WW2 Italian Other Armor

Culqualber and Uolchefit Tanks

Kingdom of Italy (1941)
Armored Tractor – 2 Built

There have been many attempts over the years, in a variety of countries, to turn track-laying industrial equipment into expedient armored vehicles. Their tracks and ability to carry, tow, or move heavy loads has produced expedient military vehicles based on everything from cranes to farm tractors. More common though, were those based on track-laying earthmovers and bulldozers. The production of these vehicles has usually been driven by the lack of alternative armor from actual tanks, and the campaign in Abyssinia was no different.

‘UOLCHEFIT’ tank on patrol, Summer/Autumn 1941, Gondar region. Souce: Pignato

Strategic Background

Italy had invaded Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea) back in 1935 and fought a rather long war and insurgency against a very determined native defense force. Although they had used a number of armored cars and light tanks, such as the CV.3 series, there was still a serious shortage of armor in the colony. Some additional stocks had been delivered prior to the outbreak of World War 2 in 1940 (Italy didn’t join in until 1940), but even with these, stocks of armor were still inadequate.
Far from Italy, at the end of vulnerable supply routes, it was effectively cut-off by Great Britain when Italy declared war in June 1940. It was an enormous territory to protect, sandwiched between Anglo-Egyptian Sudan to the North-West, British and French Somaliland to the North, and British held Kenya to the South. Supplies would have to skirt around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid the British held and controlled Suez Canal, which meant that the colony was effectively isolated and vulnerable. Hopes of a quick victory in Egypt to wrestle control of the Suez Canal from the British would prove vain at best, so, in the meantime, the colony was on its own. The situation was no better for the British either. Just because they effectively had the colony surrounded and cut-off did not mean it was not a threat. Positioned and dominating the Horn of Africa, this Italian territory posed a significant threat to the vital British supply route through the Gulf of Aden to the Suez Canal and up the East African coast to South Africa, Rhodesia, and Kenya. Removal of this threat to a vital supply line was essential for the British.
The 1.7 million square kilometer area comprising most of present-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia was collectively known as Africa Orientale Italiana (AOI) and was divided into 6 military regions. These were Eritrea (capital Asmara), Amara (Gondar), Scioa (Addis Ababa – regional capital and capital of Abyssinia), Galla-Sidamo (Jimma), Harrar (Harar), and Somalia (Mogadishu). Italian forces were widely dispersed over this rugged and unforgiving terrain with just 39 light tanks (CV.3 and Fiat 3000) and 24 M.11 medium tanks. The bulk of the Italian armored force in the region was made up by armored cars, 126 of them in total, and all of these vehicles and troops (just over ¼ million Italian and Native) had to guard an area nearly 7 times to size of France.
Benito Mussolini’s ideas of a quick war meant that the AOI was fine and could be left to its own devices until after Britain had sued for peace. Italy would keep its possession and take a slice of France as well as maybe some more territory in North Africa or in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately for Mussolini and for AOI, Britain did not sue for peace. It was not going to be a quick war with easy territorial gains for Italy, but a long fight in which all of her colonies were going to fall one by one, including AOI.
For the troops in AOI, the war actually started fairly well. The borders of British Kenya and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan were crossed and small border areas occupied, and in August 1940 a full scale, successful invasion of British Somaliland was mounted. French Somaliland was more complicated but was effectively taken out of the war by the terms of the Franco-Italian armistice.
Early successes aside though, it was not to last and the British counterattacked in force simultaneously from Kenya in the South, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in the North-West and occupied British Somaliland. Despite some determined resistance, it was a fool’s errand for Italy. The AOI, led by the Duke of Aosta, never stood a chance of winning, the question had only been one of how long they could last. Pressed from all sides and with an ever-dwindling number of resources, Italian forces had withdrawn progressively back towards the highland area
Addis Ababa fell to the British on 3rd April 1941 as the Duke withdrew to the stronghold of Amba Alagi which also fell to the British on 19th May 1941. The war for AOI continued though as British and Ethiopian forces pressed the Italians back towards Gondar by November 1941. Gondar was the capital of the Asmara region and lay to the north of Lake Tana, guarded by mountain passes at Wolchefit and Kulkalber.

