20/65 proved themselves and demonstrated they were essential for the defense of trucks and other logistic vehicles when mounted on the FIAT 618 and Ceirano 50 trucks. In Spain, it was also used for the first time against armored vehicles. A report entitled Osservazioni, Considerazioni e Proposte sulle Armi Anticarro dell’Esercito Nazionale (English: Observations, Considerations and Proposals on National Army Anti-Tank Weapons) from 20th January 1938 claimed that the weapon was not very effective against armored vehicles, as it could not make accurate shots beyond 400 m. From that distance, the gunners were exposed to return fire from the 45 mm guns of the Republican T-26 or BT-5 tanks. The report Relazione sulle Armi Anticarro dell’Esercito Nazionale (English: Report on the National Army’s anti-tank weapons) from 24th January 1938 reported the same findings, while the report Materiali Impiegati in O.M.S. [Oltre Mare Spagna] dal Corpo Volontario (English: Materials Deployed in [Overseas Spain] by the Volunteer Corps) from 20th September 1937 reported that the Cannone da 20/65 was only usable against aircraft with a speed of less than 300 km/h, while in the anti-tank role it was effective, but limited by the fragility of its structure.
During the Second World War, the Cannone da 20/65 was widely used carried by SPA Dovunque 35 and SPA-38R trucks, which had 34 boxes of anti-aircraft ammunition and 10 of anti-tank ammunition. Some were carried by captured British trucks. Nonetheless, the number of anti-aircraft batteries was always very low and they could not defend an entire division. This aspect is particularly emphasized in the report Dati d’Esperienza Circa Impiego Divisioni Motorizzate e Corazzate (English: Experience data on the employment of motorized and armored divisions) from 11th August 1941, written by the Command of the 132a Divisione Corazzata “Ariete” (English: 132th Armored Division). Usually, formations attached to divisions consisted of a battery of eight Cannoni da 20/65 along with a 60 cm telemeter.
The Cannone da 20/65 was one of the main guns used by the Batterie Volanti (English: Flying Batteries) born in the summer of 1941 and were composed of Italian or captured trucks on which various artillery pieces were mounted. The Cannoni da 20/65 were installed on Ford 15A trucks and formed two batteries, 12th and 14th, assigned to the Raggruppamento Batterie Volanti da 65/17 (English: 65mm L.17 Flying Batteries Regroupements) part of the Raggruppamento Esplorante del Corpo d’Armata di Manovra or R.E.C.A.M. (English: Exploring Regroupements of the Maneuver Corps) who took part in the first battle of Bir el Gobi in November 1941. In May 1942, the 13a Batteria da 20/65 (English: 13th Battery) was assigned to the 136° Reggimento Artiglieria (English: 136th Artillery Regiment) of the 136th Armored Division fighting during the Tunisian campaign.
Also in Libya, in January 1941, the Comando del Sahara Libico (English: Libyan Sahara Command) ordered captain Francesco Mattioli to form a motorized column to control the area between Cufra and Maaten Bisciara and prevent attacks by the Longe Range Desert Group. The unit, called Colonna Mobile Mattioli (English: Mattioli Mobile Column), consisted of 43 men armed with rifles, a FIAT-SPA A.S. 37, 4 FIAT 634N trucks armed with Cannoni da 20/65 and 4 machine guns of various types. On 28th January, the unit set out on a patrol, operating in close cooperation with Ca.309 ‘Ghibli’ planes of the 29° Squadriglia (English: 29th Squadron). On the 31st, the planes spotted 11 vehicles near Maaten Bisciara, which moved toward the Gebel Sherif depression to escape aerial sighting. The Italian unit arrived in the depression and ran into three ‘T’ Patrol vehicles, which immediately opened fire on the Italian vehicles. The Cannoni da 20/65 quickly destroyed three Chevrolet trucks, while the others retreated. The Italians began to pursue the enemy and, soon after, captured a Ford V8 damaged earlier by a 20 mm round, along with Major Clayton and two New Zealand soldiers. In the clash, the Italians suffered six killed and two wounded, while a FIAT truck was abandoned because it was badly damaged.
The Colonna Mobile Mattioli continued to operate to defend Cufra from the incursions of General Leclerc’s French forces and was destroyed during the capture of Cufra by the French on 1st March. The entire Italian garrison in Cufra was captured, consisting of 12 Italian officers, 47 non-commissioned officers and Italian soldiers, 273 Libyan soldiers, four Cannoni da 20/65, 53 machine guns, eight FIAT-SPA A.S. 37, two FIAT 634 and four FIAT 508.
During the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, the I° Battaglione (English: 1st Battalion) of the 33° Reggimento di Fanteria “Livorno” (English: 33th Infantry Regiment) had a battery of Cannoni da 20/65 mounted on FIAT-SPA CL39 trucks. On July 10th, as the unit was being moved toward Gela, it was attacked by U.S. planes near Butera and the Cannoni da 20/65 shot down two planes.
The Cannone 20/65 was an excellent anti-aircraft weapon against low-flying aircraft even on the Russian front, although, there, it was completely unsuitable against tanks.
Use on Italian Armored Vehicles
Carro Armato L6/40 Light Tank
In December 1937, Ansaldo and FIAT began a study for a new reconnaissance tank, and in 1939, the M6 tank was presented, armed with two 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 medium machine guns in the turret.
The vehicle was rejected, but attracted the attention of General Manera of the Centro Studi Motorizzazione (English: Motorization Study Center), who advised the designers to mount at least one 20 mm gun in a new turret to engage aerial targets too. Ansaldo immediately proposed a new M6 prototype with a 37/26 cannon and an 8 mm caliber machine gun in a single-man turret and another with a 20 mm cannon and a coaxial machine gun in the same turret.
The latter version was chosen and designated the L6 tank, although in 1942, it was renamed L40. The first vehicle was delivered on 22nd May 1941.
The vehicle was fitted with an octagonal turret, positioned to the left of the centerline of the hull. The Breda had a semi-cylindrical gun mantlet and an elevation from -5° to +15°. To the left of the gun was the coaxial 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 machine gun. Aiming was carried out by means of a sight placed to the right of the gun and was fired by using pedals and wires, on the right for the machine gun and on the left for the gun.
The turret could rotate 360° through a handwheel operated by the commander, who sat on a seat. For observation, the commander used a periscope, positioned to the left of the gun.
AB series armored cars
The Autoblinda Modello 1940 (English: Armored Car Model 1940), or simply AB40 armored car, was initially armed with two Breda Modello 38 machine guns in the same turret as the L6 prototype.
After the experience gained during the Spanish Civil War, where, on some occasions, Francoist vehicles armed only with machine guns faced Soviet-built Republican tanks, it was decided to arm the armored cars with a 20 mm Breda gun and a coaxial machine gun.
Beginning with the AB41, the Breda cannon was mounted into the same turret as on the L6/40. Due to the limited interior space, on the rear part of the turret, there was a hatch for the assembly and disassembly of the gun. The gun had an elevation from -10° to +20°. Aiming was done by means of a sight positioned to the right of the weapon, while shooting was done through pedals.
On the AB42 prototype, a new shorter turret was used that retained the rear hatch. The Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 remained the main gun of the AB43, the last vehicle of the AB series, of which about 100 were produced from 1943 until the end of the war.
Carrozzeria Speciale su FIAT-SPA AS43
The Carrozzeria Speciale su FIAT-SPA AS43 was an armored car built on the hull of the Camionetta AS43 by the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic) in small numbers (2 to 6, depending on the source) and deployed only by the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: Republican National Guard). It was produced by Officine Viberti of Turin.
The armament consisted of a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 and a 8 mm coaxial gun, as on the L6/40. In fact, the vehicles shared the same turret. The vehicle had 50 magazines of 20 mm ammunition, 400 rounds in total, and 48 magazines for 8 mm ammunition, for a total of 1,152 rounds. The ammunition was kept in the rear of the hull. Ten 20 mm ammunition boxes were kept at the top, while the 8 mm boxes were kept in the lower part of the hull and to the right left of the driver’s seat.
Use on Italian Non-Armored Vehicles
Autocannoni (English: Truck-Mounted Artillery)
At the end of 1937, the Corpo Truppe Volontarie mounted some Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 on FIAT 618 and Ceirano 50CM trucks for the anti-aircraft defense of motorized columns.
During the Spanish Civil War, this solution was judged satisfactory by the Italian troops due to the protection it offered from aerial attacks, but also for their firepower to support infantry during urban fighting.
