Categories
WW2 Italian Autocannoni

Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R

Kingdom of Italy (1937-1943)
Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun – At Least 261 Officially Converted

The Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R was an Italian Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) designed in 1937, then abandoned and eventually officially accepted into service in June 1940, when the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) high command realized that it did not have an SPAAG to protect its supply vehicles from air attacks.

It was rapidly put into service only as a stopgap but due to the Italian armistice of 8th September 1943, better performing alternatives never entered service. In spite of being widely available, very little is known about its operational use. In Italian, ‘Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R’ means Truck-mounted 20 mm L.65 on FIAT-SPA 38R [chassis].

A pair of Autocannoni da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R and a FIAT 626NM of the 9ª Divisione fanteria ‘Pasubio’ in the Soviet Union in summer 1941. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

Context

After the First World War, the Italian Regio Esercito did not give great importance to self-propelled anti-aircraft guns. In fact, no prototype was produced between 1918 and the second half of the 1930s. This decision was logical. After the First World War, the Regio Esercito fought only against Libyan rebels, which moved through the desert on camelback, or against the Ethiopian Royal Army during the Ethiopian War.

The Ethiopian Royal Air Force was only equipped with 13 old aircrafts and 4 pilots in 1935. During the Ethiopian War, the necessity of an anti-aircraft vehicle was not felt.

The need for a dedicated self-propelled anti-aircraft gun appeared with the Spanish Civil War, a bloody civil war which began on 17th July 1936 between the Spanish Republicans and the Spanish Nationalist, commanded by Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

The Italian Corpo Truppe Volontarie (English: Volunteer Troops Corps) intervened in favor of the Nationalist forces. A total of 78,500 Italian soldiers fought in Spain between December 1936 and April 1939, of which 3,819 were killed or missing in action and about 12,000 were wounded.

In Spain, the aircraft of the Fuerzas Aéreas de la República Española (English: Spanish Republic Air Force) numbered about 300 airframes (of which 100 cargo and liaison aircraft).

At the beginning of the conflict, the Spanish aircraft were mostly obsolete and easy targets for the Italian and German volunteer pilots. With the expansion of the conflict and the arrival of more modern French and especially Soviet aircraft and Soviet crews and instructors, the technological gap between the Spanish Republic and the Nationalists diminished. Republican pilots started giving their Nationalist counterparts a much harder time.

Even on the ground, the problems increased. Although flying obsolete aircraft with poorly trained pilots, the Republican ground attack planes caused significant losses among the Italian ranks on more than one occasion, especially to their logistic vehicles.

The solution was easy: equip some trucks with machine guns to defend the columns from enemy aircraft. In Spain, the Italian troops armed some trucks, while in the Kingdom of Italy, some tests were carried out and some prototypes were produced. A FIAT-SPA 38R was armed with a 8 x 59 mm FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935 machine gun on a 360° traverse anti-aircraft support, but the firepower was not adequate and the crew was not protected from aircraft-fired bullets.

A FIAT 618 of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie armed with a 8 mm St. Étienne machine gun, used to protect columns from air attacks. Source: Archivio dell’Ufficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito

Logically, a more powerful gun was tested, the Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 Modello 1935, already used in Spain with great results. The tests of the truck-mounted gun were carried out in 1937 and 1938, but the project was abandoned until the start of the Second World War.

Tests of the Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R with an armored shield during 1938. Source: wikipedia.org

Design

FIAT-SPA 38R

The FIAT-SPA 38R light truck was developed by FIAT in 1933 at the request of the Regio Esercito, which wanted to replace the outdated SPA 25C. It was to be built in two versions, one air-cooled, which became the FIAT-SPA 36R, and one water-cooled. The two prototypes were presented to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (English: Center of Motorization Studies) at the beginning of 1934 and underwent long periods of testing.

After authorization, the water-cooled truck was adopted at the beginning of 1935 under the name FIAT-SPA 38R and production began at the Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA plant in Turin, a FIAT subsidiary since 1936, and also at the FIAT Lingotto plant.

FIAT-SPA 38R trucks ready to be delivered to the Italian Royal Army, waiting in the Lingotto Plant’s grounds. Source: pinterest.com

The wooden cargo bay had internal dimensions of 3.9 meters x 1.98 meters x 0.67 meters, for an internal volume of 5.17 m³. Only the rear part, equipped with a step, was foldable. Five transverse benches could be installed in the loading bay to transport 20 to 25 troops or a payload of 2.5 tonnes.

The chassis weighed 2.25 tonnes, the bodywork and spare wheels weighed 0.950 tonnes, giving an empty weight of 3.2 tonnes and a full load weight of 5.7 tonnes.

FIAT-SPA 38R standard light lorry variant. Source: italie1935-45.com

The cab had two seats, the driver’s on the right and the commander’s on the left. It had fixed windshields and acetylene headlights attached to the sides of the windshield.

The FIAT-SPA 38R ambulance version. Source: italie1935-45.com

The most important variant, after the light lorry, was the ambulance, which could transport 6 stretchers or 10 wounded soldiers sitting on the floor. It was used in the Spanish Civil War and then during the Second World War.

The Autofrigorifero version (English: Motorized Fridge) was produced after 1937 and had a payload capacity of between 1,300 to 1,500 kg. A command truck with a Magneti Marelli R5 Modello 1936 radio station was also produced after 1937. It carried 6 radio operators and was equipped with a radio transceiver and an electric generator placed on the rear. In case of problems with the generator, the radio equipment could also be powered by the truck’s engine. The radio antenna was placed on the roof.

The prototype of the motorized fridge version of the FIAT-SPA 38R in 1937. Source: italie1935-45.com

A mobile workshop version, called Autofficina Modello 1937 (English: Motorized Workshop Model 1937), was also produced. Two FIAT-SPA 38R trucks composed the workshop. One was a recovery truck with some spare parts transported, while the second one was equipped with tools to repair other vehicles. Usually, they were used to repair motorcycles, staff cars, and small trucks.

The FIAT-SPA 38R was also proposed for the fire service, with a 1,000 liters tank and a 1,000 liters-per-minute pump with a pressure of 8 bars. It was produced before, during, and after the Second World War and was used by the Italian Firefighters and the Regia Aeronautica.

The bus version was built by Officine Viberti in Turin, which built the bodywork for the chassis. The civilian ones (also bodied by Esperia and Orlandi) were produced in small numbers, mostly before the war. The military variant was produced by Officine Viberti, called Autoufficio (English: Motorized Office), and was equipped with tables, phones, and typewriters.

A FIAT-SPA 38R bus bodied by Esperia for the Società Automobilistica Dolomiti. Source: Negri

The FIAT-SPA 38R was delivered to the Italian troops deployed in Libya and in Africa Orientale Italiana (English: Italian East Africa), where they were considered sturdy and easy-to-drive vehicles.

In Spain, a certain number of 38R trucks were deployed with the Corpo Truppe Volontarie to tow the old Cannoni da 65/17 Mod. 1908/13 mountain artillery pieces. Due to its valuable characteristics, 600 were bought by the Spanish Nationalist Army, which used them to equip the Batallón de Transportes n°1 (English: 1st Transport Battalion).

During the Second World War, the FIAT-SPA 38R light lorry was one of the most common vehicles in the Italian ranks in every war theater, with over 16,000 vehicles produced between 1936 to 1943, counting both civilian and military variants. The total number of vehicles produced until 1948 is unknown.

After the war, a new variant called FIAT-SPA 38R/45 was proposed for the civilian and military markets. It was produced until 1948 and was characterized by a new 88 liter tank (without the 24 liter gravity tank), a battery and an electric ignition starter.

Engine and Suspension

The FIAT-SPA 38R was powered by a FIAT Tipo 18R petrol engine with four in-line cylinders and side valves. Ignition was provided by a Magneti Marelli FL-4 magnet and cooling was provided by a water circuit driven by a centrifugal pump. The engine was fed by gravity through a 25-liter tank housed behind the dashboard. The fuel came from the main 83-liter tank placed under the driver’s seat through a diaphragm pump. This system ensured, in case of pump failure or puncture of the main tank, a limited range until reaching a workshop that could repair the damage.

The engine was coupled to a Weber AK42 carburetor. The water cooling tank had a capacity of 18 liters, while the lubricant oil tank had a capacity of 8 liters. The maximum speed was 51 km/h on-road and the maximum on-road range was 310 km thanks to the 108 liters of fuel transported by the truck.

FIAT Tipo 18R engine. Source: italie1935-45.com

The two-disc dry clutch engaged via a first drive shaft on the four-speed plus reverse gearbox. A second drive shaft then connected the box to the rear axle, with a differential locking mechanism controlled from the dashboard.

The suspension consisted of four semi-elliptical leaf springs. Hollow-rim wheels, twinned on the rear axle, mounted 32×6” tube tires for 20×5” rims or ‘210-20’ type tires for 20×6” rims.

The 6-volt electrical circuit was powered by a Magneti Marelli Tipo D-75RI dynamo and powered the headlights, dashboard, license plate light, horn, spark plugs, and magnet.
Lacking a battery, the electrical circuit only operated above 12 km/h.

The FIAT-SPA 38R chassis. Note the two fuel tanks and the ignition lever. source: italie1935-45.com

The FIAT-SPA 38R Coloniale (English: Colonial) version of the FIAT-SPA 38R differed from the standard model in the addition of an oil bath air filter, the use of two Magneti Marelli 3MF 15 6-volt batteries, and the replacement of the tank placed under the driver’s seat with another 100 liter tank in the rear part of the chassis, for a total of 123 liters and a range of 350 km.

The FIAT-SPA 38R front suspension. Source: Aymeric Lopez

The Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) variant, called FIAT-SPA 38RA, differed from that of the Regio Esercito by having a longer wheelbase (3,600 mm compared to 3,500 mm on the regular version) and some small modifications that allowed it to reach 60 km/h.

Crew

There is no concrete data on the Autocannone da 20/65 su SPA 38R’s crew. In some photos, a total of 5 soldiers can be seen in the cargo bay operating the 20 mm gun. In other images though, there are only 3 soldiers in the cargo bay. This has led to some confusion over the total crew number, but probably the crew was composed of 5 soldiers: driver on the left side of the cab, a commander on the right side of the cab, and a gunner and two loaders in the cargo bay.

When operating the gun, the driver helped by reloading the gun while the commander scouted for enemy targets using binoculars or a stereoscopic rangefinder.

The presence of 5 soldiers in some photographs can easily be explained. Soldiers from other vehicles helped the loaders pass the ammunition. The Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R itself carried very few rounds and most ammunition was carried on other vehicles with their own crews.

For self-defense, the crew usually took their rifles with them leaving them in the cargo bay.

Modifications

The trucks were transformed into autocannoni at the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Napoli or AREN (English: Naples Royal Army Arsenal). The modification was really easy compared to the modifications carried out on more famous autocannoni, such as the Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N or the Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro.

A support was placed at the center of the cargo bay of the light lorry, on which the anti-aircraft mounting of the Modello 1935 gun was placed.

During 1940, the Italian military workshops in Libya also produced a total of 100 360° traverse supports for 20 mm Breda automatic cannons and 150 similar supports for the 47 mm support gun. These were probably used on various medium and heavy duty trucks, the most famous of which was the Autocannone da 47/32 su Lancia 3Ro.

The open rear side of the cargo bay allows the examination of the support. The presence of the Breda gun’s wheels suggests that the gun could be dismounted from the vehicle. Source: italie1935-45.com

Behind the cabin, a bench for the crew was mounted. The ammunition crates were stored under the bench and on the cargo bay floor, wherever they did not obstruct the activity of the gunner or loaders. Probably, the majority of the 20 mm rounds were transported by an ammunition carrier that followed the autocannoni. The cab of the vehicle was left unchanged, so the gun could not traverse 360° at 0° of elevation, but only 320°.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R in the Libyan desert in September 1940. In this photo, the cramped cargo bay of the FIAT-SPA is visible. In North Africa, where the majority of autocannoni were used, the troops prefered to use more spacious cargo bays of medium or heavy duty trucks. Source: alamy.com

Due to its small dimensions, the waterproof tarpaulin could be mounted over the autocannone to protect the automatic cannon from the desert sand and dust or from rain and snow. This also made the vehicle look like an ordinary light truck in order to avoid being targeted by enemy fire and to be an unwelcome surprise to the enemy in the event of an attack.

Due to the small size of the regular towed gun, this could also be loaded on the cargo bay along with its crew for a quicker transport from one point to another. For the same reason, it could also be placed in firing position on the cargo bay of an unmodified FIAT-SPA 38R. The only problem with these portees was the gun recoil, as the gun moved some centimeters while shooting because of the recoil.

The FIAT-SPA 38R was one of the most widely used vehicles by the Regio Esercito and virtually every division had an allotment of light trucks of this model in service.

Its small cargo bay and low load capacity did not make it an excellent base for SPAAGs and, in fact, when possible, the soldiers preferred to mount the Breda guns in the cargo bays of more spacious vehicles, such as FIAT 626NLM and ALFA-Romeo 430RE medium trucks or even heavy duty trucks, such as the Lancia 3Ro and FIAT 634N. These allowed greater comfort to the crew in the cargo bay and carried more ammunition.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT 626NM. The seven men and material in the cargo bay testify to how much more space there was. Source: Benvenuti

Main Armament

The Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R was armed with a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 20 mm L.65 anti-aircraft automatic cannon. It was developed by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche in 1935 as an anti-aircraft gun, but showed itself powerful enough to deal with light armored vehicles, such as armored cars and light trucks.

It had a crew of three or five. A gunner was seated behind the gun and two loaders were seated in the cargo bay. Some photos of the cargo bay show a total of 5 soldiers, probably in order to speed up loading. The maximum anti-aircraft range was 1,500-2,000 meters, while against ground targets, the maximum range was 2,500 meters.

Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 used by the Corpo Truppe Volontarie in the port of Palma de Mallorca. Source: Aymeric Lopez

This gun was one of the best light automatic guns of its era, with a total weightof 330 kg and a theoretical rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute. The practical rate of fire dropped to about 220 rounds per minute due to the tight space in the cargo bay and clips of only 12 rounds. The maximum elevation with the Modello 1935 mounting was +80°, while the depression was -10°.

In the majority of the photos of these interesting vehicles, the crew in the cargo bay had their personal weapons at hand.

Ammunition

The gun fired the 20 x 138 mm B ‘Long Solothurn’ cartridges, the most common 20 mm round used on 20 mm guns of the Axis forces in Europe, such as the German FlaK 38, Finnish Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle and Italian automatic cannons.

Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 ammunition
Name Type Muzzle Velocity (m/s) Projectile Mass (g) Penetration at 500 meters against an RHA plate angled at 90° (mm)
Granata Modello 1935 HEFI-T* 830 140 //
Granata Perforante Modello 1935 API-T** 832 140 27

Operational Use

During the testing phase in 1937, the vehicle was judged fairly favorable. The firepower was enough to dissuade enemy pilots from attacking, but the absence of armor and space, with a reserve of only 384 rounds (less than 2 minutes of fire), did not impress the Italian officers that evaluated the autocannone.

In 1938, the vehicle was tested with a gun shield that protected the gunners frontally, but it took a lot of space in the already narrow loading bay of the truck. The project was officially abandoned partially because the threat of air strikes in the skies over Spain had diminished dramatically after the first months of the war due to continued Republican losses.

Tests of the autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R prototype of the 18° Centro Automobilistico, at the Nettuno Firing Range, in 1937. The gun had the optics removed and the vehicle had a raised rod for the tarpaulin. Source: pinterest.com

In June 1940, the Italian Regio Esercito joined the Second World War on the Axis’ side. The airstrike problem once more reappeared and various trucks were again modified to become autocannoni.

On 7th February 1942, the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Napoli had an order to modify 261 FIAT-SPA 38R light lorries into autocannoni by installing Breda 20 mm guns on their cargo bays. Another 100 20 mm SPAAGs were produced in Libya during 1940, the majority of which were probably mounted on the FIAT-SPA 38R chassis. Sadly, despite the large amount of vehicles modified, hardly anything is known about their service.

A column escorted by three Autocannoni da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R in Ukraine in August 1941. The photo was taken during a visit on the battlefront by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato


Some photos of Autocannoni da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R and their crews in the Soviet Union during action. Summer 1941. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

Because of the simplicity of the modification, conversions were also carried out by units on the front line, in the field workshops in North Africa, the Balkans, France, Italy and the Soviet Union. This makes the vehicle the most produced autocannone during the Second World War, but also makes it impossible to identify precisely how many were produced.