Protecting Gondar

Italian forces in AOI were poorly equipped in general, with very little motor transport and little armor. Following the loss of Kassala, Somaliland, and Addis Ababa, there was even less available. Like so many other places when there was no armor to be had, it was improvised. In this case, twice.
Two ‘tanks’ were manufactured and named for these key passes guarding Gondar, known as ‘Culqualber’ and ‘Uolchefit’ respectively.

Factory fresh Caterpillar RD series tractor, circa 1935-1937. Source:
‘UOLCHEFIT’ pictured in the Gondar region, Summer-Autumn 1941. Source: Pignato


Uolchefit (Wolchefit) was made from a Caterpillar RD7. The RD series of tractors began in October 1931 in the United States and was an extremely popular and well-selling machine with ‘RD’ used to describe the names of this series from 1935. One of the first popular, powerful, and reliable diesel engined tractors, they sold well around the world. A couple of machines had made it to Ethiopia before the war and were used in the grading and construction of roads.
The RD-7 was powered by the reliable Caterpillar 13.6 l D-8800 (831 ci) 4 cylinder vertical diesel engine. Tested in Nebraska in 1936, this engine delivered a maximum of 95 hp at 1000 rpm (belt horsepower) and 78 hp at 1000 rpm (drawbar horsepower). Adjusted to sea-level, this was 100 hp and 83 hp maximum respectively, with the highest permissible rating as 86 hp and 62 hp respectively. This engine was coupled to a 5-speed gearbox (4 forward, 1 reverse) and a top speed of 5.5 mph (8.9 km/h) forwards in 4th gear and 2.2 mph (3.5 km/h) in reverse.
Without the armored body, the RD-7 was 4.12 meters long, 2.46 m wide and 2.03 m high (to top of bonnet), with a ground clearance of 39 cm (1940 data).

‘UOLCHEFIT’ pictured in Gondar Summer-Autumn 1941. Source: Pignato


It is mentioned in some sources that the Culqualber tank was based not on the RD-7 but on the D-6. The D-6, also made by Caterpillar, weighed just over 8 tonnes and was tested in Nebraska in September 1941. During that testing, it delivered a maximum 78 hp at 1400 rpm (belt horsepower) and 63 hp at 1402 rpm on the drawbar. Adjusted to sea-level, this was 67 hp and 81 hp maximum respectively with the highest permissible rating as 69 hp and 50 hp respectively. Powered by a Caterpillar 7.7 l D-6600 (468 ci) 6 cylinder vertical diesel engine coupled to a 9 speed gearbox (5 forward, 4 reverse), the D-6 was capable of speeds up to 5.8 mph (9.8 km/h) in fifth gear and 5.4 mph (8.8 km/h) in reverse and was carried on 16 inch (409 cm) wide tracks. The D-6 was slightly smaller than the RD-7, measuring 3.78 m long, 2.04 m wide, and 1.91 m high (to top of bonnet) with a ground clearance of 31cm.

‘CULQUALBER’ pictured in the Gondar region Summer-Autumn 1941. Source: Pignato
‘CULQUALBER’, Summer-Autumn 1941. The name painted on the side is barely visible. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato


Both vehicles were made in the same way but differ in their features. Culqualber featured a very pronounced inverted ‘V’ shaped roof over the boxy superstructure. Armor covered all sides and roof with the engine covered by a large armored grille. The rear of the machine was pointed, and in some photographs, a spot lamp can be seen in the middle of the superstructure. The driver’s position remained unchanged from when it was a tractor and he was provided with a rectangular viewport to see through and a machine-gun on each side.
Photographs also show that the roof contained two rectangular hatches roughly centrally over the V-shaped roof which served as the only access or exit to and from the vehicle for the crew. The two machine-guns, usually mounted alongside the driver in the front, could also be moved to either of the two firing ports in the rear or the two firing ports in each side. Culquaber appears to be a smaller vehicle (D-6 rather than RD-7) than Uolchefit which would match the description of it being based on a D-6. There appears to have been space for just three crewmen, a driver, a machine-gunner, and a commander, who would also act as another machine-gunner. One particular photograph of Culqualber shows it without the spot lamp and what appears to be a more pronounced roof. It is unknown whether this is the vehicle early or late in her life but, as it is the only photo showing this, the assumption is it was taken before she was finished. A confusion, however, is what appears to be camouflage painted on one side of the vehicle not seen in other photographs. This leaves open the possibility that a third, unknown vehicle was also produced

‘UOLCHEFIT’ pictured in Gondar Summer-Autumn 1941.