At the same time, in Italy, the installation of Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935s on trucks, such as the FIAT-SPA 38R light lorry and SPA Dovunque 35 medium truck, was studied. Officially, the two options were abandoned the same year but, throughout the Second World War, out of their own accord, Italian soldiers in North Africa and in the Soviet Union modified some FIAT-SPA 38Rs and SPA Dovunque 35s to carry 20 mm guns.
The Breda gun was also mounted on captured vehicles, such as the CMP Chevrolet F15 and the Ford F15, and also various other Italian trucks, such as the medium FIAT 626 and the heavy duty Lancia 3Ro, two of the most common trucks of Italian units.
Camionette AS37, AS42, and AS43 (English: Light Desert Truck)
The first camionetta was the Camionetta Desertica AS37, created by modifying FIAT-SPA AS37s in Libya. The cabin was removed from the vehicle, so as to lower its shape, and the Breda gun was installed on a platform that replaced the cargo bay. The Breda gun had a traverse 360°.
The Camionetta Desertica SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’ mounted a Breda gun with an unchanged elevation and traverse. Also its improved version, the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Metropolitana’ or Tipo II, could be armed with a 20 mm Breda gun.
The Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43, developed from the AS37 light desert lorry, was a totally different vehicle, with a more powerful engine and modified bodywork. The Breda gun was mounted in the center of the cargo bay on a universal support for 20 mm and 47/32 guns.
In early 1943, awaiting the entry into service of the Camionetta Desertica AS43, another type of truck was built, often erroneously named Camionetta Desertica Modello 43 (English: Desert Light Truck Model 1943). The windshield and cab’s roof were removed, while the Breda gun was placed on the cargo bay. A small number were built and fought against the Germans in Rome after the Armistice.
Autocannone da 20/65 su Dodge WC-51
This US Dodge WC-51 was used by the Italian Police after the Second World War. The vehicle was painted in amaranth red (a reddish-rose color) and the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 was placed on either a Modello 1939 pedestal or in the classic Modello 1935 pedestal in the cargo bay.
Foreign Vehicle Usage
CV 35 with 20 mm Breda Prototype
The forces of Nationalist Spain did not have tanks capable of countering the T-26s that equipped the Republican armored units, so they decided to arm an Italian CV 35 tank with a 20 mm Breda.
The conversion work replaced the two FIAT-Revelli Mod.1935 machine guns with a 20 mm Breda began in summer 1937 at the Fábrica de Armas de Seville (English: Seville Arms Factory). Even before the conversion work was finished, General Franco’s headquarters requested another 40 CV 35s and some Breda guns from the Italians on August 10th. The request was only partially fulfilled, because General Joaquín García Pallasar, an artillery officer and close friend of Franco, suggested that the same modifications should be done on a Panzer I and then compare it with the Italian prototype.
When both prototypes were finished, they were tested in Bilbao and the Panzer I proved to be more efficient due to having a turret. The CV 35 with the 20 mm Breda gun was delivered to the Italian Raggruppamento Carristi (English: Tank Grouping), which tested it and found some flaws, such as that the new weapon leaving too little room for the commander and obstructing the driver’s left view, as well as making the vehicle too heavy, upsetting the balance.
The vehicle, however, influenced the Italians, who used similar solutions in North Africa in 1940, when they mounted some Solothurn S-18/1000 rifles on CV tanks.
It is worth noting that Italian and Spanish sources on the CV 35 with 20 mm Breda disagree about who built it and downplay the involvement of the other side in the whole development and design process.
Panzer I with 20 mm Breda
During the development of the CV 35 with a 20 mm Breda gun, Commander Garcia Pallasar, head of the Artillery Section of the General Staff, suggested the possibility of having a 20 mm gun mounted on a Panzer I, which was requested from a German delegation. The gun was installed by the Fabrica de Armas (English: Army Factory) of Seville.
The Panzer I ‘Breda’ was tested at the end of September in Bilbao, alongside the Italian CV35 armed with the 20 mm Breda and performed slightly better than the small Italian vehicle, thanks largely to the fact it had a turret.
Either 4 or 6 Panzer Is were modified with the Breda gun. German General von Thoma, commander of the Condor Legion’s ground forces, stated that the tank crews refused to go inside the tanks because there was a small uncovered hole in the turret for aiming, which was considered unnecessarily dangerous. Furthermore, in a letter, von Thoma stated that the vehicle’s manufacturers called it a ‘death car’. Because of this letter, modifications to additional Panzer Is were canceled. General Pallasar retorted by asking whether it was appropriate to eliminate the design of the only tank capable of effectively facing enemy tanks or to run the risk of a few men being wounded by a lucky shot through the small hole. Franco’s headquarters responded by suggesting to von Thoma and Pallasar whether it would be possible to fit bulletproof glass in the hole. Pallasar agreed to this and Nationalist Spain bought 4,861.08 Reichsmarks worth of bulletproof glass from Germany. Nevertheless, in the end, no additional Panzer I ‘Bredas’ were modified, in part due to von Thoma’s interference, but more significantly because of the large number of Republican T-26s captured and reused by the Nationalists.
Carro de Combate de Infantería tipo 1937
The Carro de Combate de Infantería tipo 1937 (CCI tipo 1937) was a prototype built at La Naval de Sestao (Bilbao) by the Nationalists of General Franco. The suspension, the tracks, and the location of the two machine guns were copied from or inspired by the Italian CV tanks, while the rear of the vehicle resembled the Trubia-Naval tank. The armament chosen was the 20 mm Breda, as with the CV33 and Panzer I modifications, so as to be able to counter the Soviet-produced T-26 Republican tanks. The gun was installed in a turret similar to that of the Renault FT.
The vehicle fully passed the tests and was intended for production, with a request for 30 vehicles. Nevertheless, as a result of the tank’s weak armor, which could not withstand 7.92 mm hits, the project was canceled and the prototype was converted into an artillery tractor.
The British captured and reused 20 mm Breda guns by mounting them on the Marmon-Herrington armored cars and also on the vehicles of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) (a unit specializing in long-range reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and desert navigation), such as the Chevrolet 30 CWT, naming the Breda Scorpions, because they had a ‘sting in their tail’.
The Breda was much appreciated by the British, because it was a light weapon and took up little space in the vehicle where it was mounted, as well as its capabilities as an anti-aircraft weapon.
China purchased some 20 mm Breda guns to equip the anti-aircraft companies of the 36th, 87th, and 88th infantry divisions.
The 36th Infantry Division used the 20 mm Bredas for air defense at Shijiazhuang. During the war against Japan, the 215th Infantry Regiment was transferred to Shanxi, participating in the defense of the city of Xinxian, shooting down three enemy planes with these guns. The Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 was also used against Japanese armor and enemy infantry.
The 20 mm Breda was much appreciated by the forces of the Commonwealth, which reused them in the most varied ways. After Operation Compass (the complete destruction of the X Armata (English: 10th Army) in North Africa between December 1940 and February 1941), many captured Breda guns were reused by Commonwealth forces, equipping the Australian 2/3 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, arming some vehicles of the Long Range Desert Group, and even arming some Allied ships, namely the Australian destroyer HMAS Vendetta and the Australian cruiser HMAS Perth.
During the 1930s, the Ecuadorian Army purchased some weapons from the Italian Army. Among them were 12 Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65. In 1940, the pieces were allocated to the Bolivar artillery group, stationed in El Oro province.
During the war with Peru in 1941, some of these weapons armed the aviso Atahualpa and the gunboat Calderón, while others remained in the aforementioned province or were destined for the defense of the city of Guayaquil. During the war, the Ecuatorians lost nine guns.
Eighty-eight Modello 1935 Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65s were also sold to Finland and named 20 ItK/35. The gun was appreciated by the Finns, thanks to the compatibility of the ammunition with the 2 cm Flak anti-aircraft guns and the Lathi anti-tank rifle. The gun was the primary armament of four MAS or Motoscafo Armato Silurante (English: Armed Torpedo Motorboat) sold to Finland and later designated as the Jymy-class. These MAS were part of the XI Squadriglia MAS (English: 11th MAS squadron) sent to Lake Ladoga in 1942 by the Regia Marina to support the actions of the Finnish navy. After the war, they were used as training weapons until the 1960s, only to be declared obsolete at the end of the 1980s.