In the Soviet Union, some vehicles were deployed to protect the thousand-vehicle columns of the Axis forces that advanced throughout the Soviet Union. Their service in that war theater is unknown.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R going through a street near Rome some days before the Armistice of 8th September 1943. Source: Istituto Luce

After the Italian Armistice and the German occupation of northern and central Italy and all the areas controlled by the Regio Esercito, some vehicles fell into German hands.

No sources or photos mention autocannoni da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38Rs in service with the Germans. Some photos have appeared of a similar vehicle, a FIAT-SPA 38R in German use armed with a Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1941 machine gun on a modified cargo bay. Unfortunately, the date and location are unknown, and it is impossible to say more about this interesting German-used field modification.

A bad quality photo of a German-manned Autocannone da 20/70 su FIAT-SPA 38R armed with a Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Mod. 1941, date and location unknown. It had a modified cargo bay to allow the gun to traverse 360°. Source: pinterest.com

Conclusion

The Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R was one of the dozens of improvised armed trucks produced by the Italian Royal Army before the Armistice to deal with enemy planes, mainly in North Africa and the USSR.

Although not one of the most famous autocannoni, it was almost surely the most produced one, with more than 200 modified and an unknown number converted by the troops on the battlefield.

However, its simple nature has made it rather unremarkable, and thus, very little has ever been written about it.

Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R prototype of the 18° Centro Automobilistico, at the Nettuno Firing Range, in 1937.
An Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R in North African desert. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA 38R specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.783 x 3.5 x 2.6 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 3.6 tonnes
Crew 5 (Driver, vehicle commander, gunner, and 2 loaders)
Propulsion FIAT Tipo 18R, petrol, 4-cylinder, 4,053 cm³, 55 hp at 2,000 rpm
Speed Road Speed: 51 km/h
Range 310 km
Armament Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935
Armor None
Production At least 261 officially converted

Sources

I corazzati di circostanza italiani – Nico Sgarlato
Gli Autoveicoli tattici e logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943, Tomo Primo and Secondo – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
Ruote in divisa, I veicoli militari italiani 1900-1987 – Brizio Pignacca
Semicingolati, motoveicoli e veicoli speciali del Regio Esercito italiano 1919/1943 – Giulio Benussi

Categories
WW2 Italian Autocannoni

Autocannone da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37

Kingdom of Italy (1941-1942)
Self-Propelled Gun – 12 Converted

The Autocannone da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37 was an Italian truck-mounted artillery Self-Propelled Gun (SPG). It was developed as a desperate solution to improve the mobility of an old artillery piece and to support the Italian troops in the North African Campaign.

It was used by the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army), with a dozen units assigned to three batteries of the XVI Gruppo Autoportato (English: 16th Truck-Transported Group) of the Raggruppamento Celere AS (English: North African Fast Group). After mid-1942, the surviving vehicles were assigned to the 136º Reggimento Artiglieria Motorizzata (English: 136th Motorized Artillery Regiment) of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ (English: 136th Armored Division).

Four Autocannoni da 75/27 Mod. 11 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37 lined up, probably before the delivery to a battery. Source: zen.yandex.ru

Context

After the initial military success in the North African Campaign, such as the Italian Invasion of Egypt between 9th-16th September 1940 and Operation Sonnenblume (English: Operation Sunflower) between 6th February-25th May 1941, the Regio Esercito High Command noticed that their ranks were missing fast support vehicles equipped with powerful support guns.

They had two options. They could wait for some fully-designed vehicles from the mainland or produce some support vehicles locally by modifying Italian trucks present in the Italian African colonies.

Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N destroyed by the British during Operation Crusader in December 1941. Source: wikipedia.com

The inadequacy of the Italian tanks, such as the L3 series light tanks and the medium M11/39 and M13/40 tanks, made evident in the fighting against British tanks, and the reduced mobility of the infantry medium and heavy support artillery in the desert, pushed the High Command to appeal to the Italian workshops in Libya to create vehicles for the role.

These had to be light and fast and be able to support the Italian infantry or armored units from short-to-medium ranges with guns that would normally have been towed. Such vehicles would have to be able to move quickly from one point to another on the North African battlefields, in order to engage the enemy forces that broke through the Axis defensive lines.

Obviously, this was seen by the Italian commanders in Africa as a temporary solution while waiting for the production of better armed vehicles with adequate characteristics. Such vehicles unfortunately never came in any significant numbers.

The Autocannoni da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37s, like other autocannoni such as the Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N, were built at the Libyan workshops of the 12° Autoraggruppamento AS (‘AS’ stands for Africa Settentrionale – North Africa) situated in the village of Giovanni Berta, near the city of El Gubba in north-east Libya.

The Italian ‘Autocannone da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37’ (Autocannoni plural) means “75 mm L/27 truck-mounted [cannon] on FIAT-SPA T.L.37 [chassis]” in English.

Design

The FIAT-SPA T.L.37

In the first half of 1935, the Regio Esercito issued a request for a new prime mover to tow the 75 mm and 100 mm guns and howitzers in the Italian Royal Army artillery units. It was meant to replace the old Pavesi P4/100 TL140, also known as the Trattore Leggero Modello 1931.

Army requirements included four-wheel drive for better off-road performances, a maximum speed of 40 km/h, and to transport six soldiers, including the driver. Only two Italian companies responded to the request: Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino or FIAT (English: Italian Automobile Factory of Turin), and Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche (English: Italian Ernesto Breda Company for Mechanical Constructions).

The model proposed by FIAT in collaboration with the Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA (English: Pedimontese Automobile Company), its subsidiary, was developed by the team of engineer Emilio Martinotti and was equipped with the Tipo 18 engine, already extensively used on the SPA Dovunque 35 medium truck and on the FIAT-SPA 38R light truck.

The mechanical solution adopted responded well to the requirements, with four-wheel drive and steering allowing a turning radius of 5 m (other sources claim 4.5 m).

In 1937, tests were conducted and, despite similar results to the model proposed by Breda, the FIAT prototype was chosen for presentation.

The T.L.37 prototype at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione in May 1938. It was equipped with semi-tires. Source: pinterest.com

The FIAT-SPA prototype was presented to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (English: Motorization Studies Center) on 31st May 1938, and to the public on 11th July, during an army exercise in the Avezzano region. The official name, FIAT-SPA Trattore Leggero Modello 1937 (English: FIAT-SPA Light Prime Mover Model 1937), abbreviated FIAT-SPA T.L.37, was also chosen around this point.

In the course of 1938, 24 tractors were sent to Libya to test the towing of the Cannone da 75/27 Modello 1906 and also of ammunition trailers with a capacity of 100 rounds. These tests were judged very satisfactory, as the prime mover was able to solve the problem of the mobility of divisional artillery pieces in the loose sand of the desert.

The first Regio Esercito order for the T.L.37 was placed on 1st October 1937 for 250 units. The production capacity of FIAT-SPA increased from 39 units per month in the first half of 1939 to 135 units in the first half of 1940. In the first months of 1941, 150 T.L.37s were produced per month before dropping to only 100 units per month in late 1941. These numbers were insufficient to ensure both the replacement of losses and the horses that were towing artillery pieces in Italian artillery regiments.

The limited production numbers were not that bad. According to data, on 1st June 1940, only 467 75 mm and 100 mm artillery pieces from World War I had been modified to be towed by trucks and not just horses.

Two Cannone da 75/27 Modello 1911 towed by FIAT-SPA T.L.37s on the streets of Mostar (modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina) in the spring of 1941. The cannons have the original wooden wheels, so in order to tow them at high speed, they were loaded on small carts. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

By 28th October 1940, 2,084 T.L. 37s had been ordered. By 1st March 1942, 1,021 vehicles had been delivered and 1,021 were in production. By 30th April 1943, a few days before the end of the North African Campaign, 2,267 FIAT-SPA T.L.37s were in service and 479 in production.

After the Italian Armistice with the Allied powers on 8th September 1943, almost all the FIAT-SPA T.L.37s were captured by the Germans, which also ordered the factories to continue production. Officine Viberti delivered 75 units in 1944 and 7 in January 1945.

The Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic) also had a limited number of units in service, as did the Corpo Italiano di Liberazione (English: Italian Liberation Corps), the army that fought for the Allied forces in Southern Italy.

A FIAT-SPA T.L.37 of the 12. SS-Panzer Division ‘Hitlerjugend’ towing an anti-tank 7.5 cm PaK 40 cannon. Turnhout, Belgium 1944. Source: Terlisten collection

After the war, the T.L.37 remained in production in its T.37 version (similar to the A.S.37) until 1948 and remained in service into the 1950s, towing British 17-pdr cannons and 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft autocannons.

Three FIAT-SPA T37 towing 40/56 Mark II Bofors autocannons in Via dei Fori Imperiali during the Republic Day parade in Rome, 2nd June 1948. Source: pinterest.com

Engine and Suspension

The FIAT-SPA T.L.37 prime mover was powered by a FIAT Tipo 18TL in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine that gave out 52 hp at 2,000 rpm. Its maximum revolutions per minute was limited to 2,000 rpm to increase its lifetime, reducing the need for maintenance and replacement.

The Zenith Modello 1936 TTHVI carburetor was designed for off-road and steep slope operations. The original Zenith air filter was replaced by a standard OCI oil bath model adopted by all T.L.37s sent to Libya. The engine-clutch assembly was suspended from the frame by four silent blocks. The gasoline tank placed in front of the cabin had a capacity of 100 liters and offered a range of 170 km.

The FIAT Tipo 18TL four-cylinder in-line gasoline engine. Source: FIAT

The housing for the gearbox-differential unit was located in the center of the chassis. The housing had five gears plus a reverse gear. At the rear of the transmission box housing was the Power Take-Off (PTO) for the 2 tonnes winch. This meshed with the box’s output shaft when the vehicle was stationary. This mechanical complexity provided good performance to the vehicle but, at the same time, caused some parts to be fragile or to need constant maintenance by the crews.

For use in North Africa, three models of the FIAT-SPA T.L.37 were developed in 1941. The T.L.37 ‘Coloniale’ (English: Colonial) differed from the basic version by having Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ 11.25 x 24″ (22 x 60 cm) tires, a winch with more power, with a towing capacity of 2.5 tonnes, and oil-bath air filters for the engine.

FIAT-SPA T.L.37 ‘Coloniale’ in the testing ground of the Officine Viberti. In this photo, the four steering wheel system is visible. Source: Archivio FIAT

The T.L.37 ‘Libia’ had, in addition to the same modifications as the ‘Coloniale’ Model, a muffler, an additional 150 liters tank mounted on the roof of the small rear ammunition rack, and two 35 liters removable tanks on either side of the chassis. These tripled the vehicle’s range to about 500 km.

The FIAT-SPA T.L.37 ‘Libia’ in North Africa. Source: pinterest.com

The T.L.37 ‘Sahariano’ (English: Saharan), the third African variant, was identical to the ‘Libia’, but was equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires.

The T.L.37 had a coil spring and torsion bar suspension on the front axle and the transverse leaf springs on the rear. All wheels were independent of each other for better off-road driving.

The FIAT-SPA T.L.37 ‘Sahariano’ at the Officine Viberti plant. Source: zen.yandex.ru

Structure

The FIAT-SPA T.L.37 light prime mover could carry, besides the driver, five gun crew on seats upholstered in black leather (replaced by black synthetic material from February 1942). It also had racks for the soldier’s personal weapons. The small ammunition rack at the rear could hold up to 290 kg of 75 mm or 100 mm ammunition. The folding waterproof canvas, which only partially protected the crew, was supported by two metal rods on each side, one folding on the rear shelf and one that could be folded behind the front seats.

The wheels, with 24″ (60 cm) full or perforated pressed sheet metal rims, could be equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Celerflex’ with a diameter of 1,098 mm. After 15th May 1939, the production vehicles were equipped with tires with inner tubes produced by the Pirelli company of Milan. These were the Pneumatici Tipo ‘Artiglio’ 9 x 24″ (22 x 60 cm) and Tipo ‘Artiglio a Sezione Maggiorata’ for continental terrain and Russian steppes, Tipo ‘Libia’ 11.25 x 24” (28.5 x 60.96 cm), Tipo ‘Libia Rinforzato’, Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ 11.25 x 24″ for sandy soils, and Tipo ‘Raiflex’ for continental grounds. These were the same tires as used on the armored cars and camionette of the Regio Esercito.

Two types of tires used on the standard FIAT-SPA T.L.37, the Pirelli Tipo ‘Artiglio’ on the left and Pirelli Tipo ‘Celerflex’ on the right. Source: FIAT

In order to improve grip, the tires could be fitted with snow chains, while metal fins could be mounted to the wheels with semi-tires to help on ice.

The T.L.37 had a total weight of 3,560 kg with ‘Celerflex’ solid tires and 3,180 kg with the standard tires. Its payload capacity was 800 kg, while its towable capacity was 2.8 tonnes, enough to tow almost every type of artillery in the Italian ranks. The older Pavesi TL31 had a total weight of 2,950 kg, a payload of 500 kg, and a towable capacity of 2 tonnes.

The FIAT-SPA T.L.37 chassis. Source: Archivio FIAT

From early 1942, a mount for a spare tire was installed on the rear of the structure. This modification was extended to already delivered vehicles. There were two towing variants depending on the type of artillery piece being serviced. For the Cannone da 75/27 Modello 06, the tow hook was about 200 mm longer.

The 6 volt electrical circuit was powered by a Magneti Marelli Modello D75R dynamo to power the two headlights, the tail light, the dashboard lighting and the Magneti Marelli T23 horn located under the hood, along with the steering system. As on many Italian military vehicles, the vehicle was also equipped with two acetylene headlights.

Main Armament

The Cannone Vickers-Terni da 75/27 Modello 1911 was an artillery piece used by the Regio Esercito during the First World War and Second World War. Its predominant use was as an artillery piece, although it was also occasionally used in the anti-tank role using specially designed projectiles.

A Cannone da 75/27 Modello 11 on the Russian front in December 1941. Source: Archivio dell’Ufficio Storico di Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito

Only five years after its adoption, the 75 mm Cannone da 75/27 Modello 1906 gun, developed by Krupp, was shown to have poor mobility during tests in Tripolitania in the 1912 Libyan War. The limited elevation of 7° to 16° was also criticized.

Moreover, the delivery delays accumulated by the manufacturers prompted the General Staff to reconsider the issue of horse-drawn field artillery. Thus, in 1911, after long comparative tests of the most modern Schneider, Krupp, and Deport pieces of German and French origin, the Italian Army decided to adopt the French 75 mm cannon. Although developed from a design by French Lieutenant Colonel Joseph-Albert Deport, the Cannone da 75/27 Modello 1911 was not a renewal of the French Army’s 1897 model, but a much more modern piece that served in the Italian Army as a training gun until 1950.

In 1915, after three years of production, the Regio Esercito had in service 125 batteries of the Cannone da 75/27 Modello 1911, i.e. 500 guns, assigned to the divisional artillery regiments and to the army corps. These 500 cannons were also supplemented by the cannons in depots and those assigned to the schools of instruction. The Cannone da 75/27 Modello 1911 was superior to the Škoda 8 cm Vz. 1905 and Vz. 1905/08 cannons in service with the Austro-Hungarian and German armies. Despite the losses suffered, especially during the retreat of Caporetto, the Royal Italian Army had a total of 820 Cannone da 75/27 Modello 1911s in September 1918.

The gun shield was produced with 4 mm thick armored plates. It could not be removed and also had the gunner seat bolted on it.

After the First World War, many studies were carried out to try to improve the performance of this gun and to try to amend the few weaknesses spotted during the war. The various projects were mainly aimed at increasing the range and improving the effectiveness of the ammunition used. The adoption of a new projectile in 1932 made it possible to increase the range from 10,200 meters to 12,000 meters and to double the explosive power of the projectiles used during the First World War.

The gun had a weight of 1,075 kg battery ready, with a maximum depression of -15° and a maximum elevation of +65°. It had a total traverse of 53° thanks to the modern trails.

Cannone da 75/27 Mod. 11 opening fire against British troops in North Africa. Source: pinterest.com

The muzzle velocity was 502 m/s with standard High Explosive rounds and a bit more with the Armor Piercing rounds. The rate of fire could be up to 15 rounds per minute with a well trained crew, but it was usually maintained to 5 or 6 rounds per minute to avoid overheating the barrel.

Ammunition

The Cannone Vickers-Terni da 75/27 Modello 1911 could fire 75 x 185 mmR shells.