Uolchefit is noticeably longer and wider than Culqualber with space alongside the engine for a machine-gun position on each side at the front. Like the Culqualber, the casemate has a central driver’s rectangular vision port and is flanked by machine-guns. It has two large firing ports and two smaller vision ports in each side with the rear-most one on each side mounting another machine-gun. The rear of the vehicle sticks out over the rear of the tracks narrowing to a small rear panel. Each panel has a vision/firing slit and the sloping roof over the back had another slot capable of mounting a high angle machine-gun, something very useful in the mountainous terrain of the region. Assuming each gun would be manned at the same time, this makes for a crew of driver, commander/machine-gunner, and up to 6 other machine-gunners.

Rear of ‘UOLCHEFIT’ showing the high angle machine gun and rear vision/firing port closed on the starboard side. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato
Illustration of ‘UOLCHEFIT’ produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign.


The original Caterpillar D-6 and RD-7 tractors carried no armor at all, so, in order to be bulletproof, armor had to be fabricated. Being cut-off from supplies, the number of trucks available to the force had diminished greatly. Spares could not be found, so trucks were salvaged as they broke down, and shortages of tyres were serious, resulting in a large graveyard of scrap trucks available. With no supplies of armor plate available, the solution was the ingenious use of the leaf spring suspension units taken from trucks and split apart. Straightened out, these springs were then welded to form the armor which was probably supported on some kind of framework also made from the scrap trucks. The result was not pretty, but was functional and provides a unique appearance to the armor. The armor is therefore estimated to be about 10-12 mm thick.

‘CULQUALBER’ with front spot lamp. Source: Pignato
Either ‘CULQUALBER’ without the front spot lamp and with a different roof and camouflage or a third unidentified vehicle. Source: Pignato


Uolchefit was fitted with seven 6.5 mm Fiat Model 1914 machine-guns. Two were fitted at the front with one either side of the engine, 2 more in the casemate above the driver’s position, one in each side and a seventh in the rear, facing backward. Culqualber, on the other hand, was fitted with two 8 mm Fiat Model 1935 machine-guns. The two were usually mounted in the front at the level of the driver, but could be moved to the rear or sides as needed. An unknown amount of ammunition was carried in each vehicle.


Both vehicles were constructed on their tractor donor chassis by Officine Monti di Gondar (workshops of the Monti company in Gondar) in late June to early July 1941 and both were soon pressed into combat. In a memo from the Commander of forces in Amhara, Gondar, dated August 23rd, 1941 to the Italian High Command, he reported setting up a platoon of tanks by taking two Caterpillar tractors and applying armor to them. He readily acknowledged that although they might have only a small military value would still provide positive support for the morale of Italian troops and likewise damage the morale of the British and Ethiopian forces. He also asked if more such vehicles would be available, presumably to create more tanks.*
A further memo from the Commander in Amhara, Gondar, dated 18th September 1941, stated that two vehicles had been made and that, although they could only manage 6 km/h, they provided valuable cover from fire as they were impenetrable to machine-gun fire and rifle bullets at 200 m.
An additional armored vehicle based on a truck was also made and all three vehicles saw combat on 13th September at Lake Tana, although one source states that only Uolchefit was present at this western garrison at Fercaber, with Culqualber in the main garrison at Culqualber pass. What is certain is that no photos show both vehicles together.
The conditions inside the vehicles were bad. During the action on the 13th, the heat and fumes inside the vehicles meant crewmen were fainting inside them. The report dated the 18th does not say that they were knocked out, suggesting that they were both still fully operational on that date.
Records for the use of these tanks in combat is unsurprisingly rare. It is known that they saw combat on 13th September at Laka Tana. The Wolchefit Pass fell on 28th September 1941 after an assault by the British after which they marched on Gondar and attacked on 27th November 1941. The resistance there lasted just three days and the loss of Gondar marked the end of official Italian resistance in AOI. The two tanks, Culqualber and Uolchefit, must have been lost or abandoned between 13th September and 27th November.
*’History of the Combat Units of the MVSN (1923-1943)’, published in 1976 states that 6 caterpillar tanks were made but this appears to confuse these tanks with other improvised armored vehicles for a total of six.