After the Italian Armistice of September 1943, the Germans captured a good number of these weapons, which they named 2 cm Flak 282 (i). They continued production, building 496 guns until January 1945.
After the Second World War, in 1948, the State of Israel was created and quite immediately, its army was called to defend the country from various Arab nations. In this desperate situation, the Israeli soldiers were forced to deploy all kinds of guns, including First World War era guns.
Some guns and vehicles abandoned by the Regio Esercito during the North African campaign were also deployed. Some other guns were bought on the black market or directly in Italy, where some partisans sold Scotti Isotta-Fraschini da 20/70 Modello 1941s and Breda guns. Others were captured from Egyptian forces.
In total, the Israeli Defense Force deployed 28 Scotti Isotta-Fraschini guns and an unknown number of Cannoni-Mitragliera Bredas. At least one was mounted on a modified US-built M3 Half-track equipped with an armored turret to protect the gunner, but unfortunately, its service and fate is unknown.
Some Breda guns were given to the Slovakian Army by the Germans after the September 1943 Italian Armistice. No other information is available on the Slovakian Breda guns.
In March 1940, Sweden bought two torpedo boats from the Kingdom of Italy, Spica and Astore, named in the Swedish Navy as Romulus and Remus. These two ships were each armed with three or five Cannoni-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935s on twin mounts, so six to ten barrels. In the Swedish Navy, the Breda was referred to as 20 mm automatkanon m/38 or 20 mm akan m/38 and used the ammunition purchased for the 20 mm akan m/3, i.e. the 20 mm Flak 38.
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia purchased 120 Breda guns from Italy, which were named 20mm M36. These were operated by Yugoslav units during the Axis invasion of the country in 1941.
After the Italian Armistice, the Allied forces captured many Breda guns in Corsica, Sardinia, and southern Italy, Of these, 210 guns and 230,000 rounds were given to Tito’s Partisans in Yugoslavia. Some were mounted on boats used by the Partisans to attack German shipping along the Croatian coast. These vessels were of two types: the NB, small gunboats armed with cannons of various calibers, and the PC, patrol boats armed with machine guns and light cannons.
The Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 was the main light anti-aircraft gun used by the Italian armed forces from the mid-1930s to the end of World War II.
The gun had its baptism of fire during the Spanish Civil War, where its good antiaircraft qualities but limited antitank ones came to light; although it was not an antitank gun it was, however, very useful for firing on infantry, light vehicles, and armored cars, and for that reason it was used on many Italian vehicles.
The Breda was greatly appreciated by the Allied forces, which captured large quantities of them during the North African campaign and even went so far as to mount them on some Australian ships. It also served in South America and China, albeit in limited numbers.
The gun was also used by Yugoslav partisans, who mounted it on armed boats patrolling the coast and ended its service in the Israeli army in the late 1940s. All this success was because of its lightness and ease of transport, although it was particularly fragile.
Thanks to Arturo Giusti for information on the Israeli use of this gun
Specifications of Breda 20/65 cannon
Rate of fire
20 x 138 mm R Long Solothurn
-10° to +80°
Horizontal shooting sector
360° on tails carriage, 20° on the right and 28° on the left on wheeled carriage
Weight on tails carriage
Weight on wheeled carriage
F.Cappellano and N.Pignato Andare contro i carri armati – l’evoluzione della difesa controcarro nell’esercito italiano dal 1918 al 1945 Gaspari Editore 2007
E.Finazzer Guida alle artiglierie italiane nella 2a Guerra Mondiale – Regio Esercito Italiano, Repubblica Sociale Italiana e Esercito Cobelligerante Italia Storica 2020 http://www.italie1935-45.com/regio-esercito/materiels/item/257-canon-mitrailleur-breda-de-20-65-mod35
N.Pignato and F.Cappellano Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume I Roma 2002
N.Pignato and F.Cappellano Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume II Roma 2002
N.Pignato and F.Cappellano Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume III Roma 2007
Infantry taking on tanks is a real challenge. Infantrymen are, after all, mainly equipped with weapons primarily intended for killing enemy infantry. Anti-tank guns are large, cumbersome, and heavy and so, right from the first days of the tank in WWI, the goal has been to produce a man-portable anti-tank weapon. One of the first, the Mauser Panzergewehr M1918 was little more than a scaled-up rifle designed to defeat relatively modest armor. More anti-tank rifles followed in the decades afterward up to the first years of WW2, but they all suffered from the same drawbacks. The rifles were so large and heavy they would take at least one (often two) men to carry without being able to carry the usual accouterments of infantry work. On top of this, the performance was relatively modest. Only thinly armored vehicles were vulnerable and anything with armor about 30 mm thick was relatively impervious to them.
Smaller devices, the sort of device which could be issued to a standard soldier making him capable of knocking out a standard enemy tank were, and still are, the gold standard for infantry anti-tank weapons. Grenades, small explosive devices, were useful but were primarily to spray fragments over an area to target infantry. Their effect was relatively limited against armored vehicles unless you could get the explosives in direct contact with the tank and one way to do this was to make the explosive ‘stick’ to the vehicle. Tanks, being made of steel, lent themselves to an obvious thought, why not make the explosive charge magnetic?
Here, there are two distinguishing elements: throwing and placing. Grenades, as throwing weapons, are advantageous for the soldier as they permit the user to maintain a distance from the target. The smaller and lighter (to a point) the grenade, the further it can be thrown. This also means that the features of an effective grenade against armor are also challenged. The size of the charge used is inherently going to be small with larger charges being harder to throw and therefore of shorter range. The next is accuracy, the further an item being thrown, the lesser the chance of hitting the target. Of course, a smaller grenade is also easier to carry and deploy.
A charge, on the other hand, such as an attachable mine, has to be placed on the target. This allows for the significant advantage of a large charge, shaped if possible to optimize anti-armor performance, but which would not lend itself to being thrown. A further advantage of the placed charge is also the obvious one, it guarantees a ‘hit’ because it does not have to be thrown and risk hitting and bouncing off the target. The disadvantages are equally obvious; the man has to expose himself to enemy fire to place the charge, has to be uncomfortably close to the enemy tank, and they are also larger and heavier than a grenade to contain enough explosives to do effective damage, meaning fewer of them can be carried.
All of the various attempts to develop either a hand-placed charge or thrown charge suffered from these problems and none adequately managed to overcome them.
Such a relatively simple idea, though, was far easier to imagine than it was to turn into a functional weapon. Some experience in the area could be drawn from naval warfare. There, a magnetically attached charge had been developed by the British as a means of sabotaging enemy ships: the Limpet mine. A relatively small explosive device, adhering to the steel of a ship’s hull could burst a seam or plate and cause enough damage to put it out of action until it was patched. The power of the charge was magnified if it was placed below the waterline, as the pressure of the water helped to magnify the explosive power of the charge and, obviously, a hole above the waterline was less useful at crippling a ship.
For the British, the work on the underwater anti-ship charges found its way both in style and name to a land weapon. The ‘Clam’, as it was called, originally came with a light steel body (Mk.I), later replaced with a Bakelite (plastic) body (Mk.II) with four small iron magnets, one in each corner. Resembling a large bar of chocolate, this charge contained a modest charge of just 227 grams of explosive. This charge was a 50:50 mix of Cyclonite and T.N.T. or 55% T.N.T. with 45% Tetryl. Although the device was magnetic, the charge was not shaped nor specifically designed for breaching armor plate. The utility of the mine was for sabotage. Enemy infrastructure, vehicles, railway lines, and storage tanks made excellent targets for this mine. The ‘Clam’ was able to breach just 25 mm of armor, offering little compared to far simpler anti-tank weapons such as the No.82 ‘Gammon’ bomb or No.73 Grenade, aka the ‘Thermos Bomb’. Both of these were weapons that could be thrown from a safe distance, exploded on impact, and were far simpler to make.
The British No. 82 and No. 73 Anti-Tank Grenades. British Explosive Ordnance, 1946
The ‘Clam’, therefore, found a role in sabotage, where it was very effective. Large quantities were produced in Britain and shipped to the Soviet Union for exactly that purpose.
The most famous, or infamous, Anti-Tank Grenade is probably the British ‘sticky bomb’. Although not magnetic, the ‘sticky bomb’, officially known as the ‘No.74 S.T. Mk.1 HE’, was constructed from a glass sphere containing 567 grams of nitro-glycerine and covered with a stockinette fabric to which an adhesive was applied. Once the protective steel shells around the grenade had been removed, it could be thrown at an enemy tank. When the bulbous glass ball at the end struck the tank, it would break causing the nitro-glycerine inside to ‘cow-pat’ on the armor and remain stuck there by the glued stockinet until it was detonated. The weapon was not a success, but was also made in large numbers and saw service in North Africa and Italy against German and Italian forces.