Cannone Vickers-Terni da 75/27 Modello 1911 used during the Second World War ammunition
Name Type Note Weight (kg)
Granata Ordinaria da 75 High Explosive 6.3
Granata Dironpente da 75 High-Explosive (HE) Twice more powerful than the World War I rounds 5.2
Scatola a Mitraglia Canister 238 16-mm lead spheres //
Granata Perforante Esplodente Armor Piercing High Explosive //
Granata Mod. 32 Armor Piercing 6.276
Granata Ordinaria Mod. 34/36 High-Explosive //
Granata 1900/15N High-Explosive French rounds //
Granata Mod. 17 High-Explosive French rounds //
Effetto Pronto High Explosive Anti-Tank Entered in service in late 1941 and early 1942 in small numbers //
Effetto Pronto Speciale
Effetto Pronto Speciale Modello 1942
Proiettile a Grande Capacità Smoke, incendiary, or toxic Could be equipped with different charges //

Penetration was 50 mm of steel angled at 90° at 500 meters and 45 mm of steel at 1,000 meters with the standard Armor Piercing Granata Mod. 32 round making it capable of effectively countering British tanks in the early stages of the North African Campaign.

According to a test carried out in 1942, during a mission in Germany meant to test the effectiveness of the cannon against the Soviet T-34-76 tanks and transported to shooting ranges in Germany, the cannon could not seriously damage the vehicle. This was due to the low muzzle velocity.

Autocannone da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37

The Autocannone da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37 was a radical modification of the FIAT-SPA T.L.37 ‘Libia’. For that reason, it is sometimes also called Autocannone da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37 ‘Libia’. The engine hood was the only part of the vehicle left intact, while the rest was completely changed to accommodate the 75 mm cannon. The steering wheel column was modified, lowering or angling it to permit the traverse of the main gun. Apart from the engine hood and the front cabin, the rest of the bodywork was cut out.

The FIAT-SPA T.L.37 chassis. Source: Archivio FIAT

On the rear section was placed a small iron platform. On this platform, the gun trails were blocked in open firing position, along with two seats for the gun crew.

The driver and commander’s seats were left in place, but the 4 mm thick gun shield covered their field of view. On the right side, a small openable slot was cut to allow the driver to check the battlefield. On some other vehicles, the gun shield was cut more to allow the driver and the commander a better field of view of the front arc.

The Autocannone da 75/27 Mod. 11 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37. It had a slot cut for the driver. Source: zen.yandex.ru

On the left side was a spare wheel. Due to the new combat role of the vehicle, it was more likely the tires would get hit by small arms fire. On the right side was a large ammunition rack, but the amount of ammunition is unknown. Under the platform, at the rear, a 150 liters tank was placed to keep the range at about 400 km.

An Autocannone da 75/27 Mod. 11. The rear platform, with the seats, the 150 liters tank and the cut gun trails is visible. Source: pinterest.com

The SPG had a crew of 6. The driver and commander were in the front, gunner and a loader on the rear of the vehicle, and other 2 gun crew were transported on another of the battery’s vehicles.

The gun traverse on the vehicle was 52°, 26° to each side. The depression was 0° because the gun cradle was leaning against the engine hood when at 0° elevation.

An Autocannone with a shortened gun shield. A Carcano Mod. 91/38 carbine is visible. The rifles were used by the crew to defend themselves against enemy attacks. Source: pinterest.com

Operational Use

The Autocannone da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37 was one of the last autocannoni produced by the Italian troops in North Africa. They were produced by the Autofficine del 12° Autoraggruppamento AS at the behest of the Comando Truppe Sahara Libico (English: Troop Command of the Libyan Sahara), the Libyan occupation force equivalent of the Guardia alla frontiera (English: Border guard) on the Italian mainland.

In March 1942, the first vehicles were ready and were tested, demonstrating decent mobility for a vehicle weighing nearly 5 tonnes and with an engine rated at only 52 hp. Thanks to the large tires, it had good flotation on the loose sand. For example, the Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro struggled in the same terrain.

An Autocannone da 75/27 Mod. 11 su T.L.37 with shortened gun shield in the Siwa Oasis, 1942. Source: Afrikakorps.org

The 12 Autocannoni da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37 were assigned in groups of four to the 7ª Batteria, 8ª Batteria, and 9ª Batteria (English: 7th, 8th, and 9th Batteries) of the XVI Gruppo (English: 16th Group) of the Raggruppamento Celere Africa Settentrionale (English: North Africa Fast Grouping).

The Raggruppamento Celere Africa Settentrionale was composed of two gruppi celeri (English: fast groups), each composed of an armored car squadron with 24 AB40 and AB41 armored cars, one Gruppo Batterie da 65/17 Autoportate (English: Truck-mounted 65/17 Battery Group), one Gruppo Batterie da 75/27 Mod. 11 Autoportate, one Gruppo Batterie da 100/17 Autoportate, and one Batteria Antiaerea da 20/65 (English: 20 mm Anti-Aircraft Battery). These units were supported by 2 infantry battalions and a logistic unit.

The available literature is at times contradictory about the Raggruppamento Celere Africa Settentrionale’s history and organization. According to some, the total of 48 Autoblindo AB41 medium armored cars of the armored car squadrons had to come from the III Gruppo Esplorante corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’ or GECo (English: 3rd Armored Reconnaissance Group). However, this unit was only sent to Africa in July with 18 armored cars and arrived in August 1942, under the command of Major Riccardo Martinengo Marquet. On the other hand, the Raggruppamento Celere AS was disbanded in May 1942.

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

In the book ‘La meccanizzazione dell’Esercito fino al 1943’ written by Lucio Ceva and Andrea Curami, it is stated that 20 AB40 and AB41 armored cars arrived in Africa in February 1942 and another 63 in April of the same year. The same book reports that, in May 1942, there were a total of 93 armored cars in North Africa assigned to various units, among which was the III Gruppo Squadroni Corazzato ‘Nizza’ (40 armored cars in theory, 38 in service, serviceable and not), VIII Reggimento Bersaglieri Corazzato (also with 40 armored cars in theory, 31 in service, serviceable and not), the 3ª Compagnia della Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (10 armored cars assigned in theory), and the Raggruppamento Celere AS. Considering that, of 93 armored cars, 69 were assigned to the first two units, the remaining 24 armored cars were assigned to the 3ª Compagnia della Polizia dell’Africa Italiana and to the Raggruppamento Celere AS. This is less of the half of the 48 armored cars theoretically assigned to the Raggruppamento Celere AS alone.

The crew of an autocannone during reloading. Some beautiful details are visible in this great-quality photo. On the right is visible a Carcano Carbine used for self-defense. Source: Istituto Luce

When the Raggruppamento Celere Africa Settentrionale was disbanded in May 1942, the XVI Gruppo, equipped with the 12 Autocannoni da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37, was assigned to the 136º Reggimento Artiglieria (English: 136th Artillery Regiment) of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ together with other autocannoni such as the Autocannoni da 65/18 su Morris CS8.

Here again, however, the sources mentioning this are in disagreement. Nico Sgarlato, in his book ‘I corazzati di circostanza italiani’, states that a total of 16 Autocannoni da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37 SPGs may have been produced. If the source is correct, it can be assumed that the last four, most likely produced in mid-1942, were used to replace the losses of the XVI Gruppo, since no other batteries armed with such autocannoni were created. Other sources claim a total production of 20 or 30 units, but this seems to be an overestimation.

Autocannone su T.L.37 during maintenance. In this photo, the gun crandle leaning against the engine hood is clearly visible, together with the spare wheel. Source: Istituto Luce

The ‘Giovani Fascisti’ artillery regiment was composed only of autocannoni batteries: the XIV Gruppo and XV Gruppo were equipped with Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8, the XVI Gruppo equipped with Autocannoni da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37, the XVII Gruppo with Autocannoni da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro, and, finally, the 88ª Batteria Artiglieria Contraerea (English: 88th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battery) was equipped with Cannoni da 20/65 Mod. 1935 loaded on trucks.

This regiment, on paper, had a total of 48 autocannoni. Due to months of hard fighting against British troops, many had certainly been lost.

Loading on a 75/27 su T.L.37. The gunner and two loaders are operating on the rear platform while the rest of the crew operates on the ground. Source: Istituto Luce

The last autocannoni were still used between 19th and 30th April 1943, during the First Battle of Enfidaville (now the Tunisian city of Enfidha) and in the Second Battle of Enfidaville. During these, the last forces of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ fought for an entire day, even after the declaration of the surrender of the Axis forces.

Conclusion

The Autocannoni da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37 were the last desperate conversions done by the Regio Esercito’s workshops in North Africa. These clunky vehicles proved to be quite effective, albeit with limitations due to the total weight of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the very limited number of converted vehicles did not allow the design to have a large influence on the war.

They anyway supported the Italian troops during attacks and defenses during the North African Campaign awaiting some better designed and produced autocannoni to be entered in service.

Autocannone da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37 of the 136º Reggimento Artiglieria. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Autocannone da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA T.L.37 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.13 x ~2 x 2.2 m
Total weight, battle-ready 4.5 tonnes
Crew 4 (driver, commander, gunner, and loader)
Propulsion SPA Tipo 18TL petrol, 4-cylinders, 4,053 cm³, 52 hp at 2,000 rpm, 100 liter tank
Speed 38 km/h
Range 170 km
Armament OneCannone Vickers-Terni da 75/27 Modello 1911 or Modello 1916
Armor //
Total production 12 converted

Sources

Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery in Action – Ralph Riccio and Nicola Pignato

http://www.regioesercito.it/reparti/cavalleria/regcav1.htm

Italian armoured and reconnaissance cars 1911-45 – Filippo Cappellano and Pier Paolo Battistelli

La meccanizzazione dell’Esercito fino al 1943 Tomo I Volume II – Lucio Ceva and Andrea Curami

I corazzati di circostanza italiani – Nico Sgarlato

Categories
WW2 Italian Autocannoni

Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro

Kingdom of Italy (1941-1942)
Truck-Mounted Artillery – 16 Converted

The Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro was an Italian truck-mounted artillery vehicle used by the Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army). It was produced in small numbers by converting some heavy duty trucks available in Italian military workshops in North Africa with some obsolete guns. It was used from late 1941, until the final destruction of all the vehicles in 1943. They were meant as support vehicles, but also saw use in the anti-tank role thanks to its shaped charge rounds.

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

The Italian Army’s Situation in North Africa

On 13th September 1940, one of the most famous and bloody campaigns of the Second World War began. The start of the North African campaign saw Italian troops, commanded by General Rodolfo Graziani, cross the border between Libya, an Italian colony, and British Egypt, a British protectorate.

It was immediately clear to the Italian generals that the Regio Esercito needed reconnaissance armored cars and armed vehicles to support Italian units in the vast deserts of North Africa as soon as possible.

An armed vehicle with great mobility that could reach the battlefront quickly in order to counter enemy attacks and then move to another point of the battlefront to counterattack or for other defensive duties was urgently needed.

Despite the need for such vehicles, development in Italy was very slow. The soldiers in Africa were forced to create such vehicles themselves, in military and civilian workshops. This is where Autocannoni (singular Autocannone) originated from.

The first of a long series of modified autocannoni was the Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8. A significant number of British Morris CS8 light lorries were captured during the first days of war. These were slightly modified and an Italian 65 mm mountain gun was mounted on a 360° rotating support in their cargo bay.

The modifications were done by the Autofficine del 12° Autoraggruppamento AS (English: Workshops of the 12th Motorized Group, AS standing for Africa Settentrionale – North Africa), located in the village of Giovanni Berta, near the city of El Gubba, north-east Libya.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su FIAT-SPA AS37 in North Africa. Source: zen.yandex.ru

This workshop and the FIAT ones in Tripoli were responsible for the conversion of more trucks into autocannoni. By 1942, autocannoni with howitzers, anti-aircraft autocannons, naval guns, and standard field artillery pieces were produced.

Design

Lancia 3Ro

In the mid 1930s, Vincenzo Lancia, founder of the homonymous car factory, felt the need to develop his own range of trucks in order to respond to the changes in the Italian civilian and military market and also in the European civilian market. This is how Lancia Veicoli Industriali (English: Lancia Industrial Vehicles) was born and started the production of trucks. Due to the lack of knowledge about diesel engines, the Italian company initially purchased patents for German engines.

Reliable Junkers engines were chosen. The first project had a copy of the Junkers 2-cylinder 3,181 cm³ engine. It was produced under license as the Lancia Tipo 89. It gave a power of 64 hp at 1,500 rpm. It was used on the Lancia Ro, of which 5,196 were produced between 1933 and 1939. However, the Lancia Ro had power problems. In order to cope with the increased payload, a new vehicle was introduced in 1935, the Lancia Ro-Ro. Only 301 were built for the civilian market, with a new engine under German license, the Junker 3-cylinder 6 opposed pistons version with a displacement of 4,771 cm³. It was produced under license as Lancia Tipo 90 and gave out 95 hp at 1,500 rpm. This, however, suffered from unreliability.

Vincenzo Lancia then decided to develop his own four-stroke five-cylinder diesel engine in order to decrease the production costs, as the Junkers engines were expensive, and to become more self-reliant.

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

The prototype of the new 3Ro heavy-duty truck was presented at the 10th Milan Motor Show on 28th October 1937. Officine Viberti of Turin, a leader in the sector and a valuable partner of Lancia, provided the bodywork for the new truck. The prototype had an innovative drop-shaped radiator grille, inspired by that of the Lancia Augusta car. However, this would not be used on the first series of vehicles.

Production started in the same year, replacing the Lancia Ro-Ro on the production line and accompanying the Lancia Ro. Initially, two models were offered: a civilian one with factory number Serie 464 and a military one designated Serie 564. These codes were rarely used even if some sources, for the sake of clarity, define the models as “Lancia 3Ro 464” or “Lancia 3Ro 564”.

A Lancia 3Ro poster. Source: Archivio Lancia

The first version of the civilian model retained a fairly rustic bodywork in order to lower the cost of the truck and speed up production. Officine Viberti of Corso Peschiera 249 in Turin was the main provider of bodyworks for the Lancia trucks, which was less than 800 meters from the Lancia plant in the Borgo San Paolo district in Via Monginevro 99.

The first version of the bodywork featured a vertical front grille with an exposed radiator, vertical one-piece hood sides, and single-line vertical air intakes. Customers could privately choose between a short cab with three seats and a long cab with three seats and a berth. The Lancia 3Ro was the third European truck to have the provision for a berth after the FIAT 634N, its main rival on the Italian civilian market, and the French three-axle Renault AFKD produced after 1936. The berth was often made of wood between two sheets of molded steel, although some customers opted for a simpler solution by having the entire berth made of wood.

Early Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 with Esperia company bodywork and 1 tonnes Orlandi company trailer. Source: pinterest.com

In 1939, Officine Viberti introduced a new, more modern and elegant bodywork to increase aerodynamic performance, along with a drop-shaped radiator grille, angled windscreen, and more rounded shapes, exactly as would happen with the FIAT 634N.

Given the difficulties encountered by Officine Viberti in keeping pace with the production of Lancia, many customers purchased chassis from Lancia and had the bodywork added privately by Orlandi, Cab, Zagato or even Caproni and Zorzi.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 (produced after 1939) with an Officine Viberti long cab and a 10 tonnes trailer also produced by Officine Viberti. Source: pinterest.com

The bodywork for the military model was made by Officine Viberti. This model differed from the civilian version by having 2 horizontal bars, the license plate was on the upper one, to protect the exposed radiator, an inertia starter motor under the radiator grille, doors with fixed windows, acetylene headlights on the sides of the windshield, a wooden floor, and only the rear side of the cargo bay was openable.

The Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 in an old colorized photo. Source: Manuale di Uso e Manutenzione Lancia 3 Ro

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

According to Lancia sources, a total of 177 Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 were delivered to the Regio Esercito in 1938, 657 in 1939, 2,646 in 1940, 3,162 in 1941(the maximum production rate of 260 3Ro each month was reached this year), 1,643 in 1942, 1,205 in 1943, 51 in 1944 and 1 in 1945. This gave a total of 9,542 heavy-duty trucks. At the same time, 1,307 civilian Serie 464 were built, most of them requisitioned by the Italian Regio Esercito.

After three different bombings of the Lancia plant in Turin, in October 1942, production of the Lancia 3Ro was entrusted to the Lancia Veicoli Industriali plant in Bolzano, in the Trentino Alto Adige region.

In 1939, Lancia Veicoli Industriali proposed the lowered chassis Lancia 3Ro P (P for Passo – Wheelbase, factory code Serie 266) and Lancia 3Ro PL (Passo Lungo, English: Longer Wheelbase) for the civilian market. This was 7.86 m long compared to the 7.30 m of the standard series. These vehicles were to be fitted out as buses by companies such as Garavini, Macchi, Orlandi, or even Officine Viberti.