The Uolchefit and Culqualber tanks were not the only tanks made from the Caterpillar RD series. Thousands of miles away and compelled by similar reasons, a far more famous vehicle was made in New Zealand. The famous ‘Bob Semple Tank’ was also based on this chassis. The chassis saw other attempts too. The firm of Disston produced a ‘tank’ based on the RD tractor too which met with some limited commercial success before the war. The compelling need to produce improvised armor has led to many attempts to produce a tank based on a sturdy tractor chassis and, like the Bob Semple tank before it, these Italian designs were short-lived. The only claim to fame these have though is that they stake a claim to the first ‘tank’ produced on the continent of Africa.

Specifications (Uolchefit, RD-7 Based)

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.12 x 2.46 x 2.03 meters
Total weight, battle-ready 9.5 tonnes (w/o armor or guns)
Crew Up to 8 (driver, commander/machine-gunner, 6 other machine-gunners)
Propulsion Caterpillar 13.6 litre D-8800 (831 ci) 4 cylinder diesel, 61.94hp at 1000rpm (drawbar)
Top speed 5.5mph (forwards), 2.2mph (reverse)
Armament: 7 x Fiat M1914 6.5mm machine-guns
Armor Leaf-spring suspension steel <20mm

Specifications (Culqualber, D-6 Based)

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.78 x 2.04 x 1.9 meters
Total weight, battle-ready 8.05 tonnes (w/o armor or guns)
Crew 3 (driver, commander/machine-gunner, machine-gunner)
Propulsion Caterpillar 7.7 l (468 ci) 6 cylinder vertical diesel, 49.93hp at 1400rpm (drawbar)
Top speed 5.8mph (forward), 5.4mph (reverse)
Armament: 2 x Fiat M1935 8mm machine-guns
Armor Leaf-spring suspension steel <20mm

Nebraska Tractor Tests Report No.255: Caterpillar Model RD-7 (Diesel), January 1936
Nebraska Tractor Tests Report No.358: Caterpillar Model D-7 (Diesel), January 1940
Nebraska Tractor Tests Report No.374: Caterpillar Model D-6 (Diesel), January 1941
How Italy was defeated in East Africa in 1941, Ian Carter, IWM
History of the Second World War: Mediterranean and Middle East Vol.1, Sir James Butler
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Nicola Pignato & Filippo Cappellano
History of the Combat Units of the MVSN (1923-1943), E.Lucas-G. De Vecchi, 1976
I Corazzati Di Circostanza, Nico Sgarlato

WW2 Italian Other Armor

Camionette Cingolate ‘Cingolette’ CVP-5 (L40)

Kingdom of Italy (1939-1942)
Tracked Carrier – 300 Ordered

Development of the Camionetta Cingolate began by copying the example laid down by the British. The British design for a machine-gun carrier had been presented to the British War Office in 1935, and at this time, the Italian military was in close relationship with the British military. Certainly, they had ordered a number of light vehicles such as the Carden-Loyd Mk.VI and V* from Great Britain already, which had served as starting points for various Italian tank developments.

Cingoletta CVP-5 first model with a single 8mm machine gun

The final version of the CVP-5

A prototype of the CVP-5 developed prior to the War based on the standard L.6 light tank. Source: Pignato

Front view of the CVP-5 with 8mm Breda (left) and 13.2mm Breda (right)
Prior to the war, Ansaldo had actually developed a variant of their L.6 tank as a tractor with a box-shaped body but without a roof or turret.

A Carrier Copy?