Video of a British No.74 Grenade being demonstrated rather badly by American forces in Italy 1944. The thrower did not manage to break the glass bulb, resulting in it falling off before it exploded.
Probably, the most famous magnetic anti-tank device was the German Hafthohlladung (handheld hollow charge). These came in different sizes, although the most common weighed in at 3 kg. This Hafthohlladung mine used three large magnetic feet to adhere to the armor of a vehicle. Each permanent horseshoe-shaped magnetic foot, made from Alnico-type alloy (VDR.546) had an adhesion strength of 6.8 kg-equivalent, meaning over 20 kg of force-equivalent would have to be used to remove a well-adhered mine and also that only a single foot was needed to ‘stick’ the mine to a steel surface. The 3 kg Hafthohlladung contained a simple 1.5 kg shaped charge consisting of PETN/Wax.
Placed by hand on the target, the position of the magnets ensured that the shaped charge, when detonated, would strike the armor perpendicularly and at an optimal stand-off distance to maximize its anti-armor potential. According to British tests in 1943, the 3 kg charge could perforate up to 110 mm of I.T. 80 D armor plate or 20 inches of concrete, meaning that it could defeat any Allied tank then in service almost regardless of where it might be placed.
A later, and slightly heavier model of this mine weighing 3.5 kg contained up to 1.7 kg of 40% FpO2 and 60% Hexogen explosive which was capable of defeating over 140 mm of armor. A post-war British report stated that versions of this type of grenade were known in 2, 3, 5, 8, and even 10 kg versions.
3.5 kg bell-shaped variant of the Hafthohlladung, and (right) alongside the conical 3 kg Hafthohlladung. This version used the projectile from the Panzerfaust 30. Source: lexpev.nl
An even larger version of the Hafthohlladung was made for the German Luftwaffe, known as the Panzerhandmine (P.H.M.), or sometimes as the Haft-H (L) ‘Hafthohlladung-Luftwaffe’. This device had the appearance of a small wine bottle with the base cut off to make room for six small magnets. Larger than the Hafthohlladung, the P.H.M.3 still had to be applied by hand.
German Panzerhandmine. Source: TM9-1985-2 German Explosive Ordnance and Intelligence Bulletin May 1945
A small, spiked steel ring was fixed to the bottom of the magnets so that the charge could be stabbed onto a wooden surface too. In order to fasten to a steel surface, all that was required was the removal of this ring. First appearing in about 1942, the P.M.H.3 (a 3 kg version) contained a shaped charge made from 1.06 kg of T.N.T. or a 50:50 Cyclonite/T.N.T. mix. Against a steel target, this charge was sufficient to pierce up to 130 mm, making it a very serious threat against a tank. A 4 kg version (P.H.M.4) was also developed with a performance of up to 150 mm, although details are very limited.
German ‘sticky’ shaped charge – the Panzerhandmine S.S.. Details of this version are scarce. Source: Tech. Report No.2/46
A variant of this mine also had a sticky ‘foot’ with different mixtures of explosive compositions. The sticky versions had the advantage of being able to stick to any solid surface regardless of whether it was magnetic or not. In this way, it was emulating the British idea of an adhesive-impregnated fabric behind a thin steel cover. Containing a 205 gram filling of 50% RDX and 50 % TNT, the entire charge weighed just 418 grams, just over a pound. Able to penetrate an I.T. 80 homogenous steel plate 125 mm thick, this small mine was a very effective weapon in terms of penetration although how many were made or used is unknown. A further variation of this grenade allowed it to be thrown, relying on the stickiness to attach to the armor with an instant fuse and small streamer behind to ensure it landed sticky-side down. No other details are known.
Another variation for a hand-placed sticky charge from the Germans was more complex than just an adhesive-impregnated fabric. This version featured the same sort of thin protective cover but with the detonator as part of the sticky process. Here, once the detonator was pulled, it would create an exothermic reaction melting the plastic on the face to make it ‘sticky’. It was, at this point ‘live’, so had to be applied or discarded as it would then blow up. No known use of this particular device or live examples are known.
One further German magnetic charge was the 3 kg Gebalte Ledung (Eng: Concentrated charge) demolition charge which was little more than a large box with magnetic panels on each side. The interior was filled with cubes of explosives and had the additional advantage of being throwable. Even if the magnets failed to adhere to the steel of the tank, the 3 kg charge was sufficient to cause a lot of damage and possibly cripple the vehicle. However, as it was not a shaped charge, the anti-armor performance was relatively poor. Even so, it was more than capable of knocking out the Soviet T-34 and capable of sticking on the target even when thrown, but few other details were known.
Many of these German shaped charge devices were made by the firm of Krümmel Fabrik, Dynamite AG which, after a lot of trials, found that the best mix for shaped charges was the explosive Cyclotol which was made up of 60% Cyclonite and 40 % T.N.T. with other mixtures producing less efficient results. Under ideal conditions, they found that a 3 kg shaped charge with this explosive could penetrate up to 250 mm of armor, although ideal conditions were rarely to be found on the battlefield. Either way and despite numerous attempts at both magnetic and ‘sticky’ anti-tank weapons, the Germans did not deploy them in significant numbers. One British report of late 1944 even confirmed that they had, to that point, yet to confirm that even a single Allied tank had been knocked out by a magnetic mine, the far bigger threat being the German ‘bazooka’, the Panzerfaust.
The Japanese, like the Germans and to a lesser extent, the British, had experimented with magnetic anti-tank weapons. Unlike both of them though, Japan was successful. The primary magnetic anti-tank weapon was the deceptively simple Model 99 Hakobakurai ‘Turtle’ mine. Reminiscent in shape to a turtle with four magnets sticking out like feet and the detonator looking like the head, this canvas-covered circular mine was a potent threat to Allied tanks in the Pacific theater of operations.
Japanese Type 99 Hakobakurai anti-tank mine. Source: TM9-1985-4
Appearing on the battlefield from 1943 onwards, the Hakobakurai weighed just over 1.2 kg and was filled with 0.74 kg of cast blocks of Cyclonite/T.N.T. arranged in a circle. Placed against thin points of armor or on the hatch of a tank, this mine, when detonated, could penetrate 20 mm of steel plate. With one mine on top of another, this could be increased to 30 mm, although, depending on the armor it was on, it could cause damage to a plate thicker than that.
The mine was not a shaped charge and 20 or even 30 mm of armor penetration was not much use against anything but the lightest of Allied tanks deployed against the Japanese, such as the M3 Stuart, unless they were placed in a vulnerable spot such as underneath, on the rear, or over a hatch. However, British testing and examination of these mines reported that, although the penetration was poor, just 20 mm, the shockwave from the blast could scab off the inner face of an armor plate up to 50 mm thick, although the penetration was still limited by it not being a shaped charge. The result also did not include vehicles designed with an inner ‘skin’ either, but the results were still substantial, as it meant that all of the Allied tanks used in the Pacific theatre were vulnerable to these mines depending on where they were placed.
A further development of it, known as the ‘Kyuchake Bakurai’, was rumored and capable of being thrown up to 10 yards (9.1 m), although as of October 1944, no examples were known to have been found.
The Japanese had, from about May 1942, obtained shaped charge technology from the Germans and the results were first recorded by the Americans following combat in New Guinea in August 1944. Here, they reported finding a Japanese shaped charge weapon shaped like a bottle and fitted with a magnetized base, very similar in description of the German Panzerhandmine. As of October 1944 though, the British, aware of this weapon, still had not encountered any:
“Although there are no details of Japanese hollow charge magnetic grenade it is highly probable that such weapons will be encountered soon”
D.T.D. Report M.6411A/4 No.1, October 1944
The Kingdom of Italy, perhaps contrary to common ‘knowledge’, also made use of two devices of note. The first of these was a close copy of the British No.74 S.T. Mk.1 HE grenade reproduced from examples captured from the British in North Africa. The Italian version, known as the Model 42 grenade, was manufactured in limited numbers by the firms of Breda and OTO but, importantly, was not sticky. The Italians simply copied the large spherical explosive charge and omitted the not-so-reliable sticky stockinette and glass bulb part of the design. One important note on a heavy grenade like this is the range, just 10-15 meters at best.