A Lancia 3Ro P with Officine Viberti bodywork, towing a Viberti bus trailer in 1941. Source: Officine Viberti

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

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

A Lancia 3Ro 3PL with Officine Viberti bodywork with a Viberti bus trailer. This was probably a post-war vehicle. Source: Officine Viberti

During the war, a gasoline version was developed. This version had a Lancia Tipo 102B engine (B for Benzina – Gasoline). This engine was modified to work with cheaper and more available gasoline and delivered 91 hp. The Lancia Esaro medium truck, a ‘light’ version of the Lancia 3Ro developed in 1941, received an identical engine but with lower power, the Tipo 102B, delivering 80 hp, coupled to the same transmission as the Lancia 3Ro. In 1946, the Lancia Esaro received the same Tipo 102 diesel engine, but giving out only 81 hp.

Like the Lancia Ro, the Lancia 3Ro was available in many special versions for the needs of the army. For transporting quadrupeds, any Lancia 3Ro could be slightly modified with higher cargo bay sides and a two-part loading ramp. The loading bay was divided into multiple boxes by wooden planks to prevent animals from injuring each other.

The Officina Mobile Modello 1938 (English: Mobile Workshop Model 1938) was composed of two vehicles. These were identical to the ones on the Lancia Ro chassis. Apart from the prototype based on a Serie 564 MNSP, it seems that very few were produced.

The civilian version with a water or fuel tank was also adopted for the Serie 546, produced by Officine Viberti, with a capacity of 5,000 liters. It was mainly used in North Africa to transport fuel or water. A trailer with the same capacity produced by Officine Viberti could be attached to it for a total of 10,000 liters.

For the transport of water or fuel, the Serie 546 could be equipped with two removable 2000-liter tanks loaded on the loading bay. This tank did not require any modification to be fitted to the vehicle and was easy to remove, allowing the transport version to be even more versatile.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 modified by Officine Viberti with a 5,000-liter water tank and a Viberti 5,000-liter tank trailer. Source: Officine Viberti

Employed on all fronts of the Second World War, the Lancia 3Ro was the heavy truck par excellence of the Regio Esercito. It was used to transport troops, animals, or equipment, but was also used as a prime mover for heavy artillery pieces, such as 90 mm cannons and 149 mm howitzers. Officine Viberti or Bartoletti trailers were also designed specifically to be towed by the Lancia and vehicles with similar characteristics for the transport of Italian medium tanks and self-propelled guns.

Lancia 3Ro Serie 564s on the Via Balbia. They are towing Rimorchi Unificati Viberti da 15t with Carri Armati M13/40s medium tanks. Source: Ufficio Storico SME

In North Africa, its good off-road capabilities earned it the nickname ‘Re del Deserto’ (English: King of the Desert). The Allies, particularly the British, reused it in this theater of operations due to its robustness, power, and load capacity. There were trucks captured and reused by the Soviets in the Soviet Union as well.

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

Some Italian veterans claim that the Soviet soldiers usually destroyed all the logistical vehicles that they captured from the Axis troops by rolling over them with tanks during the Don Offensive and the subsequent retreat from the USSR. Eventually, though, they allegedly began to appreciate the qualities of some vehicles, putting the Lancia 3Ro and FIAT 626 that they were able to capture back into service while abandoning the Opel Blitz and FIAT 634N, which they considered performed worse.

After 8th September 1943 and the armistice with the Allies, the Lancia 3Ro were built for the Germans and kept the same bodywork until order 7967/8153. This order, dated 5th April 1944, provided for the delivery of 100 trucks with Einheits cab. This cab, designed by the Germans, was made of plywood planks on a parallelepiped wooden frame. It was very easy to mass produce and adaptable to many Italian trucks, such as the FIAT 628, the SPA TL40, and the Lancia 3Ro.

According to German sources, the Wehrmacht received a total of 772 Lancia 3Ro between January 1944 and February 1945, far more than the production declared by Lancia (52 produced between 1944 and 1945) for the same period. It can be assumed that the German sources were in error, and 772 did not represent the vehicles that were newly delivered by Lancia Veicoli Industriali, but trucks that had previously belonged to the Italian Regio Esercito or private companies and were requisitioned or captured by the Germans. All Lancia 3Ro were assigned to units under the command of the Oberkommando Sud-Est, commanding the Balkans, and Oberkommando Sud-Ouest, commanding Italy.

Some units of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic), the Italian Fascist Republic from 1943 to 1945, and some Partisan brigades also used the Lancia 3Ro during the bloody civil war that broke out in northern Italy between 1943 and 1945. In fact, in Turin, in April 1944, the workers allied with the Partisans made an agreement with the factory managers to supply the Partisans with transport vehicles, lubricants, fuel, spare parts, and financial assistance. The number of vehicles delivered is not known. There were no Lancia 3Ro being produced in Bolzano, but spare parts for such vehicles may have been delivered.

A Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 used by the Partisans and citizens in April 1945 to liberate the city of Turin. A 7.7 mm Breda-SAFAT medium machine gun was placed on the cab’s roof. The car near the truck was a FIAT 1100 armed with a Breda Modello 1930 light machine gun. Source: Archivio della Città di Torino

During the German occupation, a dozen gas-powered Lancia 3Ro GT (GT for Gassificatore Tedesco – German Gasifier) were also produced.

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

Initially, very different models grouped under the name Serie 564 NT came off the assembly line. These vehicles were hybrids between the Serie 464 and German production 564. After the war, the warehouses of Bolzano contained dozens of incomplete trucks or raw materials for the military versions. These were diverted for the production of civilian versions. These odd vehicles had military chassis, gasoline engines replacing the diesels, and elongated axle shafts, since the civilian version was wider than the military version.

In 1946, a new model came out: the Lancia 3Ro C (C for Conformità – Conformity) or Serie 564C. It had an electric starter, the width increased to 2,500 mm (2,350 mm for military ones), a new braking system and a ‘full floating’ rear axle instead of the load-bearing axle shafts. It was followed after a year by the Lancia 3Ro C2 (factory code Serie 564C/2) with reinforced tires.

The Lancia 3Ro C versions remained in production until 1948, with mainly Officine Viberti bodywork along with occasionally Orlandi and Caproni. The Military versions were bodied by Officine Viberti. In 1947, the Lancia Esatau 846 or 1 Series came into production. This was equipped with a 122 hp Lancia engine, later increased to 132 hp, and had a top speed of 58 km/h, later increased to 75 km/h.

This vehicle did not receive the attention that was hoped for due to poor power, range, and overall costs. Many truckers preferred the old Lancia 3Ro and Lancia was forced to produce them for another year and a half. The Lancia Esatau 846 and its military version, called Lancia 6Ro, were quickly replaced by other models with a more modern style.

The last 3P and 3PL buses based on the Lancia 3Ro came off the assembly line of the Lancia plants in Bolzano and Turin in 1950. The Lancia 3Ro remained in service with the new Esercito Italiano (English: Italian Army) until 1964 as a medium truck, maintaining high mobility and load capacity, outclassing even modern vehicles produced in the 1950s.

The Lancia 3RO C2 with Officine Viberti’s long cab and with new tires. The cargo bay was modified for the transport of sheep. It had only one tire on the rear axle. Behind it is a Viberti trailer also modified for the same purpose. Source: pinterest.com

Engine and Suspension

Designed in 1938 on the basis of the previous Lancia Ro and Lancia Ro-Ro, the Lancia 3Ro stood out with its new diesel engine, designed and produced by the Turin company. The Lancia Tipo 102 diesel, 4-stroke, direct ignition, 4 valves, 5-cylinder in-line water cooled engine, with a capacity of 6,875 cm³, delivered 93 hp at 1,860 rpm, leading to a speed on road of 45 km/h. It had a 135 liters tank behind the cab. The tank was connected to a Bosch pump that injected the fuel in the chamber thanks to Bosch injectors.

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

The Lancia Tipo 102 5-cylinder in-line diesel engine. Source: Archivio Lancia

Initially, the engine had an inertial starter connected to a crank. The post-war Lancia 3Ro were equipped with electric starters. On some Lancia 3Ro produced before 1946, the inertial starter was replaced by electric ones later.

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

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

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

The brake system of the trailer was pneumatic, served by a compressor connected to an air tank of the ‘Triplex’ type. After the war, the 3Ro received new arrangements for the towing of 12 tonnes instead of 10 tonnes authorized for the civilian variant.

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

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

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

Lancia 3Ro MNSP Serie 564 near Santhià, Piemonte, on 9th August 1941. It has Pirelli Tipo ‘Celerflex’ solid tires. Source: Aymeric Lopez

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

Chassis

Some military trucks were equipped with a winch with a capacity of 9.5 tonnes, with a 31.5-meter long cable. This hydraulic winch was operated by the truck’s engine through a Power Take-Off (PTO) system. When necessary, the driver stopped the vehicle, would shift out of gear on the gearbox, engage the handbrake, and, via a manual override, connected the engine’s flywheel to a second driveshaft that operated the winch’s gearbox, which regulated the speed of the cable.

The Lancia 3Ro chassis. The 135 liters tank is behind the cab. Source: Manuale di Uso e Manutenzione Lancia 3 Ro

The 4.8 m long, 2.3 m, and 0.65 m high loading bay was built in wood, with 2.5 cm thick planks, for an internal volume of 66.8 m³. The Lancia 3Ro, weighing 5.61 tonnes, was approved by law to carry 6.39 tonnes of cargo, for a total weight of truck and cargo of 12 tonnes. However, the maximum transportable cargo came to almost 10 tonnes. It could carry 32 fully equipped soldiers on two side benches or almost 50 sitting on the floor, a light reconnaissance tank L6/40 (6.84 tonnes), a Semovente L40 da 47/32 (6.82 tonnes), or even 7 horses.

On the military model, it was not uncommon to see vehicles carrying material for a total of almost 10 tonnes in the loading bay, as well as towing a Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15t weighing 3.75 tonnes, with a capacity of 15 tonnes, carrying any tank of the ‘M’ series (M13/40, M14/41 or M15/42) and any self-propelled gun on their chassis for a total weight of truck,trailer, and cargo of almost 30 tonnes.

A Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 with camouflage netting towing a Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15t with a Semovente M40 da 75/18 on the Via Balbia. Source: pinterest.com

Main Armament

At the end of World War I, the Kingdom of Italy received or captured or received 1,339 Škoda 10 cm vz. 1914 and 95 Škoda 10 cm vz. 1916 howitzers. These howitzers were joined by 557 cannons and 56 horse-drawn front wagons for the Škoda 10 cm vz. 1916 and 915 guns and 735 horse-drawn front wagons for the Škoda 10 cm vz. 1914 provided by Austria-Hungary as war reparations. These weapons were later incorporated into the Royal Italian Army. In fact, the Italian Army suffered from a lack of light howitzers to accompany the Cannoni da 75/27 Mod. 1906 and the 75/27 Mod. 1911 in the field artillery regiments.

The Cannone da 105/14 Modello 1917 howitzer, which was produced by Ansaldo under license, arrived too late to take part in the conflict. Moreover, its range was inferior to the Škoda howitzers and was quickly decommissioned from active service and stored.

After World War I, other nations adopted these Škoda howitzers, entering service with the Austrian, Czechoslovakian, German, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Turkish, and Yugoslav armies. In Italian service, the Obice Škoda da 100/17 Modello 1914 was renamed Škoda 10 cm vz. 1914 and the Obice Škoda da 100/17 Modello 1916 as Škoda 10 cm vz. 1916.

The Obice da 100/17 Mod. 14 was towed by a horse-drawn front wagon. It weighed 1,417 kg in battery position. Designed for use in the mountains, it could be divided into 3 parts, allowing it to be transported on narrow paths on the back of mules.

The Obice da 100/17 Mod. 16 was intended exclusively for mountain use and was lighter than the previous model, at 1,235 kg. The new model retained the ballistic performance of the Mod. 1914. The main differences were the reduction in size, the reduction of the wheel diameter to facilitate movement on narrow paths, the increase of the maximum elevation, and the adoption of a new two-part flat shield.

The main weaknesses of the Škoda 10 cm howitzer was its range of 8,180 m and a low horizontal traverse of only 5° due to the single central trail. After 1918, the Royal Italian Army captured and received a small stock of ammunition. Therefore, the Italian industry had to start almost the production of the 100 mm ammunition.

In 1932, a new projectile was produced. It had 2.3 kg of TNT equivalent explosive filler and better ballistics, giving it an increased range by about 500 m, bringing it to almost 9 km.

Obice Škoda da 100/17 Modello 1914 TM opening fire in North Africa in the summer of 1942. Source: Archivio dell’Ufficio Storico di Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito

As with most artillery pieces after the First World War, the 100 mm Mod. 14 and Mod. 16 howitzers had problems with mechanized transport. In fact, since they were designed to be towed by 6 horses at very low speed, they had no suspension, which caused problems when being towed by trucks and caused damage to the barrel due to vibrations.

In order to solve this problem, in the 1920s, two different solutions were adopted. The first was a trolley with rubber wheels positioned under the howitzer, which was then hooked to the truck. The second option was having the original 12-spoke wooden wheels replaced by metal wheels with solid rubber tires. These modifications received the acronym TM or Traino Meccanizato (English: Mechanized Towing).

The Obice da 100/17 Mod. 14 had a depression of -8° and an elevation of +48°, while the traverse was 5°21′. The Obice da 100/17 Mod. 16 had a depression of -8° and an elevation of +70°, while the traverse was 5°5′. The maximum rate of fire was 10 rounds per minute, but in order to lessen the stress on the mechanical parts and to keep the barrel from overheating, the usual rate of fire on the autocannoni was 5-6 rounds per minute. The muzzle velocity was 430 m/s with High-Explosive rounds.

On 1st October 1939, the Italian Regio Esercito had 1,325 Obici da 100/17 Mod. 14, which were horse-drawn or used in fixed positions, 199 Obici da 100/17 Mod. 14 TM, and 181 Mod. 16 howitzers.

The weapon thus constituted, along with the 75/27 gun, the backbone of the Italian divisional artillery regiments. In North Africa, in October 1941, there were 137 100 mm TM howitzers, which were reduced to 56 by February 1943. In this theater of operations, Škoda howitzers had problems on off-road transport because of the soft sand, in which they sank. They were also criticized for their insufficient range.

The Obice Škoda da 100/17 Modello 1914 mounted on a Lancia 3Ro cargo bay. The loader has an High-Explosive Granata Mod. 32 in his hands. Source: wikipedia.org

In April 1942, the Regio Esercito could still count on 173 Obici da 100/17 Mod. 16, 194 Mod. 14TM, and 1,583 Obici da 100/17 Mod. 14 horse-drawn howitzers. Many of the losses incurred were offset by the supply of guns captured from the Polish by the Germans and pieces captured from Yugoslavia.

In June 1943, there were still 37 divisional artillery groups equipped with Škoda howitzers Mod. 14, of which 11 were motorized, and 10 groups equipped with the Mod. 16. As such, the 100 mm remained the standard light howitzer of the Italian Regio Esercito throughout the war.

After the armistice of 8th September 1943, the Germans captured several hundred of these howitzers and reused them under the name of 10 cm FH 315(i). After the war, the surviving howitzers received a ring mount identical to that of the British 25-pounder howitzer, giving it 360° traverse. The barrels were rebored from 100 mm to 105 mm and the breeches replaced. The resulting howitzers were capable of firing standard NATO ammunition and remained in service until the mid-1980s for training purposes.

Ammunition

The Obice da 100/17 Mod. 14 and Mod. 16 could fire different types of rounds with the 100 x 132 mmR cartridge.

Granata Dirompente da 100High-Explosive (HE)12.73

Obice da 100/17 ammunition
Name Type Weight (kg)
Granata Perforante da 100 Armor Percing (AP) //
Granata a Doppio Effetto da 100 High-Explosive (HE) 12.93
Granata Shrapnel Shrapnel 11.45
Granata da 100 Modello 1932 High-Explosive (HE) 13.80
Granata a Doppio Effetto da 100 Modello 1932 High-Explosive (HE) 13.33
Granata a Doppio Effetto da 100 Modello 1936 High-Explosive (HE) 13
Effetto Pronto High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) //
Effetto Pronto Speciale High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) //
Granata Incendiaria da 100 Incendiary //
Granata Fumogena da 100 Smoke //
Granata Lacrimogena da 100 Tear Gas //

Despite the short-range and low muzzle velocity of the projectile, the 10 cm howitzer was often used in the anti-tank role. The hollow-charge armor-piercing Effetto Pronto projectiles were designed for this weapon and were delivered in very small numbers to the units in mid-1942. This new projectile was tested in Germany in November 1942 against captured Soviet tanks and demonstrated its capabilities against T-34-76 medium tanks and KV-1 heavy tanks. Italian 100 mm EP ammunition proved at least as effective as German 105 mm HL ammunition, suggesting that it could penetrate a 100 mm ballistic steel plate angled at 90°. In May 1943 a more powerful projectile, dubbed the Effetto Pronto Speciale, was adopted.

The Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro could transport 100 rounds on board. The ammunition was carried in two 50-rounds wooden racks in the cargo bay, right behind the cabin. Other projectiles were transported on truck ammunition carriers assigned to each battery.

Secondary Armament

The secondary armament on the Autocannone was a single Breda Modello 1938 medium machine gun. This gas-operated machine gun was developed by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche in 1938 and accepted into service in the same year.

This was the vehicle version of the powerful machine gun adopted as the company or battalion support heavy machine gun by the Regio Esercito, the Breda Modello 1937. The Mod. 37 was the heaviest rifle-caliber machine gun of the Second World War, with a weight of 19.4 kg, while the Mod. 38 was smaller, with a weight of 15.4 kg, thanks to the shortened barrel of 575 mm compared to the 740 mm long-barrel of the Mod. 37. The machine guns were probably taken from some knocked out Italian medium tanks, like some other parts of the autocannoni.

The Breda Modello 1938 on the autocannone. It did not have the top-curved magazine but the anti-aircraft sight is visible. Source: forum.warthunder.com

The machine gun had a theoretical rate of fire of 600 rounds per minute, over 100 rounds per minute more than the Mod. 37. Due to the 24-round top-mounted curved-magazine, the practical rate of fire dropped to around 350 rounds per minute.

The machine gun fired 8 x 59 mm RB cartridges developed by Breda exclusively for machine guns. The 8 mm Breda had a muzzle velocity between 790 m/s and 900 m/s, depending on the round type. The armor piercing ones penetrated 11 mm of non-ballistic steel angled to 90° at 100 meters. Unfortunately, where the ammunition was stowed and the precise number of magazines carried on board the Autocannone is unknown. Some vehicles had anti-aircraft support mounted on the cabin’s left.

Crew

The crew was composed of 6 soldiers: commander, driver, gunner, two loaders, and another gun operator. The driver sat on the right side of the open-topped cab while the vehicle’s commander/gun commander sat on the left side. Between the two, there was enough space for an additional gun crew member. The gunner and two loaders were placed on the cargo bay.

When firing the gun, the driver helped to reload the gun or operated the anti-aircraft machine gun. The drivers of the supply trucks assigned to the batteries also helped to fire the gun to speed up the gun’s rate of fire.

For close defense, crews stored their personal weapons in the spacious Lancia 3Ro’s cargo bay. Usually, the crews were only armed with Carcano Modello 1891 in carbine or rifle versions.

Modifications

The Autofficine del 12° Autoraggruppamento Africa Settentrionale modified Lancia 3Ro heavy duty trucks, cutting out the cabin roof and sides under the windshield level, giving 360° of traverse for the howitzer. On the cargo bay, two box-shaped wooden ammunition racks and a bench for the gun loaders were added.

Some 20 liters can supports were placed under the cargo bay. From the photographic sources, these held 6 cans and were welded to the frame of the truck on the left side, in front of the rear wheel. However, since this was a mostly improvised vehicle, the supports changed sometimes. Other photos show vehicles with a 3 can support. With the six 20 liters cans filled with fuel, the vehicle could have a theoretical range of 1,000 km on-road and 850 km off-road. With 3 cans, it could have a theoretical range of 750 km on-road and 650 km off-road. Apart from these modifications the vehicle was left unchanged.

An Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro battery opening fire against British troops. The 20 liters cans support is visible. The howitzer is a Mod. 1914. Soure: forum.warthunder.com

A turret rotation ring, taken from destroyed medium tanks of the ‘M’ series, such as the M13/40, was placed on the cargo bay. The ring held a platform on which the Obice da 100/17 Mod. 14 or Mod. 16 howitzer mount was welded.

The howitzer carriage was modified, removing the wheels, the spade, shortening the trail, and removing the armored shield. This ingenious system allowed for 360° of traverse. At the front, over an arc of 33° to the right and 33° to the left, the howitzer could only fire at a minimum elevation of +5° due to the cabin and ammunition boxes. Over the remaining 294°, the gun could fire with a depression of -8°.

The vehicle did not have jacks to lift it off the ground, as on other autocannoni. The recoil of the gun was quite low and did not cause any damage to the chassis.

However, with each shot, the vehicle moved some centimeters even with the handbrake on, a problem that was solved by putting wooden wedges under the wheels. This forced the gunner to re-aim the howitzer after each shot. The necessity of re-aim the main gun after each shot slowed down the rate of fire while the presence of the wedges forced the crew to remove them when the vehicle needed to be transferred in another place did not permit them to quickly relocate to avoid British counter-batteries fire.

Italian writer Nico Sgarlato, in his book ‘I Corazzati di Circostanza Italiani’, claims that around 20 other autocannoni equipped with 100 mm howitzers on Lancia 3Ro hulls were produced in 1942, but there is no evidence for this.

Operational Use

The first vehicle was ready in late September 1941. The tests began on 29th September 1941 and included six days of driving on asphalt, dirt, and off-road, with an average length of 170 km. After each mobility test, firing tests were carried out to assess whether the stress of the howitzer’s recoil caused damage to the vehicle’s chassis.

A total of 1,019 km were covered by each vehicle and 1,782 rounds of 100 mm were fired. The maximum speed reached was 40 km/h on asphalt and 30 km/h on dirt roads. Off-road, the maximum speed was between 15 and 30 km/h. On soft sand, the bulk of the vehicle made it sink, slowing it down, but on stony terrain the great mobility of the Lancia 3Ro allowed it to overcome most obstacles.

An example of the great off-road performance of the Lancia 3Ro heavy duty truck. It is towing a Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15t. Photo taken near Sollum, June 1942. Source: David Zambon

Fire exercises were carried out with direct and indirect fire at short, medium and long distances. Even when the weapon was aimed to the sides, no balance problems were encountered.

An Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro. This photo was probably taken during the September-October tests. The gun is covered by a tarpaulin to protect it from sand. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

By the fall of 1941, the first battery composed of the four autocannoni, along with ammunition carriers and other logistic vehicles based on captured Morris 30-CWT medium trucks and Italian Lancia 3Ro heavy trucks, was formed. This was the 14ª Batteria Autonoma (English: 14th Autonomous Battery), one of the 16 batteries equipped with autocannoni. On 23rd November 1941, during Operation Crusader, the unit clashed with British tank formations, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. Unfortunately, nothing is known about its position on the battlefield and if the battery was assigned to an Italian or a German unit.

On 1st December, the 14ª Batteria Autonoma attacked a British supply depot in the desert, probably with the support of units of the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’ (English: 132th Armored Division) units. However, during the attack, German Junker Ju. 87 “Stuka” ground attack aircraft attacked the battery, mistaking it for British trucks.

Some sources claim that all the four autocannoni with 100 mm howitzers and some autocannoni da 65/17 were destroyed, while others claim that one autocannone da 100/17 survived and was destroyed some time after during Crusader Operation during a fight against British tanks. A total of 6 soldiers and a NCO were killed in the airstrike.

Three more batteries, equipped with 4 Autocannoni da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ros each, were created in 1942. They were part of the XVII Gruppo (English: 17th Group) that was assigned to the Raggruppamento Celere Africa Settentrionale (English: North Africa Fast Grouping).

The Raggruppamento Celere Africa Settentrionale was composed of two Gruppi Celeri (English: Fast Groups), each containing an armored car squadron with 48 AB40 and AB41 armored cars, one Gruppo Batterie da 65/17 Autoportate (English: Truck-mounted 65/17 Battery Group), one Gruppo Batterie da 75/27 Mod. 11 Autoportate, one Gruppo Batterie da 100/17 Autoportate, and one Batteria Antiaerea da 20/65 (English: 20 mm Anti-Aircraft Battery). These units were supported by 2 infantry battalions and a logistic unit.

The autocannoni and their crews lined up for an inspection. Source: Istituto Luce

In January 1943, the XVII Gruppo was passed to the 136º Reggimento artiglieria (English: 136th Artillery Regiment) of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ (English: 136th Armored Division).

The ‘Giovani Fascisti’ artillery regiment was composed only of autocannoni batteries: the XIV Gruppo and XV Gruppo were equipped with Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8, the XVI Gruppo equipped with Autocannoni da 75/27 su FIAT-SPA TL37, the XVII Gruppo with Autocannoni da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro and, finally, the 88ª Batteria Artiglieria Contraerea (English: 88th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battery) was equipped with Cannoni-Mitragliere da 20/65 Modello 1935 loaded on Ford and Chevrolet trucks.

An autocannone with its crew happily posing for a photo. It is a second batch vehicle with a Modello 1916 howitzer. Note the cut engine hood, meant to improve the engine’s ventilation. Almost all the crew members have their Carcano carbines to protect themselves from infantry attacks. Source: wikipedia.org

Unfortunately, sources very rarely mention the use of the autocannoni armed with the 100 mm howitzers. It is plausible that, due to the small number of Autocannoni da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro produced, most of them were lost during 1942, during the desert battles against British troops.

It is, therefore, logical to assume that, when the XVII Gruppo was assigned to the 136º Reggimento artiglieria, it had half, or perhaps even less of the initial vehicles. The XVII Gruppo probably had other autocannoni or even field artillery pieces in its ranks to replace losses.

Conclusion

The Autocannoni da 100/17 were have been effective in the African Campaign, where their timely intervention could turn the fortunes of some battles. However, few were built and there is little information about their use. They were also unarmored and vulnerable to enemy small arms fire or air attacks and lacked protection for the crew, who were vulnerable to shrapnel and small bullets.

An Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro with two tone camouflage. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 7.25 x 2.35 x 2.3 m
Total weight, battle-ready 6.5 tonnes
Crew 6 (commander, driver, gunner, and 3 loaders)
Propulsion Lancia Tipo 102 diesel, 5-cylinder, 6,875 cm³, 93 hp at 1,860 rpm with a 135 liter tank
Speed 40 km/h
Range 530 km
Armament One Obice Škoda da 100/17 Modello 1914 or Modello 1916 and a 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 medium machine gun
Armor //
Total production 16 converted

Sources

I corazzati di circostanza italiani – Nico Sgarlato
Italian truck-mounted artillery in action – Ralph Riccio e Nicola Pignato
Gli Autoveicoli tattici e logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943, Tomo II – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
Gli Autoveicoli del Regio Esercito nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
Ruote in divisa, un Secolo di Veicoli Militari Italiani – Brizio Pignacca

Categories
WW2 Italian Autocannoni

Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8

Kingdom of Italy (1941-1943)
Truck-Mounted Artillery – 24 Built

The Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 was a wheeled self-propelled gun built during the Second World War by the workshops of the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) in Libyan territory. This vehicle was created by installing a 65 mm infantry cannon on the cargo bay of British Morris CS8 trucks captured during the first actions in North Africa in 1940. This Autocannone was used by the Batterie Volanti (English: Flying Batteries) artillery group that fought against the Commonwealth forces in the Libyan desert during the North African Campaign.

The Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 with a two tone camouflage, unit coat of arms on the fender, and a Savoia Cross for air recognition on the hood. Source: pinterest.com

Context

The word ‘Autocannone’ (Autocannoni plural) designated any truck equipped with a field, anti-tank or support gun permanently mounted on the cargo bay. It differs from the British term ‘Portée’ in that the Portée cannon was transported in the cargo bay on its wheeled carriage and, if necessary, could be unloaded and used as a normal field gun.

After the initial military success in the North African Campaign, such as the Italian Invasion of Egypt between 9th and 16th September 1940 and Operation Sonnenblume between 6th February and 25th May 1941, the Regio Esercito captured lots of British light trucks, such as the Morris CS8, Ford and Chevrolet 15 CWT, and some Canadian Military Pattern or CMPs. In that period, the Italian Army in Africa had serious motorization problems because the Italian industry could not provide enough trucks for the necessity of the Italian Army, Air Force, and Navy.

To replace losses and provide needed vehicles for supplying the units, the Army High Command was forced to requisition civilian trucks and French trucks captured during the French Campaign. Despite this, the number of trucks was still insufficient.

To fill the gap, newly captured British trucks were immediately put into service alongside Italian vehicles, some as normal light transport trucks, while others received some modifications. Some were transformed into reconnaissance vehicles, ammunition carriers, and command vehicles for motorized artillery groups.

A column of Morris CS8 trucks used by the Regio Esercito as ammunition vehicles during a break in the Libyan desert. Source: Italian truck-mounted artillery in action

The inadequacy of the Italian tanks, such as the L3 series light tanks and the medium M11/39 and M13/40 tanks, apparent in the fighting against the British tanks, and the reduced mobility of the infantry support artillery in the desert territory, pushed the High Command to appeal to the Italian workshops in Libyan territory to create vehicles for the role. These had to be light and fast and be able to support the Italian infantry or armored units from short-to-medium ranges with guns that would normally be towed. Such vehicles would be able to move quickly from one point to another on the North African battlefields to engage the enemy forces that broke through the Axis defensive lines.

This was seen by the Italian commanders in Africa as only a temporary solution before the production of better armed vehicles with adequate characteristics. The vehicles, like other autocannoni, were built at the Libyan workshops of the 12° Autoraggruppamento AS (‘AS’ stands for Africa Settentrionale – North Africa) situated in the Village of Giovanni Berta, near the city of El Gubba in north-east Libya.

The Trucks

The Morris CS8 was the standard light truck of the Commonwealth Armed Forces in North Africa. Dozens of different variants were built, including a command post, radio center, water and fuel tanker, compressor and, most noticeably, French Hotchkiss 25 mm Mle. 1934, Bofors 37 mm and 2 pounder portée versions.

A Morris CS8 with Bofors 37 mm anti-tank gun used by Polish troops in the Commonwealth Army in the North African Desert. Source: acemodel.com.ua

It was a compact and reliable 15 CWT (Centum WeighT, a multiple of the British pound equivalent to 750 kg of loadable weight in the metric system) 4×2 truck. The rear-wheel drive vehicle was equipped with a civil-derived 6-cylinder gasoline engine with a volume of 3.5 liters, delivering 60 hp. It had a 100 liter tank that offered a range of 600 km.

Morris CS8 captured by Italian troops during the first stages of the African Campaign. Source: modellismopiù.com

Captured in large numbers by the Italians in Cyrenaica during the first phases of the war, the CS8 was appreciated for its characteristics by the Axis troops. It was widely used by the Italians as a desert reconnaissance truck, ammunition carrier, command post, or used to transport artillery pieces for Autocannoni da 65/17 field artillery guns and da 20/65 anti-aircraft guns for motorized artillery groups.

Modifications

First of all, the modifications involved the removal of the windshield, which was replaced with a small lowerable windshield for the driver, the removal of the waterproof tarpaulin and the tarpaulin rods, and the front bumper. The standard Morris truck’s cargo bay was lengthened from 460 mm to 510 mm. A rotating trunnion and a manual rotation system taken from knocked out or destroyed M13/40 Italian medium tanks was fixed on the cargo bay. The modified gun carriage, without the spade and the wheels, was mounted on it.

The Autocannone prototype during trials. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

The fixed sides of the cargo bay were replaced with lowerable sides to allow 360° of rotation for the cannon and clear the recoil of 95 cm when the gun was pointed to the truck’s sides. On the rear part were the sappers’ tools, while on the side, were two perforated metal plates used for unditching the vehicles.

General Gastone Gambara and other officers inspecting the Autocannone prototype. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

The weight of the truck increased from the standard Morris’ 1,969 kg to 2,846 kg, a weight not too much higher than a Morris CS8 at full load, which was around 2,700 kg.

Each vehicle was equipped with eight 20 liter jerry cans, usually 6 for fuel, with3 per side in two racks under the cargo bay, one for lubricant, and one for drinkable water, hooked on both sides of the cabin. In this way, the range from 600 km more than doubled to 1,325 km. Each Autocannone carried a reserve of 36 rounds for the cannon, increased later to 60 rounds stored in a rack on the cargo bay’s rear.

The Morris CS8 in British Army service and the Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 in Italian hands. Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com & wikipedia.org

For close and anti-aircraft defense, a 360° support for a Breda Mod. 38 caliber 8 mm machine gun was mounted on the left side of the cabin for use by the vehicle’s commander. The ammunition for the machine gun was probably stored under the commander’s seat or wherever there was space. There were 5 crew members: a driver on the right of the cabin; a commander on the left; a gunner and two loaders on the cargo bay. They carried their personal weapons on board which were, from photographic evidence, Carcano Mod. 91/38 carabines, one of the shortest variants of the Carcano Mod. 1891 rifle family.

The Cannon

The Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1908, and its successor, the Mod. 1913, were the standard mountain cannons of the Regio Esercito during the First World War. They were produced by the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino or ARET (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin) and afterwards, in the 1920s, the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Napoli or AREP.