Having turned their backs on their traditional British allies and going to war with them in the North African desert, the Italians once again found themselves able to examine British equipment. Not purchased this time, but captured. One of the most notable vehicles captured was also one of the most widely produced armored vehicles ever, the ubiquitous ‘Universal Carrier’. Various types were captured in the Western Desert and returned to Italy in 1941 for examination and testing. As a result, two Italian vehicles were spawned, the CVP-4 and the CVP-5. In a secret memo dated 24th May 1941, amongst other studies being conducted for light armored vehicles and personnel carriers, was a comment questioning whether a vehicle such as the British Universal Carrier would be appropriate.
The CVP-5 was based on the chassis of the L.6/40 light tank and was proposed to the Army in 1941, with just a single 8mm ball-mounted machine gun fitted to the front on the left-hand side. This vehicle could carry a crew of four (driver, gunner, and two others).

1st and 2nd pattern ammunition trailers made by Viberti for the CVP-4 and CVP-5
The Army, however, was not convinced by the idea. The L.6 as a prime mover/tractor was just too small and the towing capacity was below par. In this configuration, it could only carry a load of 400 kg which then reduced the crew space to just 2 men. Its only use was for hauling light field guns such as the 47mm L.32 or small trailers, but it was at least fitted with an RF 1CA radio for coordination.

Improved version with 13.2mm heavy machine gun in the front. Source: Pignato


A new version equipped with the more powerful 13.2mm heavy machine gun and a second machine gun, an 8mm Breda Model 38 on a pedestal mount, was prepared between December 1941 and February 1942. It was also fitted with radio equipment, specifically the RF3M, and was submitted for trials to CSEM (Centro Studi ed Esperienze della Motorizzazione) on 2nd February 1942. At the same time another vehicle, the CVP-4, was also under development and oddly it was decided to wait until the CVP-4 was finished to test against the CVP-5, unduly delaying testing of the CVP-5.

Captured Bren carrier on the left with the CVP-4 centre and CVP-5 on the right. Image date December 1941. It can be seen that the CVP-4 is not yet ready.

Illustration of the Camionette Cingolate ‘Cingolette’ CVP-5 (L40) produced by Jarosław Janas, funded by our Patreon Campaign.


The CVP-4 was not delivered until December 1942, meaning a delay on 10 months. Perhaps annoyed at the ridiculous delay in obtaining a functional vehicle from Fiat (CVP-4) to test against the CVP-5, Ansaldo conducted a study of the CVP-5 mounting an Oerlikon 20mm L.70 cannon and even obtained a license to produce it.
These completely unnecessary delays meant that production was very slow with just 12 vehicles produced by the end of summer 1943. These vehicles were all issued to the Cavalleggeri di Lucca motorized regiment, where they were used for towing ammunition trailers for the Semovente 75/18 self-propelled guns. Each trailer could hold 98 rounds of ammunition.

Top-down view of the CVP-5 armed with 13.2mm Breda heavy machine gun.

Rear view of the CVP-5 showing the 8mm pedestal mounted machine gun for AA defence. Source: Pignato


Only a small number were produced by the end of August 1943. These new vehicles were fitted with the improved SPA 6 cylinder 100hp engine which had been intended for use in armored cars and the transmission was modified to permit high-speed use. With such a small number produced just prior to the armistice, their use was limited to the role of ammunition carriers. Not much information remains of their use in combat or in the hands of the German forces, Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI), or partisan forces. Production was stopped and focussed on other matters, as the military value for such a vehicle by that time in the war was too low to warrant disrupting tank production.

Prototype CVP-5 fitted with 8mm machine gun. The radio has not yet been added.

CVP-5 with 8mm Breda machine gun mounted

CVP-5 showing improved front armament, but lacking the 8mm AA machine gun. The small size of the vehicle can be discerned from the size of the CV.3 behind.


Dimensions (L-W-H) 4m x 1.87 x 1.35 meters
Total weight, battle ready 5.4 – 5.6 tonnes
Crew 2 (driver, gunner)
Propulsion SPA 6 cylinder petrol producing 100hp at 2700 rpm
Speed 50km/h (Originally configured for 60km/h)
Range 200km
Armament 1x 8mm Breda machine gun (later 1 x 8mm Breda M1938 AA machine gun, 1 x Breda 13.2mm heavy machine gun)


Pignato, N, Cappellano, F. (2002). Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento Dell’Esercito Italiano V.2. Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito
Curami, L., Ceva, A. (1994). La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano. Arte Della Stampa