The 1 kg Model 42 Grenade contained 574 grams of plastic explosive but was not sticky, it simply emulated the shape of the British No.74. Source: Talpo.it
Although the Model 42 was neither sticky nor magnetic, the Italians did develop probably the most advanced man-portable magnetic anti-tank weapon of all. Here though, there is very little to go off. Just a single photograph is known of the device consisting of a small battery pack and charge on a simple frame. The mine is relatively small, perhaps only 30 cm wide and appears to consist of a bell-shaped central charge, almost certainly a shaped charge with a rectangular battery and two large electromagnets on the ends of the steel frame. Certainly, this would have some advantages as it would not be magnetic all the time, unlike the German Hafthohlladung. It was simply placed on a tank and the switch was flicked to activate the battery and the powerful electro-magnets would hold the charge in place until it detonated. At least one prototype was made in 1943 but, with the collapse of Italy in September 1943, all development is believed to have ceased.
Perhaps even more obscure than the Italian work on the subject of magnetic weapons is a single known Yugoslav example. Known as the Mina Prilepka Probojna (Eng: Mine Sticking Puncturing), it was developed after the war and was intended for disabling non-combat and light combat vehicles rather than main battle tanks. It could also be deployed in the manner of the ‘Clam’ for sabotage purposes on infrastructure and consisted of a cylinder with a cone on top containing a 270-gram Hexotol shaped charge and was capable of piercing up to 100 mm of armor plate. Packed 20 to a crate, the MPP was a potent small mine but there is little information available on it in general outside of a small manual of arms. How many were made and whether it was ever used or not is not known.
The Post-War Yugoslav Mina Prilepka Probojna magnetic mine. Source: Yugoslav Arms Manual (unknown)
None of the attempts to produce a smaller anti-tank explosive weapon using either sticky or magnetic principles were shown to be effective. The magnetic charges required the soldier to be often suicidally close to the enemy tank. The sticky-option permitted the chance to be further away and possibly have the grenade hopefully strike the vehicle where the charge could perforate the armor. Many other ideas for hand-thrown anti-tank weapons were fielded by various armies in WW2 and thereafter, such as an attempt at a top attack hollow charge similar to that German Panzerhandmine S.S., but none were particularly successful. A short-range, inconsistent effect and a huge question over accuracy were not the reasons these devices do not appear in today’s army’s arsenals though. The answer is that far simpler, more reliable, and more effective systems became available. The German Panzerfaust had, by the end of the war, reached a level of performance where a soldier could be up to 250 meters from a target and perforate up to 200 mm of armor. The modern rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) really embodies this change in military thought for anti-armor weapons and appears in multiple forms for decades, providing an enormous punch for the average soldier against armor.
Examples of when the attack with a magnetic mine has failed. Here wedged into the screen over an air intake (left), and attached to the Schurzen (right) on a StuG III Ausf.G of 2nd Assault Gun Detachment, Bulgarian Army, after combat in Yugoslavia, October 1944. Source: Matev
Kingdom of Italy (1902-1945)
Mountain Gun/Anti-Tank Gun – 1,146 Built
Fighting in mountains poses some unique problems for an army. Most crucial amongst these problems is firepower. How do you bring firepower into areas which may only be accessible by rope line? This question is the basis of the mountain gun, a compact weapon able to deliver shells against an enemy force and which can be broken down for transport in multiple loads.
Work on a gun to meet the extreme needs of fighting in mountainous terrain began in Italy as far back as 1902 at the Turin Arsenal. This was to be the first gun developed and built completely within Italy for the modern army. The barrel was all steel and, unlike older guns which had to roll back to cope with recoil, this gun had a built-in recoil mechanism. The breech was an interrupted screw type breech.
This design was at the cutting edge of technology when it was conceived and first outlined back in 1902. However, by the time it actually received production orders in 1911, it was still a good gun but not the most modern piece available. Its largest flaw was the lack of elevation, just +20 degrees, meaning that for firing at high elevations troops would have to back the gun onto a ramp. This expedient measure meant that this gun was also envisioned as serving an anti-aircraft role too, though its effectiveness in this role even in WW1 is dubious at best.
The requirements for a mountain gun include that it can be broken down for movement. The 65/17 had a steel barrel on a steel frame with a single fixed tail and carried on wooden spoked wheels with a steel rim. It could be broken into at least 5 (some say 6 pieces – probably due to the optional shield for the gun) for transport by pack mule. In this way, the gun could be towed on a wheeled trailer or pack carried. Ammunition was also pack carried being moved in wooden crates, 2 shells to a box. The gun was light enough to be towed by pack mule, small tracked tractors like the FIAT OCI 708M, motorised tricycles, or even by the soldiers themselves.
Service in Word War 1
Production, like development, was slow. Orders placed in 1911 for this 1902 designed gun were not delivered until 1913. By May 1915, when Italy entered WW1, just 212 guns had been produced. By the end of the fighting in November 1918 a further 685 had been made by both the Turin Arsenal and Naples Army Arsenal, but due to wartime losses the total inventory remaining at the end of WW1 was just 523 guns.
By 1920, the gun was obviously out of date. Despite its good points, the 65 mm gun was insufficient for the needs of the Army and it was replaced by adopting the Skoda 70 mm L13 mountain gun. The Italians had captured large numbers of these guns as Preda Bellica (P.B.). The 65/17 did not disappear from service because of this replacement.
In 1925, an experimental version was trialed with rubber tyres instead of the older wooden and steel ones. The gun shield was smaller and a small limber was available too. In 1926, it was officially reassigned to Infantry units from mountain troops at a rate of 3 guns per regiment and later at 4 guns per regiment.
The colonial troubles in what is now Libya were the next war for the 65/17. Several batteries of guns were sent to fight the insurgency there and, for the first time, the gun was carried on a wheeled vehicle, a FIAT 15ter truck. The gun had already been mounted on tracked vehicles, such as the FIAT 2000, and considered for other vehicles, but this was the first ‘portee’ mounting.
The gun also saw combat in the next Italian war, the war in Ethiopia, and in the Spanish Civil War.
During the Spanish Civil War, in 1936, Italian forces brought with them some 343 guns, some of which were issued to Spanish Nationalist forces. It was during this war that the 65/17 saw its first use as a anti-tank weapon. The relatively weak armor of enemy tanks, like the Soviet supplied T-26, meant that, even with the relatively low muzzle velocity and lack of dedicated anti-tank ammunition, the 65/17 was still an effective anti-tank gun.
Those 343 guns constituted more than half of the available 65/17 guns in Italian inventory but, just as it had been replaced in 1920 for mountain work by the Skoda 70/13, it was replaced in 1935 in infantry use by the Ansaldo 47 mm L32 cannon.
Remaining 65/17 guns were reissued to Guardia alla Frontiera (GaF) and Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (MVSN) units and some were even fitted to fixed fortifications. Ammunition was available in large numbers so the guns would always have some use. So much so, in fact, that, despite official replacement and because of losses (either from combat or simple wear and tear) in the Ethiopian and Spanish campaigns, production was actually resumed in 1937, producing 249 new guns.
Despite this reissue and replacement, by 1940 when Italy entered WW2, some regiments were still equipped with this gun.
World War 2
Immediately prior to the Italian entry into WW2, the 65/17 was still in front line infantry service. Some guns had the old wooden wheels with steel rims replaced in 1939 with wheels made from Elekton (Magnesium) fitting with rubber tyres as a weight saving and mobility enhancing measure. By April 1940, just before the declaration of War by Mussolini, there were 700 65/17 guns of various states of repair and upgrade in service with Italian forces. There was still a shortage of anti-tank ammunition however.
As the guns and ammunition (albeit not AT ammunition) was plentiful, it is no surprise that it saw extensive use in WW2 on all of the fronts on which Italy fought. In North Africa, the gun was mounted on FIAT 634 trucks as well as on captured British Morris CS8 trucks forming ‘batterie volanti’ (flying batteries). Mounted on a truck bed, these guns were far more useful than on their old carriages, as they could rotate a full 360 degrees. A total of 28 guns were mounted in this way in 7 batteries of 4.
In Tunisia, the guns saw service with the Spezia airborne division, where they were towed by the Guzzi Trialce (motor-tricycle) formed into 2 batteries of 4 guns. By December 1942, just 444 guns were left in service with the Italians, including those in fixed fortifications. The gun was still in service after the September 1943 armistice too with all parties from partisans to the Germans using them and eight guns being surrendered to the Free French forces in Corsica.