In 1920, the Cannone da 75/13 produced by Škoda, of which hundred were captured during the war and thousands more were obtained after the war from Austria as war reparations, became the standard mountain gun in the Italian Army. As a consequence, the Cannone da 65/17s were assigned to all infantry divisions as a support cannon to replace the 3.7 cm Infanteriegeschütz M.15, which were produced in Italy as the Cannone da 37/10 Fanteria Mod. 1915.

Each Italian regiment was equipped with four 65/17 Mod. 1908 or Mod. 1913 cannons. The cannon was used in great quantities in the Ethiopian War and the Spanish Civil War, being used, due to the lack of guns specifically designed for the anti-tank role, as an anti-tank gun, succeeding in penetrating the armor of armored vehicles in service with the Spanish Republican troops, such as the Soviet BA-6 armored cars and T-26 and BT-7 light tanks, proving equivalent to the 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun in the anti-tank role.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the 65/17 was assigned primarily to the Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia (English: Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia) and to the troops in North Africa.

The Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1913 in North Africa. Source: pinterest.com

Although it was a light and practical cannon to move, as it could be towed by the Moto Guzzi 500 TriAlce motorized tricycle, in the North African terrain, on the sand, it had mobility and stability problems. The main factor that characterized the war in the wide desert spaces was the need to have excellent mobility and rapid response to enemy attacks.

These factors prompted the Italian Royal Army leadership to install the cannons on truck beds.

There were four types of ammunition available for this cannon:

Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1908 ammunition
Name Type Fuze Weight (kg) Muzzle velocity (m/s) Penetration
Cartoccio Granata Dirompente High-Explosive (HE) Mod. 1912 4.22 355 //
Cartoccio Granata a Shrapnel Shrapnel grenade Mod. 1912 4.5 320 //
Cartoccio Granata Perforante Armor-Piercing (AP) I-90-909-R.M. 4.23 348 Not specified
Granata Effetto Pronto High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) // // ~300 120 mm

Unfortunately, there is not much information about the rounds of the Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1908/13. The High-Explosive Anti-Tank shells were distributed to first line units on the North African front after spring 1942. They were quite effective given the low muzzle velocity of the cannon and could penetrate 120 mm of armor at 90° at any distance. The maximum range of the gun was 6,000 meters, but the practical anti-tank effective distance dropped to 500 to 1,000 meters.

The original cannon was modified, removing the wheels and tail. It was mounted on a system taken from the traverse system of damaged or destroyed Italian tanks, of which the workshops were full. The elevation was limited from 0° to +20°, while the traverse was a full 360°.

An Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 from the rear. The gun and its support are visible on the cargo bay. Source: pinterest.com

Operational Service

The first batch consisted of 24 Morris trucks armed with the Italian 65/17 field gun. These were presented for the first time on August 8th, 1941, by Italian Royal Army General Gastone Gambara, the commander of the Corpo d’Armata di Manovra (English: Mobile Army Corp) during a meeting with other generals in Cyrenaica. There, he said they had 24 all-terrain anti-tank vehicles based on captured trucks under construction and that they would be ready shortly.

General Gastone Gambara and Colonel Tullio Nicolardi inspecting the prototype of the SPG. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

The first batch went to equip the Italian Raggruppamento Esplorante or RE (English: Exploration Grouping) of the Corpo d’Armata di Manovra. The first two armed Morris trucks were ready on September 8th, 1941, while the first Batteria Volante was ready on September 22nd of the same year.

During the last days of September 1941, the Batteries equipped with armed Morris CS8 trucks participated in the battles of the African Campaign. These proved to be useful, so the Italian Royal Army immediately began to modify other British vehicles, equipping its batteries with a total of 71 captured vehicles and managing to create a total of 16 Batterie Volanti equipped with Autocannoni armed with anti-tank, anti-aircraft, or field guns based on Italian or captured trucks. Of these 16 Batterie Volanti, the Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 equipped seven.

The batteries equipped with this type of autocannoni were also often used in the anti-tank role, even if the Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1913 was certainly not suitable for that role. However, they managed, on more than one occasion, to slow down or stop the attacks of British armored forces.

Another important role was intercepting and engaging the patrols of the Long Range Desert Groups (LRDGs) or the Special Air Service (SAS) that attacked Axis airfields and fuel and ammunition storage centers located at the rear of the Axis line, and the columns loaded with supplies going to the frontline.

After the Invasion of Egypt, the British reorganized and launched several surprise attacks in the rear of the Axis lines, trying to weaken the Italian Army. An attack force, presumably composed of the LRDG, perhaps supported by a small nucleus of armored vehicles, attacked the workshop of the 12° Autoraggruppamento AS on December 4th, 1941. This was one of the first clashes in which the Autocannoni da 65/17 participated.

A defense was organized which, thanks to the brave work of Umberto Galli Da Bino, the Italian NCO in charge of the workshop, was effective and was able to stop the enemy attack, capturing some enemy vehicles and losing a few men. The NCO was later awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valor for this action.

The to the 3ª Batteria Volante equipped the I° Gruppo (English: 1st Group), while the 4ª to the 6ª Batteria Volante equipped the lll° Gruppo. On May 24th, 1942, all six Batteries were renamed Batterie Autocannoni and the two groups were renamed XIV° Gruppo and XV° Gruppo, respectively. The last battery created was the 11ª Batteria Volante Indipendente (English: 11th Independent Flying Battery).

In 1941, the equipment provided to each battery consisted of four Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8 with 36 rounds on board and two ammunition carriers, often modified Morris CS8, with 250 rounds each. Other batteries were equipped with three Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8 and two anti-aircraft vehicles, 20/65 su Ford 15 CWT, or Chevrolet 15 CWT trucks.

During the campaign, some batteries were equipped with three 65/17 su Morris CS8 and two captured Ford F15 truck armed with the Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 anti-aircraft gun or with another 16 Morris CS8 trucks that were modified by the Italians and armed with a 20/65 Breda Mod. 1935, used to defend the autocannoni batteries from air attacks.

In November 1941, a friendly fire incident destroyed half of the autocannoni su Morris CS8 of a Batterie Volante and an entire battery, 4 vehicles, of Autocannoni da 100/17 on Lancia 3Ro. A German Junker Ju. 87 ‘Stuka’ ground attack aircraft hit the vehicles, mistaking them for British trucks, despite the flags of the Kingdom of Italy painted on the fenders and attached to the hoods of the vehicles. This killed 6 crew members and the lieutenant colonel of the battlegroup.

On March 23rd, 1942, the XIV° Gruppo was completely destroyed by the British during an aerial bombardment against their positions. Between March 24th and 25th, British troops also hit their positions with artillery fire. The few surviving vehicles of the XIV° Gruppo fought against the 8th Army and almost all surviving personnel of the group were taken prisoners.

During the following weeks, the XIV° Gruppo was rebuilt from the III° Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ (English: 3rd Armored Group), equipped with AB41 armored cars and four Autocannoni da 65/17 su FIAT 634N, based on an Italian heavy duty truck.

In the spring 1942, the first Autocannoni da 90/53, developed and produced in Italy for the African Campaign, arrived. These armed trucks did not have great mobility, but their 90 mm cannons were really powerful. As a consequence, in June 1942 the production of new autocannoni da 65/17 was stopped.

Because of the losses, the Autocannoni da 65/17 Batteries were reorganized into: command unit, 3 batteries with 12 autocannoni da 65/17 in total, four autocannoni da 20/65 su Ford, Chevrolet or Morris CS8 chassis, a staff car, 4 armored trucks, 10 light trucks, 13 motorcycles, 4 machine guns, four 20 mm wheeled anti-aircraft guns and two RF2 radio station with a staff of 13 officers, 7 NCOs, 137 artillery crew, and 56 drivers.

General Ugo Cavallero delivering a speech, along with General Gastone Gambara and General Ettore Bastico, sitting on an Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8. On the right is visible a flag of the Kingdom of Italy in order to avoid friendly fire. Al-Kararim village near Misratah, Libya, June 1942. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

The three renamed batteries were assigned from January 1943 to the 136º Reggimento Artiglieria (English: 136th Artillery Regiment) of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ (English: 136th Armored Division) and remained in the division for the rest of the African Campaign, fighting with tenacity during the battles in Tunisia.

Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 of the 1st Batteria Autocannoni, 136° Reggimento d’Artiglieria Celere of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ in Tunisia, 1943. Source: reddit.com

The first battle in which the Autocannoni da 65/17 participated under the insignia of the ‘Giovani Fascisti’ division was the Battle of Médenine on March 6th, 1943. There, they supported the failed offensive of the Axis that led to the loss of 52 tanks.

During the Battle of the Mareth Line, March 16th to 31st, and the Battle of Wadi Akarit (in Italian called Uadi) on April 6th to 7th, 1943, the Axis units were supported by the autocannoni. However, their use in anti-tank actions was almost completely fruitless because the Allies were armed with modern tanks with thicker armor than the tanks used at the beginning of the campaign.

The last autocannoni were still used between April 19th and 30th, during the First Battle of Enfidaville (now the Tunisian city of Enfidha) and in the Second Battle of Enfidaville. During these, the last forces of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ fought even after the declaration of surrender of the Axis forces in the region.

An autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 of the 1st Group lies abandoned in the African desert. In this photo is clearly visible the 360° rotating support derived from the Italian ‘M’ tanks and the modified cannon carriage. Source: pinterest.com

Conclusion

The autocannoni da 65/17 were very effective in the African Campaign, where their timely intervention succeeded on more than one occasion in turning the fortunes of some battles. However, like any military vehicle, they were not free from flaws.

They were unarmored and vulnerable to enemy small arms fire and lacked protection for the crew, who were vulnerable to shrapnel and small bullets. The crew was then exposed to sunlight and sandstorms and the cargo bay, although widened, was narrow, making it difficult for the three gun crew to work around the gun.

In order to protect themselves from enemy infantry attacks, the crew was forced to transport their personal weapons and ammunition for them, but there were no gun racks available on the cargo bay.

Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.69 – 4.74 x 1.98 x 1.98 m
Total weight, battle-ready 2.846 tonnes
Crew 4 (vehicle commander, driver, gunner and loader)
Propulsion 6 cylinder, 3.5 l, gasoline
Speed 65 km/h
Range 600 km or 1325 km (with additional jerry cans)
Armament cannone d’accompagnamento 65/17 Mod. 1908/1913 and a Breda Mod. 38 machine-gun
Armor //
Total production 24 65/17 su Morris CS8 and around 30 others in the other variants.

Sources

I corazzati di circostanza italiani – Nico Sgarlato

Italian truck-mounted artillery in action – Ralph Riccio e Nicola Pignato

I mezzi da combattimento di circostanza del Regio Esercito – Bruno Benvenuti e Andrea Curami

Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Volume II, Tomo II – Nicola Pignato, Filippo Cappellano

Categories
WW2 Italian Autocannoni

Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford, Chevrolet 15 CWT, and Ford F60

Kingdom of Italy (1940-1942)
Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun – Unknown Number Converted

When the Regio Esercito (English: Royal Italian Army) entered the Second World War in 1940, it did not have in its ranks a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG) to equip its units. During the North African Campaign, this problem became evident, and some anti-aircraft vehicles were produced in a rather rudimentary fashion in Libyan workshops to defend Italian supply convoys and armored divisions from air attacks. For this, the Breda 20 mm cannon was mounted on various truck chassis, both Italian and British, the latter captured during the first months of the war. These vehicles were built to partly relieve this problem while waiting for vehicles specially designed for this task.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F15 in the North African desert. All the Italian modifications are clearly visible. A Savoia cross on the hood and a small Kingdom of Italy flag were added to avoid friendly fire. Source: pinterest.com

The North African Context

After the Italian declaration of war against Britain and France on 10th June 1940, the Regio Esercito began some campaigns in Europe against France and Yugoslavia. It was only on 13th September 1940, that the North African Campaign began, when Italian troops commanded by General Rodolfo Graziani crossed the border between Libya, an Italian colony, and Egypt, a British protectorate.

It was immediately clear to the Italian generals that the Regio Esercito needed, as soon as possible, reconnaissance armored cars and armed vehicles to support Italian units.

Despite the participation of the Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK), the Italian Royal Army did not receive adequate quantities of these types of vehicles, and the troops in Africa had to make do with what they had. In mid-1941, the Italian High Command made the decision to take some trucks and tractors and use them as reconnaissance and support vehicles, arming them with various artillery pieces.

Design

The Canadian Military Pattern (CMPs) trucks were a standardized type of truck built by the General Motors, Ford, and Chevrolet branches in Canada for the needs of the Commonwealth Army. The long hundredweight or centum weight (abbreviated to CWT) is a British imperial unit of weight equivalent to 50.8 kg.

The CMP light trucks had a payload equivalent to 760 kg; the CMP medium trucks had a payload of 30 CWT, equivalent to 1,525 kg; and the CMP heavy trucks had a payload of 60 CWT, equivalent to 3,050 kg.

The Ford 15 CWT trucks used the Ford 239 B9-99A Flathead engine, with a capacity of 3,916 cm³ delivering 95 hp at 3,300 rpm. The CMP vehicles built by Chevrolet had the 3,540 cm³, 6-cylinder, in-line OHV 6 (OverHead Valve) engine delivering 85 hp at 3,400 rpm.

The vehicles had a 93 liters fuel capacity that guaranteed a range of around 460 km. Their top speed on-road varied from 64 km/h to up to 80 km/h, depending on the specific vehicle.

The more powerful 3-ton Ford F60 truck entered service in 1941 and was equipped with a more powerful 270 hp GMC V6 petrol engine, with a 112-liter fuel reserve.

The CMPs came with 4×2 configuration, respectively called Ford F15 and Chevrolet C15, and all-wheel drive configuration called Ford F15A and Chevrolet C15A. Apart from this, they were the same and maintained the wheelbase of 2.56 meters. The Ford F60 was always 4×4.

The Ford and Chevrolet trucks had the Canadian standard right-side drive cab design, which evolved over the years of production. The first was designed for Ford by Sid Swallow. These designs were called Number 11, No. 12, and No. 13.

The main difference from the No.11 consisted of the radiator grille in the cab of No. 12. The final No. 13 cabin, an entirely Canadian project used from the end of 1941 until the end of the war, had the two flat panels of the windshield slightly tilted downward to reduce glare from the sun and to avoid strong reflections that would have been observable by airplanes. All the designs of the CMP cabs had a ‘cab forward’ configuration that gave CMP trucks their characteristic ‘crushed muzzle’ profile.

The CMP vehicles had some problems. Due to the rear wheel fairings, the cargo bays were small and cramped. These trucks, together with the Morris CS8, which had the same payload capacity, were the backbone of the supply lines of the British Army for the entirety of the war, together with heavier trucks, such as the Ford F30, Chevrolet C30, Ford F60, and Chevrolet C60.

The No. 11, 12 and 13 cabins were combined with a variety of standard chassis, transmissions, and bodywork. The vehicles built by Chevrolet could be recognized by the mesh of the radiator grille that was diamond-shaped, while those built by Ford had a square mesh.

The dizzying variety of variants included general services, troop carriers, fuel/water tank carriers, recovery vehicles, ambulances, dental clinics, mobile laundries, HQ radio vehicles, workshops, welding stations, transports, artillery tractors, and anti-tank portées.

The Italian troops appreciated the qualities of these light Canadian lorries, their off-road driving performances, and the ease with which they could be modified. In fact, during an official meeting, General Gastone Gambara proposed a vehicle exchange to German General Erwin Rommel. The Germans would swap captured Commonwealth light trucks, with a single Regio Esercito’s FIAT or Lancia heavy truck for every 2 Commonwealth lorries received.

Italian Modifications

The Italian troops captured many of these vehicles, including F15, F15A, C15, and C15A in Cyrenaica in 1940, along with many other vehicles, such as the Morris CS8. Photographic evidence suggests that the majority were F15s though.

Due to the inadequate number of supply trucks in the Italian ranks, all the captured vehicles were quickly put in service with the supply units of the Regio Esercito.

Two Italian soldiers pose in front of a Ford F15 CMP captured from the British. Source: pinterest.com

General Gastone Gambara, commander of the Corpo d’Armata Mobile (CAM) (English: Mobile Army Corp), understood the flaws of the Italian Army. In 1941, he ordered the workshops of the Autofficine del 12° Autoraggruppamento AS (English: Workshops of the 12° Vehicle Regroupment North Africa) to modify some of the British light lorries, arming them with old 65 mm Italian support guns. These would become the Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8.

In Italian, the word ‘Autocannone’ (Autocannoni plural) designated any type of civilian or military truck equipped with a field, anti-tank, anti-aircraft, or support gun mounted on the cargo bay.