The 65/17 used a 65mm x 172R round, approximately 4.23 kg in weight. Originally only high explosive ammunition was available for the gun, but was later supplemented with a shrapnel shell and canister shell.
In 1936, an armor piercing (AP) shell (4.23 kg) was produced for the gun but was always in short supply. The gun, despite being completely out of date by 1942, was still in common use and a shaped charge ‘EP’ (effetto pronto – rapid effect) shell was developed which was capable of penetrating up to 120 mm of armor. The range was limited to 6.5 km for HE and 500 meters for AP shells. The rate of fire was between 6 and 12 rounds per minute.
The 65/17 saw service from 1913 until at least 1945 on all fronts. It fulfilled the role of a mountain gun, infantry gun, tank gun, anti-aircraft gun, anti-tank gun and even a dirigible mounted gun. Ironically the gun was designed for use in terrain and saw its most famous work while mounted expediently onto vehicles for fighting in the mostly flat deserts of North Africa.
Illustration of the 65mm L/17 Mountain Gun produced by Andrie Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.
Anti-Tank Rifle – Around 1,000 Produced
The Solothurn S 18-1000 was a Swiss-built 20 mm Anti-Tank rifle which was an upgraded version of the earlier S 18-100. It saw service in both the Axis and Allied forces and was deployed in many theatres of operations through the war. Despite its weight and size, it was appreciated by the troops that used it.
An S 18-154. Source: Sa Kuva
Design and Development
When the Treaty of Versaille was signed on 28th June 1919, the once magnificent German arms industry found itself under considerable restrictions. One of these restrictions was on the development of large caliber weapons capable of taking out tanks, similar to the TankGewehr M1918 developed by Mauser during the First World War.
To bypass these restrictions, Rheinmetall set up a subsidiary in Switzerland in 1929, Waffenfabrik Solothurn. This meant that German engineers could design, test and build weapons without the worry of the victorious Allied powers faulting on Germany for not holding to the Versailles Treaty. In 1930, they had developed the 20×138mmB cartridge or ‘Short Solothurn’, which was one of the most powerful 20 mm rounds in existence at the time and remained in use until the early 1950s. Soon after the development of the 20 mm cartridge, the Solothurn ST-5 anti-aircraft gun was produced and, from here, Solothurn started a journey that saw the development of many weapons, all using the 20 mm Solothurn round. The first foray into anti-tank weapons was the 2 cm Tankbuchse S 5-100 in 1932, which was an offshoot of the ST-5 and was impractical for its intended use, which meant it was not fully developed. In 1933, development started on a more practical anti-tank weapon, the S 18-100. This 44 kg, bull-pup, hard-hitting gun was placed on the export market in 1934 and was soon picked up by Italy, Hungary, and the Netherlands to name but a few.
It was decided in the late 1930s that the S 18-100 series needed a more substantial upgrade (previously the S18-100 saw minor improvements in the S 18-150, S 18-154 and S 18-500). Using the improved 20×138mmB cartridge, also known as the ‘Long Solothurn’, and adding a longer barrel, a ‘harmonica’ style muzzle break, improved action and some other minor modifications, a newer, more hard-hitting version of the Solothurn was created. The weapon worked on a short recoil system, meaning that the barrel moved slightly backward when fired. Because of the large recoil spring, it required a ratchet crank in order to pull the bolt back to set it up for operations. Once the bolt was pulled back, a magazine could then be loaded. When fired, the barrel recoiled, moving the attached rotary bolt and unlocking the bolt which then ejected the spent casing. The bolt is then driven forward by the large spring, loading a fresh cartridge from the magazine. Like many anti-tank rifles of the time, it came with an integrated bipod, which allowed for some recoil absorption, and a single adjustable monopod to the rear just ahead of the cushioned butt plate. These modifications increased the weight from a substantial 45 kg to a hefty 53 kg and saw Solothurn develop the SO9 carriage for it. This was a simple two-wheeled carriage which had space for two ammunition boxes and allowed for free traverse. It also had the ability to change the elevation through a screw. The split trails could be flipped forward and locked together to allow the gun team to move the gun with ease to a new position.
A brochure picture of a Swiss soldier firing an S 18-1000 on the SO 9 carriage. Source:- Axishistory
During Solothurn’s trials in 1939, it performed quite respectfully. The much improved ‘Long Solothurn’ round coupled with the 144.78mm (57 inch) long barrel gave it a muzzle velocity of 910 m/s and could penetrate 35 mm of armor plate at 300 meters.
On the Market
After trials, Solothurn approved the S 18-1000 for production. The design of the weapon, alongside its impressive performance, saw it gain a lot of attraction on the international market.
A fully kitted out S 18-1000. Source:- MurphyAuctions
The first nation to acquire the S 18-1000 for service was the Swiss Army, which placed an initial order for 60. These were designated Tankbüchse Solo 40 and were delivered in the first quarter of 1940. Another 33 were ordered as the Swiss Army was impressed by its capabilities, bringing the total in Swiss use to 93. One rifle was installed to the prototype Type 41 Patrol Boat Uri.
The Netherlands had bought six S 18-15 in 1937 for trials but rejected them upon seeing the initial results for the S18-1000. A definitive order for 662 S18-1000s was placed in late 1938, divided as 340 for the Royal Netherlands Army (Koninklijke Landmacht) and 322 for the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger; KNIL). By the time of the German invasion in May 1940, 125 Dutch Army and 72 KNIL rifles had been delivered.
The Italians also looked at the S 18-1000 after rejecting the S 18-100 in 1934. They placed initial orders in 1939 for trials and the first pieces arrived in early 1940 being designated Carabina “S”. At the conclusion of the trials, the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) wanted to equip every infantry battalion with 6 pieces. It is unknown how many were delivered to the Italians, but it is thought to be around 578 of the estimated 1,131 required. The main reason for the lack of deliveries was that Switzerland was placing restrictions on the exportation of war materials to any belligerent nation in 1940.
With Europe being engulfed by war, Sweden started to look towards protecting itself. In 1940, it made inquiries to purchase 480 S 18-1000s. These were approved as Sweden was a neutral country and thus not subjected to Switzerland’s restrictions. Using balance of trade payments with Germany for steel, the rifles arrived between 1940-1941 and were designated 20 mm pansarvärnskanon m/1939.
Hungary had purchased the S 18-100 in 1935 and were producing their own licensed variant, the 36M 20mm Nehézpuska. After the Slovak–Hungarian War, they realized that the 36M was in need of upgrading and purchased around 50 (sources vary) of the new S 18-1000 in early 1940, but as restrictions became tighter, they were unable to purchase more and so production continued on the 36M until 1943.
The US Army had concluded in the mid-1930s that the .50 M2 Heavy Barrel (HB) machine gun would be adopted as the official light anti-tank gun and general vehicle-mounted machine gun. However, observations made during the Spanish Civil War suggested that the .50 might not be sufficient in future conflicts as an anti-tank weapon, so work was put towards creating an anti-tank gun, the 37 mm Gun M3. While the infantry branch championed such a move, the cavalry branch and US Marine Corps still expressed interest in a light anti-mechanization weapon. To this end, the Ordnance Department ordered two S 18-100 rifles in 1939, along with 2,000 rounds of ammunition for trails by the Infantry and Cavalry Boards at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. The results of the trials were unsatisfactory, but as the trials were coming to a close, the S 18-1000 was ready, and so, an example was obtained for testing. Arriving in April 1940, it performed better than its predecessor and was passed on for further trials by both the Infantry and Cavalry boards. The S 18-1000 was seen as superior in performance to the M2 machine gun, so an order was placed with Solothurn for a further 50 models with 50,000 rounds of ammunition which would be standardized as the 20 mm Automatic Gun T3. During negotiations with Solothurn though, things turned difficult. This was down to Solothurn’s parent company – Rheinmetall – specifically forbidding the sale of Solothurn’s anti-tank rifles to any country without its approval, and so, the acquisition was abandoned.
A picture showing the US Army trial of the Solothurn at Aberdeen Proving Ground on 9 April 1940. Source: Reddit
Finland was attempting to modernize its military inventory in the run-up to the Winter War of November 1939. As part of this, one S 18-1000 was purchased by the Puolustusministeriö (Ministry of Defence) in August 1939 (one of the first models as it had the serial number of 4 stamped upon it) for testing. Unfortunately, though, any chance of purchasing more was rendered difficult due to the Soviet-German Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which saw Germany restrict arms shipments to Finland through its territory.
Swedish presentation of the Solothurn S18-1000 (or 20 mm pkvan m/39) with characteristics
Solothurn at War
When the German military crossed the Polish border on the morning of 1st September 1939, the nations of Europe realized that another great war was unavoidable. The armies mobilized against the threats and so the Solothurn S 18-1000 was to be put to the test.
After Poland fell to the joint German-Soviet invasion, the world expected a bloodbath in the West between the Anglo-French alliance and Germany, but outside a few skirmishes on the border nothing occurred for eight months in what became known as the ‘Phoney War’.
It is not known if the single S 18-1000 that Finland acquired before the outbreak of the Winter War was ever issued to combat troops and so it is thought that the S 18-1000s baptism of fire occurred during the German invasion of the Netherlands. The Germans launched their offensive against the Western allies on the morning of 10th May 1940. The 4th Panzer Division was given orders to secure the strategically important Dutch city of Maastricht. The city contained vital bridges over the Maas River, as well as sat to the north of the Belgian Fort Eben-Emael. The Dutch had been on alert since 7th May and troops had been deployed to areas the General Staff felt were vital to the German line of attack. Sergeant Van der Sande was in command of an anti-tank rifle section containing two S 18-1000s and was ordered to deploy his weapons near the two bridges of Wilhelminabrug and Sint Servaasbrug and delay any German advance. At 05:15 on the morning of the 10th May, the first German vehicles were spotted by der Sande’s section and the two anti-tank gunners, Rietveld and Plusjé, prepared their weapons. The order to fire was given and within minutes 2 armored cars were out of action and a third was severely crippled. The Germans reacted by bringing up a 37 mm anti-tank gun and firing at the defensive position forcing the surviving Dutchmen to retreat across the river. The action helped delay the German vanguard enough that the two bridges were blown at 06:00.
Sergeant Sande and his men were not the only group of Dutchmen with Solothurns that were doing their part to delay the advance. A kilometer north of the Wilhelminabrug Bridge was the railway bridge and another strategic objective for the Germans. A platoon of 35 Dutch soldiers, with a pair of Solothurns, held their position against a mainly infantry assault. Soon the lieutenant ordered a withdrawal across the bridge and within moments the bridge was blown. However, the action did not stop there. The German infantry force soon received reinforcements and attempted to secure the bridge in order to effect repairs. Two armored cars attempted to cross the river but were destroyed by the Solothurns. A Panzer I was also disabled as it went to the edge of the riverbank to provide suppressive fire. The fighting became intense and more armor was brought forward, including a handful of Panzerjäger I tank destroyers (two were subsequently knocked out by the anti-tank rifles) and soon the Dutch found themselves overwhelmed. The Battle of Maastricht ended in the early afternoon with a ceasefire, but despite the Dutch loosing, their bravery and the hard-hitting power of the Solothurns accounted for several German AFVs.
The German Army is known to have acquired a number of Solothurn S-18 rifles, including the 1000 model, and deployed them alongside their own anti-tank rifles. What is not know is exactly how many or their exact deployment. The table of organization and equipment for a German Infantry division in 1940 put the complement of ATRs at 108 per Infantry Division with each of the 36 Rifle Companies containing an anti-tank rifle section of 3 rifles, the most numerous being the Panzerbüchse 39. Against the main French tanks, Hotchkiss H35 and Renault R35, any anti-tank rifle would be effectively useless except at extremely close ranges.
An S 18-1000 mounted on an Sd.Kfz.250. Source: Reddit
A propaganda picture of Italian Bersaglieri manning a “36M Fucile Contracarro da 20-mm Solothurn” in the North African desert. Source: Axishistory
The next known usages of the Solothurn S 18-1000 was by the Italians in the Desert Campaign. Italy received its first batch of 100 Solothurn S 18-1000s in late 1940 and immediately shipped them to their troops serving in the African desert. It was intended to arm every Italian division with an anti-tank company that contained 3 platoons of 4 Solothurns each, but this was not possible, so the S 18-1000s were given to elite units like the Bersaglieri (an Italian light infantry unit) and Compagnie Auto-Avio-Sahariane (Auto-Saharan Companies, long range desert units). More Solothurns started to arrive at the end of 1941/early 1942 and were assigned on the basis of 9 per Bersaglieri to fit in with their intended role as light infantry. The hard-hitting power, coupled with their small silhouette, meant that the weapon could be effectively used against the Commonwealth forces and their lightly armored tanks such as the Light Tank Mk.VI and Cruiser Mk.IV. The weapon also became popular with the Compagnie Auto-Avio-Sahariane, or Auto-Saharan Companies, which were the Italian version of the British Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). When the Camionetta Desertica SPA-Viberti AS.42 arrived in September 1942, several were equipped with the S 18-1000 to help in the company’s mission of hunting down the LRDG. In this role, the S 18-1000 succeeded, as the LRDG operated in similarly open-topped and lightly armored four-wheel vehicles.
An AS.42 somewhere in the Libyan desert, 1942. Source:- tapatalk.com
Another Italian use of the S 18-1000 that is often forgotten is the L3 cc (controcarro or anti-tank). Using the Carro Veloce L3/35 light tank as a base, the twin 8mm Bredas were replaced with the Solothurn. An exact number of how many were produced is not known, but it was not many and they arrived in Libya in late 1942. They performed adequately in the Axis retreat through Africa and some participated in the famous Battle of Kasserine Pass.
An abandoned L3 cc. Source:- tapatalk.com
As the weapon was deployed to Italian frontline units in Africa, it was inevitable that some would fall into the hands of the Commonwealth forces they were fighting against. The Australian 2/2nd Anti-Tank Regiment had one of its reserve batteries equipped with a number of captured Solothurns during the Syria–Lebanon Campaign. How widespread it was among other Commonwealth units is not known, but it can be speculated that several Solothurns would have been repurposed.
It is also alleged that some S 18-1000s of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army fell into the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army who found them more reliable and effective than their own Type 97 anti-tank rifle and used them until they ran out of ammunition.
End of Life
With the rifle weighing 53.5 kg/118 lb empty (54.7 kg/120.6 lb with 10 round magazine attached), as well as the increasing amount of armor being put onto AFV, it meant that the Solothurn was losing its place on the battlefield. As the war raged on the Solothurn was seen less and less and it is believed that the last combat uses of the S 18-1000 were by Italian forces of the National Republican Army as they fought frantically against the Allied advance. A select fire version was produced in 1942, designated the S 18-1100 ‘Universalwaffe’ (universal weapon) and was sold with a specialized AA mount (SO 11) to be able to engage aircraft, as well as the SO 9 carriage for use against AFVs. Not many, a few hundred, of these were produced until production was stopped at the end of 1942/early 1943.
The S 18-1100 on the SO 11 carriage from a Solothurn brochure. Source:- Axishistory
After the war, hundreds of S 18-1000s were put into the lucrative US gun market where they were sold off to gun collectors and enthusiasts. Today it is a rare find but there is still a number of them in the hands of collectors and occasionally they may be found upon the firing ranges.
A post-war advert with an embellished background of the S18-1000. Source:- 2cm flak
Anti-Tank Rifles are often confused with Anti-Tank Guns, both in nomenclature and usage. ATRs are designed to allow the standard infantry unit to disable armored fighting vehicles and work in conjunction with other weapons, like dedicated anti-tank guns. When ATRs were developed during the interwar period, they were effective if albeit bulky but they offered a cheap and more mobile alternative than anti-tank artillery.
The Solothurn S 18-1000 could be called the pinnacle of anti-tank rifles. The ‘Long Solothurn’ round allowed it to keep up with armored development until 1942 but it quickly dropped off when the Allies started to deploy vehicles like the M3 Grant/Lee and M4 Sherman medium tanks in large numbers. The two biggest drawbacks to the S 18-1000 were its weight and its complicated system which meant that misuse or lack of attention could damage the weapon easily. With the heavy deployment of shaped charges and rocket-propelled grenades in 1943, the infantry now had a more effective and lightweight anti-tank weapon that was more viable than the ATRs of the previous few years. The Solothurn, along with its brothers, were forced in obsolescence and became curiosities.