In the Italian official nomenclature, these vehicles were referred to as both as ‘Autocannoni’ and ‘Camionette’, even though the camionette were vehicles designed for reconnaissance and not armed support. This article will sometimes use designations such as ‘Autocannone da 20/65 su CMP’. This nomenclature was never officially used by the Italian Royal Army, but, in some photos, it is impossible to distinguish exactly which Canadian Military Pattern variant was used as a base for the vehicle.

Bersaglieri assault infantry troops on board a Ford F15 or F15A, just captured from the British. Source: pinterest.com

This solution proved to be really successful and the Autofficine del 12° Autoraggruppamento AS started to convert other British vehicles, beginning with the 15 CWT Canadian Military Trucks. Due to the small cargo bay it was decided to turn the CMPs into anti-aircraft autocannoni, mounting 20 mm autocannons on their rear platforms.

The cabs were cut off under the windshield, permitting 360° traverse to the main gun. On the loading bay, all the tarpaulin rods and other unnecessary parts were removed.

The cargo bay was modified, adding a support in the center to mount the autocannon’s trunnion, but no seats for the main gun crew were added. Supports for 6 20 liters cans were added: four below the cargo bay, just behind the cab on the right, and one for 2 cans on the loading bay’s rear.

In some cases, these 120 liters of fuel would extend the range of the vehicle to 1,400 km. On other vehicles, the number of fuel cans transported was higher. For example, sometimes, 2 20 liters cans were transported between the driver and commander’s seats, increasing the range even more. However, some of those cans were used for drinkable water, which was more valuable than fuel when operating in the desert. Between the loading bay and the cab, where the spare wheel was previously located, some ammunition boxes were added.

Thanks to the tonnes of British material captured, the tires were not changed and remained the British desert type because there were enough spare wheels. Sapper tools, such as pickaxes and spades, were also added on the loading bay’s rear and two unditching grilles were mounted on the sides.

Even the Germans appreciated the Canadian Military Pattern qualities and, using the Italian workshops, they turned some of the CMPs that they had managed to capture into self-propelled anti-aircraft guns mounting German FlaK 30 or FlaK 38 anti-aircraft automatic cannons on their loading bays.

Deutsches Afrikakorps Ford F15A with a FlaK 38 anti-aircraft autocannon. This vehicle was the German version of the Italian anti-aircraft autocannoni. Source: reddit.com

Ironically, during the North African Campaign, Commonwealth troops managed to capture several Italian 20 mm autocannons, which the Australians mounted on their own CMP light trucks.

From photographic evidence, the vehicles used by the Commonwealth troops were not in any way modified, having the Italian guns simply resting on the cargo bay, making them technically portées.

The number of vehicles converted by the Commonwealth forces in North Africa is not clear, but the guns were placed on Chevrolet C15 and C15A, Ford F15, F15A, and F60 chassis, but may have been more.

The Italians also converted a number of CMPs into anti-aircraft autocannoni, but with twin 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT aeronautical machine guns mounted on a 360° support instead of the 20 mm autocannon.

A Canadian Military Pattern truck used by the Italians as a command vehicle. It is armed with a Bren light machine gun and a Breda-SAFAT medium aeronautical machine gun chambered for the .303 British cartridge. Note the Kingdom of Italy flag on the hood, used to avoid friendly fire. The man on top is giving orders to the Lancia 3Ro heavy trucks visible in the background. Source: Istituto Luce

The crew of the Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford or Chevrolet was composed of four soldiers. The driver was on the right-hand seat of the cab, the vehicle commander on the left side of the cab, and a gunner and a loader were placed on the cargo bay, probably sitting on the wheel fairings.

When the gun was operated, the commander and the driver left the cab. The commander spotted targets while the driver served as a second loader to speed up the gun’s rate of fire.

Not much is known about the total number produced. Nico Sgarlato, in his book ‘I Corazzati di Circostanza Italiani’, says that a total of 30 Autocannoni da 20/65 su Ford, Chevrolet and Morris chassis were converted, plus others produced in 1943 and used in Tunisia. However, this Italian writer does not mention his source and it seems that no other book or source mentions the number of Ford or Chevrolet that were modified.

Armament

The main gun of the autocannone was the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65, mainly the Modello 1939 version, but some vehicles were also equipped with the Modello 1935 version.

The Breda was a gas operated autocannon chambered for the powerful 20 x 138 mm B cartridge, the same as the German FlaK 38 and the Swiss Solothurn S-18/1000 anti-tank rifle.

Its theoretical rate of fire was 500 rounds per minute, but the practical one was about 220 rounds per minute. It had a muzzle velocity of 830 m/s and a practical range of 2,000 meters in the anti-aircraft role and a practical range against ground targets of about 3,000 meters.

The Breda Mod. 35 had a depression of -10° and an elevation of +80°, while the Mod. 39 had an elevation of +90° thanks to its manual aim. It used 12-round feed strips that were loaded manually by the loader.

The Modello 1939 was the fixed gun version, made mainly for the Milizia della Difesa Territoriale (English: Militia for Territorial Defense), essentially the equivalent of the British Home Guard.

The 72 kg autocannon was mounted on a particularly shaped trunnion that offered 360° traverse and simplified the use of the gun. These guns were probably taken from the fixed anti-aircraft positions around the Libyan cities, such as Tobruk or Tripoli.

Gunner of an autocannone on a Canadian Military Pattern chassis aiming his gun against flying targets, while the loader is ready to put a second feed strip in the gun. Source: forum.warhunder.com

The Modello 1935 was the towed variant of the autocannon and was lower than the Modello 1939, equipped with a seat and aiming wheels. It was the most produced variant and was the most used by the Regio Esercito during the war. It was also used also on the cargo bay of medium trucks as anti-aircraft portée, using chassis such as the FIAT 626 and SPA 38R.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su CMP. The main gun is a Cannone da 20/65 Mod. 1935 and not a Mod. 1939. A Savoia cross for aerial identification is painted on the hood. Source: Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery in Action

One problem with the Italian modification was the removal of the water-proof tarpaulins that protected the cargo bay from rain, but more importantly from desert sand and dust. When not in use, the 20 mm Breda’s breech and barrel had to be covered by small waterproof tarpaulins. Otherwise, there was a risk of jamming the weapon with disastrous consequences for the entire battery.

The ammunition was transported in metal boxes placed between the cab and the cargo bay, on the right side. In total, the vehicle carried 240 rounds for the gun, even if it was common practice for crews to transport more ammunition within wooden crates loaded in the cargo bay or wherever there was sufficient space. More ammunition was transported by the battery’s supply trucks and ammunition carriers.

A good photo that shows the CMP’s right side. The four ammunition boxes between the cab and the cargo bay, the unditching grille, the 20 liter jerrycan racks (the jerrycans were not present) and the water-proof tarpaulin on the Cannone da 20/65 Mod. 39 are visible. Source: Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery in Action

Operational Use

Self-propelled anti-aircraft guns were urgently needed in the Italian ranks to protect the ‘Batterie Volanti’ (English: Flying Batteries), composed of Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8 or other Italian autocannoni that operated in the vast desert plains to provide support to the Italian units. These had proven vulnerable to air strikes. To give an example, in November 1941, a Junker Ju. 87 ‘Stuka’, mistaking some Italian autocannoni for British vehicles, attacked them, destroying four Autocannoni da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro and a battery of Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8, killing 7 Italian soldiers.

Autocannone da 20/65 su CMP armed with a Breda Mod. 1935 in the desert. The commander scans the horizon with binoculars for enemy targets. In the background, two Autocannoni da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro are visible. Source: pinterest.com

The Breda cannon was, in fact, well known to Allied ground attack pilots, who often aborted attacks in order to avoid significant damage to their aircraft, as some US documents confirm.

The Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8 equipped the to the 6ª Batteria Volante plus the 11ª Batteria Volante Indipendente (English: 11th Independent Flying Battery). The Canadian Military Pattern trucks armed with the Breda autocannons were assigned to some of these batteries, providing anti-aircraft defense to the batteries, but also defending them against infantry attacks.

The batteries were equipped with three Autocannoni da 65/17 su Morris CS8 and two anti-aircraft vehicles, 20/65 su Ford 15 CWT, or Chevrolet 15 CWT, plus other supply trucks and command cars.

In total, 16 Batterie Volanti were formed by the Italians during the North African Campaign and the anti-aircraft autocannoni equipped the majority of them. Of the hundreds of vehicles that composed these units, 71 were captured British-produced vehicles reused as autocannoni, ammunition carriers, or command trucks.

The , and 3ª Batteria Volante were assigned to the I° Gruppo (English: 1st Group), while the other three, from to the 6ª Batteria Volante, were assigned to the II° Gruppo (English: 2nd Group). These were later renamed XIV° Gruppo and XV° Gruppo (English: 14th and 15th Groups), respectively.

In March 1942, the XIV° Gruppo was completely destroyed by the British, which launched an attack on their positions. The soldiers of the group were killed or taken prisoners.

In the following weeks, the XIV° Gruppo was rebuilt with the soldiers and vehicles of the 3° Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’ (Eng: 3rd Armored Car Group), equipped with AB41 medium reconnaissance armored cars, four Autocannoni da 65/17 su FIAT 634N, an Italian heavy-duty truck, and others on Morris CS8 chassis, with some Ford chassis autocannoni as well.

Column of vehicles in Africa. Opening the convoy is a FIAT 508CM staff car, behind it an Autocannone da 20/65 on Ford F15, 6 AB41 armored cars and an Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8, Siwa Oasis, August 1942. Source: Le Camionette del Regio Esercito

In May 1942, the batteries were renamed Batterie Autocannoni. In June 1942, given the arrival of new material from the Italian mainland, the autocannoni production was stopped and the surviving Batterie Autocannoni equipped with 65/17 su Morris CS8 were reorganized.

After June 1942, each Batteria Autocannoni had a command unit, 3 batteries for a total of 12 autocannoni da 65/17, four autocannoni da 20/65 su Ford, Chevrolet or Morris chassis, a staff car, 4 armored trucks, 10 light trucks, 13 motorcycles, 4 machine guns, four 20 mm wheeled anti-aircraft guns, and two RF2 radio stations with a staff of 13 officers, 7 NCOs, 137 artillery crew, and 56 drivers.

An Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 and a Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F15 in the desert. The drivers are in their positions, so either the photo was taken only for propaganda purposes or the vehicles were ready to shoot and then retreat quickly. Source: pinterest.com

From January 1943, the three renamed batteries were assigned to the 136º Reggimento Artiglieria (English: 136th Artillery Regiment) of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ (English: 136th Armored Division) and remained in the division for the rest of the African Campaign, fighting with tenacity during the battles in Tunisia.

Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F60

An Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F60L of an Italian Batteria Volante. Obviously, due to the bigger size of the vehicle, there were advantages, like the possibility to transport more jerrycans or ammunition. Source: Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery in Action

The Italians also captured a number of Ford F60Ls and F60Ss that were reused for different purposes, such as infantry transport, fuel and water transporter, artillery tractors, and ammunition carriers. Thanks to their usefulness and bigger loading bays, only a few were used as autocannoni.

Some of the vehicles that were modified into autocannoni lost most of the cargo bay, of which they retained only part of the floor onto which the usual Breda was mounted.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F60S with the cab left unmodified (apart from the lateral doors) and a Breda Mod. 1935 placed in the remnants of the cargo bay. Source: Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery in Action
A similar vehicle escorting an Axis supply convoy in the North African desert. Source: pinterest.com

The cabin of some models was cut, while others kept the windshield, and others did not receive any modifications. The crew of the gun were seated on a bench fixed behind the cab facing the rear during the march. The back of the bench was a large box where the ammunition of the cannon was stowed. On the vehicle were also hooked two racks for 3 jerrycans each, fixed under the cannon platform. Next to the racks were two more boxes for ammunition or tools.

From the existing photos of these vehicles, it seems that not all were modified in an ‘official’ way by the 12° Autoraggruppamento AS workshops, but that some were modified by the Italian soldiers on the front line.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F60L with a Breda Mod. 1935. The cab was cutt and the cargo bay was modified. Source: reddit.com

Conclusions

The Autocannoni da 20/65 on Canadian lorries were some of the dozens of autocannoni produced by the Regio Esercito workshops in Africa. These vehicles, greatly appreciated for their dual anti-aircraft and infantry support capabilities, were extensively used even if in small numbers. Unfortunately, for the whole duration of the North African Campaign, the Regio Esercito did not receive purposely built self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, and the autocannoni da 20/65 on captured trucks or other chassis were the only serviceable vehicles for this fundamental role.

Illustration by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin

20/65 su Ford F15 Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.18 x 2.13 x ~2 m
Total weight, battle-ready 3.235 tonnes
Crew 4 (driver, vehicle commander, gunner, and loader)
Propulsion Ford 239 V8 Flathead 3,916 cm³, petrol 95 hp
Range 460 km
Maximum speed 70 km/h
Main Armament Breda 20/65 Mod. 1935 or 1939
Armor //
Total production Unknown number of vehicles converted

20/65 su Ford F60L Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.21 x 2.23 x ~2 m
Total weight, battle-ready 4.33 tonnes
Crew 4 (driver, vehicle commander, gunner, and loader)
Propulsion V8-cylinder, 3.917 cm³ displacement, carburetor, liquid-cooled with 112 liters tank
Range 250 km
Maximum speed 75 km/h
Main Armament Breda 20/65 Mod. 1939
Armor //
Total production Unknown number of vehicles converted

Sources

Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery in Action – Ralph Riccio and Nicola Pignato
Le artiglierie del Regio Esercito – Filippo Cappellano
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume II Tomo II – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
I corazzati di circostanza italiani – Nico Sgarlato
Le Camionette del Regio Esercito – Enrico Finazzer and Luigi Carretta

Categories
WW2 Italian Autocannoni

Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N

Kingdom of Italy (1941-1942)
Truck-Mounted Artillery – 7 Built

The Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N was an Italian truck-mounted anti-aircraft and support self-propelled gun used by the Italian Milizia marittima di artiglieria (English: Maritime Artillery Militia) under Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy) in North Africa against the Commonwealth troops.

It was built by mounting some 102 mm Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy) guns taken from anti-ship batteries on the African coasts on Royal Army heavy duty trucks.

They were divided in two batteries assigned to the 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ (English: 101st Mechanized Division) and the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’ (English: 132nd Armored Division).

Their service was limited but, thanks to their powerful gun, they were used successfully even against British armor. Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N means Truck-mounted 102 mm L/35 gun on FIAT 634N [chassis].

Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N 1st Series opening a column of Italian vehicles. The second one is a FIAT 1100, while the other trucks were FIAT 666NMs. Source: o5m6.de

Context

During the first stages of the Second World War, the Regio Esercito was involved in a military campaign against the Commonwealth troops in the vast deserts of North Africa. This campaign started on 9th September 1940, when Italian troops invaded Egypt from Libya, which was an Italian colony. During this action, it was clear for the Regio Esercito commanders in Africa that the army needed long range and well armed reconnaissance vehicles with great mobility. It also needed support vehicles armed with field guns capable of supporting Italian assault infantry units. These also had to be fast in order to move from one point to another on the battlefield, stopping the British assaults and supporting the Italian counterattacks.

For this purpose, some light trucks captured from the British troops in Cyrenaica during the first days of war were used. These vehicles were Morris CS8, Ford F15 and Chevrolet C15, all with a payload capacity of 15-cwt (750 kg). These trucks were captured in large quantities and were put back into service, with the Italian coat of arms, as supply trucks.

General Gastone Gambara, one of the Italian commanders in North Africa, ordered workshops to take some of these British lorries and modify them, mounting artillery pieces on their loading bay. This is how autocannoni appeared.

An Autocannone da 20/65 su Ford F15 in the North African desert. Source: pinterest.com

The word ‘Autocannone’ (Autocannoni plural) designated any truck equipped with a field, anti-tank or support gun permanently mounted on its cargo bay.

The first autocannone produced in significant numbers (24 vehicles) was the Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8. This consisted of an old Cannone da 65/17 Mod. 1908/13 mountain gun mounted on the cargo bay of a Morris CS8 that was slightly modified stretching it by 50 cm. The gun carriage was modified, removing the spade and the wheels, and welding it on a Italian medium tank turret ring that allowed 360° traverse.

While the Morris CS8 was transformed into a support autocannone, the smaller Fords and Chevrolets were converted into anti-aircraft autocannoni, mounting a Cannone da 20/65 Mod. 1935 or Mod. 1939. These were used to defend the Batterie Autocannoni (English: Autocannoni Batteries) or the Italian supply convoys from aircraft strikes.

Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8 of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ in Tunisia, 1943. Source: reddit.com

In North Africa, other autocannoni were produced with support, anti-aircraft or anti-tank guns on different types of trucks, mainly of Italian production.

Design

The FIAT 634N Truck

In 1930, FIAT developed two heavy trucks, the 632N and the 634N. The letter N stood for ‘Nafta’, or diesel in Italian. These were the first two heavy duty diesel trucks made in Italy.

FIAT 634N brochure presented in Britain. Source: FIAT archive

The 634N truck was officially presented to the public in April 1931, during the Milan trade fair. The 634N was the largest truck produced in Italy at the time, with a maximum allowed weight of 12.5 tonnes. It was nicknamed ‘Elefante’ (English: Elephant) for its robustness, power, and load capacity. Its production, in three versions, ran from 1931 to 1939.

FIAT 634N from the 1st production series, probably on a Northern Italian road. Source: italie1935-45.com

After chassis number 1614, the wheel rims were replaced with ones with six spokes, made of cast steel. After strengthening the rear axle, the chassis, and the leaf springs, the vehicle could carry more weight, from 6,140 kg to 7,640 kg, thus reaching a maximum total weight of 14 tonnes, with an empty weight of 6,360 kg. These modifications gave birth to the FIAT 634N 2nd series or N1, which also had the front fenders connected to the bumper. The FIAT 634N1 was produced from 1933 to 1939.

FIAT 634N1 on FIAT Lingotto plant’s roof. Source: italie1935-45.com

In 1933, the FIAT 634N2 version was born, with a modified cab meant to increase aerodynamics, a drop-shaped radiator grille, angled windscreen, and more rounded shapes. The load capacity and speed remained unchanged compared to the N1 version. The FIAT 634N 2nd series or N2 was produced from 1933 to 1939.

FIAT 634N2 outside the FIAT Lingotto plant in Turin. Source: italie1935-45.com

This was the first truck in Europe to be equipped with bunks for the crew. The back of the seat could be raised to form two bunks and, on request, there was a modification available to provide a third bunk, lifting the roof of the cabin.

As an example, the second company to provide a berth in the cabin was Renault with its three-axle Renault AFKD, with a load capacity of 10 tonnes. This entered service only in 1936. The third was Lancia Veicoli Industriali with the Lancia 3Ro in 1938.

The wooden cargo bay was 4.435 meters long and 2.28 meters wide. The foldable sides were 0.65 meters high, with a maximum load allowed by law of 7.640 kg, while the maximum transportable weight did not exceed 10 tonnes. The lateral and rear sides were foldable.

On the N1 and N2 versions, it was possible to tow a two-axle trailer for the transport of materials, reaching a maximum weight allowed by law of the truck + trailer of 24 tonnes. During the war, the FIAT 634N successfully towed tanks of the ‘M’ series and self-propelled vehicles on the same chassis in the Rimorchi Unificati Viberti da 15t (English: 15 tonnes Viberti Unified Trailer).

Photos taken during the war, however, show very well that the truck could load much more. Some photos show the FIAT 634N towing trailers of 3,750 kg, with tanks of 13 tonnes or more in them, and in other materials the cargo bay. This would have brought the total weight of the truck + trailer to much more than 24 tonnes.

A FIAT 634N with an L6/40 light tank on the cargo bay towing a Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15t with another L6/40 light tank. In this case, the total weight of the tanks alone was 13.79 tonnes. Source: pinterest.com

Most of the trucks received a cab from FIAT, but Officine Viberti of Turin and Orlandi of Brescia also built bodies for some chassis. The military version was called FIAT 634NM (Nafta, Militare – Diesel, Military), but its characteristics were almost identical to the civilian versions, with the main difference being a more rustic cab.

FIAT 634N2 with a Officine Viberti innovative cabin. Source: italie1935-45.com

During the Second World War, due to the Royal Army’s need for logistic vehicles, a total of 45,000 civilian vehicles in Italy were requisitioned, overhauled, repainted, re-plated, and put back into service as military vehicles. This meant that not all of the FIAT 634s in the Italian military were NM versions, but there were also civilian ones.

The big difference between the civilian and military versions was the windows. In the military version, the truck had fixed windows, different headlights and lacked the triangular placard on the roof of the cab used in the civilian models to indicate the presence of a towing trailer.

Several variants were produced on this truck chassis. There were tanker versions for fuel or water, produced by Officine Viberti and SIAV, a mobile workshop composed of three different FIAT 634Ns which carried the necessary equipment to set up a fully equipped field workshop, at least two versions for the firefighters, a horse carrier version for the army, a sand truck with tipping platform, a gas version and three different Autocannoni.

These were the 102/35 su FIAT 634N and the 76/30 su FIAT 634N, with 6 produced by the FIAT workshops in Libya during the North African Campaign. In the Africa Orientale Italiana or AOI (English: Italian East Africa), some Autocannoni da 65/17 su FIAT 634N were produced in unknown numbers by Officine Monti in Gondar together with the Autoblinda Monti-FIAT on the same chassis.

A FIAT 634N1 fuel tanker used in the East African Colonies. It has Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires for sandy soils and two 200-liter barrels on the tank’s top to increase the fuel load. Above the windshield, the word ‘TURIN’ (Torino in Piedmontese dialect) means that the driver was probably from Turin. It was common practice for the owners to write phrases or words on their trucks to wish them luck or to remind the owners of their home. Source: collezione Aymeric Lopez

The military version could carry up to 7,640 kg of equipment, although the maximum transportable weight came to almost 10 tonnes of ammunition, provisions, or almost 40 fully equipped men.

The cargo bay could comfortably carry an Italian light tank, such as the L3 or L6/40, or the Semovente L40 da 47/32 self-propelled gun. The Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15t could carru any tank of the ‘M’ series (M13/40, M14/41 or M15/42) and all self-propelled guns on their chassis.

Engine and suspension

The FIAT 634N was powered by a FIAT Tipo 355 diesel engine with six cylinders in line. It had a capacity of 8312 cm³, delivering 75 hp at 1700 rpm. This was developed independently by the company thanks to the experience gained with marine engines.

From the 1086 model onward, the engine was replaced by the FIAT Tipo 355C, with a capacity of 8355 cm³. The power was increased to 80 hp at 1700 rpm thanks to an increased bore and stroke.

FIAT Tipo 355C engine and the FIAT 634N’s gearbox. Source: FIAT archives

The fuel distribution to the cylinders was ensured by overhead valves. These were fed by an injection pump located on the right of the engine. As on many other Italian trucks of the time, the 20-liter reserve fuel tank was mounted behind the dashboard and fed the engine by gravity. In case of a fuel pump failure or problems with the main tank, the truck could still drive a few kilometers before stopping.

A pump connected to the 150-liters main tank fed the reserve tank. The main tank was mounted on the right side of the chassis. Two small electric motors were used to start the Diesel engine. The 170 liters of fuel guaranteed a range of 400 km, while the maximum speed was about 40 km/h on road.

The FIAT 634N chassis. Note the 150-liter main fuel tank on the right. Source: italie1935-45.com

A dry multi-disc clutch was attached to the gearbox, with four-speed plus reverse gears. The suspension consisted of semi-elliptical leaf springs on the front and rear axles. Drum brakes were pedal-operated through three vacuum boosters.

Armament

The Cannone Schneider-Ansaldo da 102/35 Modello 1914 was an Italian 102 mm L/35 naval cannon developed from the British QF 4-inch naval gun Mk V. It was used on many types of Italian military ships and submarines in the anti-aircraft and anti-ship roles. It was also used as an anti-ship coastal gun. It was also produced for the Regio Esercito as the main gun of the Autocannone da 102/35 su SPA 9000, one of the first autocannoni ever, used by the Italians during the First World War.

A Cannone Schneider-Ansaldo da 102/35 Modello 1914 on the Italian submarine Narvalo or Delfino of the Squalo-class produced in 1930. Source: Rivista Marittima

While the performance of the cannon was not mediocre, it was not sufficient either. Thus, already during the First World War, it was joined by the more powerful Cannone Schneider-Ansaldo da 102/45 Modello 1917 and then substituted after the war by the Cannone Schneider-Canet-Armstrong da 120/45 Mod. 1918.

After the war, the gun was no longer produced but was used in other Italian warships such as the submarines of the ‘Argonauta’ series of the 600 class entered in service in 1932 and ‘Miraglia’ seaplane carriers entered in service in 1927. It remained on board the ships and submarines produced between 1914 and 1917.

When the Kingdom of Italy entered the Second World War in 1940, 110 102 mm guns were in service, equipping the anti-aircraft batteries of the Royal Army, the Milizia per la DIfesa ContrAerea Territoriale or DICAT (English: Militia for Territorial Anti-Aircraft Defense), the MILizia Marittima di ARTiglieria or MILMART (English: Maritime Artillery Militia) and of the Guardia alla Frontiera or GaF (English: Army Border Guard). In 1940, among the armed trains of the Regia Marina, the TA 102/1/T (Treno Armato – Armored Train) was mobilized, with two ‘P.R.Z.’-type railway wagons, each armed with three Cannone da 102/35 Mod. 1914 mm guns on Vickers-Terni mod.1925 mountings.

Coastal Battery armed with a Cannone Schneider-Ansaldo da 102/35 Modello 1914 on O.T.O. Mod. 1933 mounting during training, Italy, during the war. Source: pinterest.com

The gun had a caliber of 101.6 mm and the barrel was 3.733 meters in height. On the autocannone FIAT 634N, different types of trunnions were used, including the Ansaldo Mod. 1925, the O.T.O. Mod. 1933 and the Vickers-Terni Mod. 1925 even if photographic evidence shows only the last two variants.
The Vickers-Terni Mod. 1925 trunnion had an elevation of +90° and a depression of -5°. The O.T.O. Mod. 1933 had an elevation of +80° and a depression of -10° while the Ansaldo Mod. 1925 had an elevation of +85° and a depression of -5°. All the trunnions had a traverse of 360°.

The firing rate was 20 rounds per minute thanks to the vertical sliding breech block. When it was necessary to fire for a long period of time, the rate of fire was dropped to 1 round every minute or even 1 round every 4 minutes, in order not to overheat the barrel and not to tire the servants.

The vehicle had two ammunition racks on the vehicle’s rear, for a total of 36 rounds carried. The 102 x 649mm R rounds had a fixed charge with a total weight of about 25 kg. It is almost sure there were more types of ammunition but, unfortunately, there is no information available.

Cannone Schneider-Ansaldo da 102/35 Modello 1914 rounds
Name Type Weight
Cartoccio Granata Dirompente High-Explosive 13,427 kg
Cartoccio Granata Dirompente * High-Explosive 13,750 kg or 13,650 kg
Navy Shrapnel ** Shrapnel 15 kg
Notes * For anti-naval role but commonly use also by the autocannoni
** No longer in production but still used

Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N

The FIAT workshops of Tripoli, one of the biggest workshops in North Africa, modified two FIAT 634Ns between February and March 1941, adding two 102 mm guns taken from the Tobruk coastal batteries. In August, another vehicle was modified. The gun was taken from the batteries of Benghazi.

The other four vehicles were modified between April and July 1941 with cannons arriving from Benghazi and all were ready for October 1941. The trucks were modified by removing the cab roof, sides and the windshield in order to allow the cannon 360° traverse. The chassis remained unchanged.

In case of rain, the crew could protect themselves with a water-proof tarpaulin that could be opened and closed like on cabriolet cars. This tarpaulin was mounted on rods on the cab’s rear and did not obstruct the cannon’s arc of fire. The wooden cargo bay was completely removed and substituted by a steel platform on which the gun trunnion was placed.

Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N of the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’, destroyed by the British during Operation Crusader in December 1941. The British soldier is holding a 102 mm round. Source: o5m6.de

The sides of the new platform could be lowered outward by 90° to give more working space on the platform to the gun servants when firing. On the rear, two metal racks with 18 rounds were mounted to the platform. On the racks was fixed a wooden bench where the servants and the gunner could sit during transport.

Due to the heavy stress generated by the gun’s recoil, the vehicle was equipped with four trails with manual jacks. These trails were attached to the chassis during the march. When the vehicle was placed in firing position, these were opened by 90°, a jack pad was mounted below and then the soldiers could lower the jack with a manual crank.

Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N of the 1st series with the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’. It was destroyed by the British during Operation Crusader in December 1941. It had the OTO Mod. 1933 trunnion. The open ammunition racks and the bench are visible. Source: wikipedia.com

Operational use

With the seven Autocannoni da 102/35 su FIAT 634N, the and 6ª Batteria (English: 1st and 6th Batteries) were created with crew members taken from the IIª Legione MILMART (English: 2nd MILMART Legion) and from the Vª Legione MILMART. On 1st June 1941 the Iª Gruppo Autonomo Africa Settentrionale (English: 1st North African Autonomous Group) was transformed in the Xª Legione MILMART and assigned to both the batteries.

Each battery was equipped with a Centrale di Tiro Mod. 1940 ‘Gamma’ or the improved variant, the G1. These were stereoscopic rangefinders mounted on FIAT 626 chassis (some sources claim that these trucks were armored, but nothing certain is known). Two FIAT 666NMs were also modified by the FIAT workshops in Tripoli and used as ammunition carriers. There were probably 2 for each battery section, for a total of 4 for each battery. Along with them were other logistics and close defense vehicles, but nothing is known about these.

The two batteries were first assigned to the Corpo d’Armata di Manovra or CAM (English: Mobile Army Corps) in the Marmarica region commanded by General Gastone Gambara on 20th October 1941.

The 1ª Batteria, with three autocannoni da 105/35, and the Sezione B (English: B Section) of 6ª Batteria, with two autocannoni da 102/35, were assigned on 26th October 1941 to the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’. Sezione A of 6ª Batteria, with two autocannoni da 102/35, was assigned on the same day to the 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’.

The batteries were also equipped with a total of six Autocannoni da 76/30 su FIAT 634N armed with a Cannone da 76/30 Mod. 1914 R.M..

Royal Air Force officer posing in front of a Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N of the 1st series of the 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ in North Africa in 1942. Note the Willys Jeep in the background. This gun was equipped with a Vickers-Terni Mod. 1925 trunnion. Source: forum.warthunder.com

The autocannoni of the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’ were first used in an anti-aircraft role. They gave good results, although some had problems with the elevation mechanisms and stability problems.

Their first battle they took part in was the Battle of Bir el Gobi on 19th November 1941, where they were an unwelcome surprise to the British. The autocannoni were positioned in the second line and were used to engage some tanks of the 22nd British Armoured Brigade at long-range, knocking out or destroying fifteen Crusader tanks. On this occasion, the 102/35 guns engaged the enemy armored vehicles at a range of over 1000 meters with precision thanks to the rangefinders.

On that day, of 136 tanks of the 22nd British Armoured Brigade, 25 were lost (some sources claim 42, others 57), while the Italians lost 34 tanks. 12 others were damaged and 12 artillery pieces were also lost. The autocannoni of the Ariete division were lost during the skirmishes and fights that occurred between 21st November 1941 and 2nd December 1941. The first autocannone was lost on 25th November while another was abandoned, unusable at Dir el Abid on an unspecified date. The last one of the 1st Battery and the second of the Second Section of the 2nd Battery destroyed by air attack on 4th December 1941.

The autocannoni of the Sezione A of 6ª Batteria of the 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ were used in Tripolitania and took part in the offensive of May 1942 to recapture Tobruk.
The surviving vehicles were captured by the British troops at Tobruk in November 1942.

Royal Air Force officer posing in front of the same Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N of the 1st series assigned to the 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ in North Africa in 1942. Source: forum.warthunder.com

Conclusion

The Autocannone da 102/35 di FIAT 634N was one of the improvised vehicles produced by the Regio Esercito in North Africa, where the absence of adequate vehicles was problematic. Despite only seven being produced, the design proved to be viable, with excellent firepower capable of putting any British tank in North Africa in 1941 and early 1942 out of action.

Despite the few vehicles converted, the 102 mm autocannons did, on one occasion, change the fate of a battle in favor of the Italians.

Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N. Illustration done by the excellent Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.
Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N in firing position. Illustration done by the excellent Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.
Autocannone da 102/35 su FIAT 634N specifications
Dimensions (L-W-H) 7.35 x 2.4 x ~3 m
Crew 6 (driver, commander, gunner and 3 servants)
Propulsion Tipo 355 diesel, 6-cylinders, 8,310 cm³, 75 hp at 1,700 rpm
Speed 30 km/h
Range 300 km
Armament Cannone Schneider-Ansaldo da 102/35 Mod. 1914
Number Built 7 modified

Sources

Gli Autoveicoli tattici e logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943, Tomo II – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
Gli Autoveicoli del Regio Esercito nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
Italian Truck-Mounted Artillery – Ralph Riccio and Nicola Pignato
I Corazzati di Circostanza Italiani – Nico Sgarlato