Zaloga, Steven. The Anti-Tank Rifle, Osprey Publishing, 2018
Weeks, John. Men Against Tanks: History of Anti-tank Warfare, David & Charles, 1975
Illustration of the Solothurn S 18-1000 made by Yuvnashva Sharma. Funded by our Patreon campaign.
Tanks Encyclopedia Magazine, #1 Republished
The first issue of the Tank Encyclopedia Magazine has been remastered and rereleased. It covers vehicles ranging from the French WWI Frot-Turmel-Laffly Armoured Road Roller up to the Salvadoran Cold War Marenco M114 converted vehicles. The star of this issue is a full article on the Improved Protection version of the famous M1 Abrams – the M1IP.
Our Archive section covers the history of the Mephisto A7V tank, the only one of its kind that still survives to this day in Queensland museum in Australia.
It also contains a modeling article on how to create Weathering and Mud Effects. And the last article from our colleagues and friends from Plane Encyclopedia covers the story of the Sikorsky S-70C-2 Black Hawk in Chinese service!
All the articles are well researched by our excellent team of writers and are accompanied by beautiful illustrations and photos. If you love tanks, this is the magazine for you! Buy this magazine on Payhip!
Kingdom of Italy (1943-1945)
Experimental Anti-Tank Weapon – 1 Built
Sketch plan of prototype anti-tank weapon. Source: Report 311
When nations have their backs against the wall and are facing a fight for their existence, there tends to be an abundance of rather unusual weapons. Some of the weapons developed by the Home Guard in Great Britain in the Second World War, like the Northover projector, are good examples of this. Italy, with a long tradition of firearms manufacture, was no different and already had extensive experience with grenade firing and small mortars. In 1943 though, their mainland had been invaded by the Allies as they had already lost control of the island of Sicily. Tank production was in a poor state and the Allies’ superiority with tanks left a very bleak outlook for the Kingdom of Italy in the War. An expedient anti-tank weapon was called for.
Carcano Model 91/24 T.S. The exact variant used is not known. Source: candrsenal.com
The call for this expedient and simple anti-tank weapon came from the Ministry for War prior to the armistice of the 8th September 1943. It was to combine parts from a mortar and a carbine fitted together to form a rather crude, very large caliber gun firing a shaped charge shell. The Italians had already produced a production model carbine with an attached grenade launcher which used a bullet capture system as far back as 1928. This was along very similar lines to the new requested weapon and may have served as some of the inspiration behind it. The Technical Section of the Ministry for War had already made some preliminary experiments prior to September 1943 and the results were promising.
Model 1928 Tromboncino grenade launcher (both with bolt in carbine and with bolt in grenade launcher) based on the Model 91/28 carbine. Source: modernfirearms.net
The weapon was given the go-ahead but, by the time of the armistice, only a single experimental prototype had actually been constructed, although performance trials were underway by September 1943.
With just this one prototype constructed by the time of the armistice, the unidentified Italian officer in charge of the project hid the weapon and all of the paperwork associated with it, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Germans.
When the Allies entered Rome in June 1944 this hidden secret weapon and associated paperwork was removed from its hiding place and taken by the Italian officer to the US Army G-2 Headquarters in Rome (APO 794).
The weapon was examined by Major Russell Fisher and the design was closely discussed between him and the Italian officer who even offered to demonstrate the weapon, as he claimed to have fired the weapon many times, from a standing position without difficulty. This offer though was not carried out.
Compact CEMSA 63.5mm L25.5 mortar which may have been the origin of the barrel. This weapon could throw a 2kg shell well over 300m. Source: CEMSA
Design of the Weapon
The experimental model was, like most prototypes, rather crude. It was made by means of a redundant 60mm mortar tube and a cut down stock from a carbine fastened together. The 60mm shell was propelled from the barrel by means of a black powder cartridge inserted into the breech of the carbine under the barrel.
The drawings do not appear to show any variation from the original magazine or firing mechanism of the Model 91 rifle and therefore it is believed it would use the same 6.5x52mm cartridge.
Upon a pull of the trigger, this blank round was fired in the manner of a normal bullet except that the explosive gases upon leaving the very short barrel, instead of propelling a bullet, were directed into a large expansion chamber under the mortar barrel and then directed to the mortar round. Just like the smaller Brixia mortar, this weapon was fired by means of a magazine fed blank cartridge and a rapid rate of fire would be able to be obtained. Reloading would be by the simple means of putting a new shell into the barrel at the muzzle and then cycling the bolt action of the rifle to chamber a new blank cartridge. The rifle had a six-round clip inside and, assuming these blank rounds simply replaced the old live rounds, only shells would have to be loaded for the first six rounds.
Rifle calibre blank cartridge containing the 1.9 grams of ballistite propellant. Source: Report 311
Example of the type of blank initiator round used. This example is for the 45mm Brixia mortar. Source: not known
The expanding gasses released from the combustion of the 1.9 grams of ballistite in the blank cartridge were directed into the expansion chamber. This chamber was connected by two short barrels backward (towards the firer) and into the breach of the 60mm mortar tube. This unusual mechanism had the disadvantage that not all of the propulsive force of the black powder charge was directed to the mortar round. A lot of energy was lost. It had a significant advantage, however, that the pressure rise in the barrel was very even, permitting a consistent rise in pressure for the propulsion of the shell. The interview with the Italian officer yielded information that, over the course of its short development, various expansion chamber sizes were tested out in order to achieve the required balance in the pressure gradient within the weapon.
Detail of gas porting system to move gas from expansion chamber to the rear of the barrel. Source: Report 311
Illustration of the 60mm Lanciabombe by Andrei “Octo” Kirushkin and paid for with funds from our Patreon campaign.
Recoil was managed in two ways. The first was a very simple spring loaded mechanism in the buttstock of the weapon cushioning the shoulder of the firer. The second part of the recoil management was more complicated, far too complicated for a weapon meant to be an expedient design. This system consisted of a slide onto which the main barrel was mounted. This slide permitted the barrel to move backward and this motion was dampened by means of a spring.
Details of sprung shoulder pad as part of recoil management. Source: Report 311
The shell itself was very similar to the rather small 45mm Brixia mortar shell and was a short shell just under 30cm long with a rounded nose. The explosive body containing the charge was attached to an aluminum tail section with eight fins approximately 12cm long. This 60mm round weighed just 0.85kg and contained 370 grams of T4 (trimethyl trinitro amine). The explosives were arranged around an inner cone made from steel and a hollow front section. The rounded nose was a simple cap made from steel. The charge was detonated upon striking a hard target by means of an instantaneous fuze in the base of the projectile. This was the same type of fuze used in the Brixia mortar, although work on an armor-piercing shell for the Brixia was discontinued by 1941. The fuze would therefore almost certainly be of an all-aluminum construction like the Brixia M.1939 fuze.
The propelling gases could throw this small shell accurately out to a range of 80 meters in a flat trajectory and when fired in a high arc a maximum bombarding range of 250 meters. Armor penetration was by means of the shaped charge and was found to be able to defeat up to 70mm of armor on a test target consisting of plates of 30 and 40mm thick armor.
60mm hollow charge shell. Source: Report 311
60mm HEAT round for the weapon. Source: Modified by author to illustrate explosive filler
Cross section of the 45mm Brixia shell showing fize system. Source: US Military Manual of enemy ammunition
The weapon never reached production status and the war had already progressed well past the point where even if it had been in mass production it would have made any effective difference. The war for the Axis was lost and this weapon was just one of innumerable lost prototypes and projects. It had no effect on the war but was a novel solution to the problem of a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon. The current location of this weapon handed to the Americans in 1944 is not known.
Weight: 7.8kg (unloaded)
Weight of shell: 0.85kg
Weight of explosives: 0.37kg
Anti-armor performance: 70mm
Range: up to 250 meters
Muzzle velocity: 60m/s
Links, Resources & Further Reading
Report 311 ‘Italian Anti-Tank Shoulder Weapon’, Major R. Fisher, US Army, Department of Commerce, 5th December 1944
Andare Contro i Carri Armati, Cappellano and Pignato
CEMSA 63.5mm Mortar Manual
War Office Pamphlet No.4 Handbook of Enemy Ammunition 1940
Unnamed US Military Manual on enemy ammunition circa 1942
Modern Firearms.net https://modernfirearms.net/en/grenade-launchers/italy-grenade-launchers/tromboncino-m28-eng/
Forgotten Weapons video of the Modello 1928 Tromboncino Grenade Launcher
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