Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

CV.3/33 Pre-Series

Italy Kingdom Of Italy (1932-1933)
Light tank – 4 built

Following the successful tests of the Ansaldo Prototype Light tank in 1930 and 1931, the new suspension system, replacing the original rigid-wheel type, had shown itself to be robust and the tank had fulfilled the needs for armor and mobility. The Regio Esercito (Italian Army) would be getting these new light tanks to replace the CV.29’s which had only ever been a temporary solution to the lack of a fast tank. First, though, a small number of this tank had to be made for acceptance trials. These new tanks would involve small changes from the 1931 Light Tank Prototype and, by the end of 1933, it was accepted into production as the Carro Armato Veloce Ansaldo (Ansaldo Fast Tank) of 3 tonnes, or ‘CV.3’ for short. It is also often referred to as the CV.33, not because it weighs 33 tonnes, but for the year of adoption. For ease of understanding the complex evolution of this vehicle which underwent numerous changes through its life, it is also sometimes classified as being the ‘CV.3/33’ (Carro Veloce 3 tonne, 1933 Model) as a convenient way of distinguishing it from later models.

All four of the pre-series together outside the factory where they were built. Only the vehicle second from camera had had its armament fitted when this photo was taken. Source: Ceva and Curami

Trials and Development

With the lessons learned from the trials conducted over 1929-1931, Giuseppe Rossini, the engineering brains at Ansaldo, made a series of modifications to improve on the 1931 design with the four pre-series production vehicles ordered in 1932.

Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype (left) compared to the Pre-Series CV.3/33 vehicle (right) showing the changes to the front of the tank. Source: Ceva and Curami, and Pignato respectively

Layout Changes

The general shape and layout were retained, but changes were significant. First and foremost, the large, curved shield on the front and the large water-cooled Fiat Model 1914 6.5 mm machine gun were both removed. Instead, it had been replaced with the Fiat 6.5 mm Model 1914 aircraft (tipo aviazione) machine gun in a new mount. This was an air-cooled machine gun, meaning that the mounting for it was much smaller, as it did not have to accommodate the large water jacket on the earlier machine gun. It was also lighter but, like the other, earlier prototype vehicles, also had a separate tripod which was carried on the back deck of the tank for mounting the machine gun outside of the tank. This seems to be a simple hangover from the Carden-Loyd Mark VI which also carried a separate tripod for the same reason. This machine gun was now mounted into a new limited-traverse mounting on the front left. The machine gun had a wide field of fire as it was able to move 20 degrees in each direction horizontally and could be elevated between -12 and +18 degrees. There was space inside the tank for 3,800 rounds of ammunition for the machine gun.

The single-piece roof of the model 1931 was gone, replaced by a new roof with two large rectangular hatches cut into it. The all-welded upper bodywork from the 1931 model was retained, although the glacis now went all the way up the front of the casemate as far as the driver’s visor and was bolted down onto a frame, whereas previously this was made in two parts and was welded. The nose plate was also simplified. Rather than the heavily bolted plate and a reinforcing piece on the front of the 1931 model, this 1932 design was a cleaner plate bolted across the top edge to the frame of the tank. The towing ring was retained as a feature too but was smaller, held with 4 bolts to the nose instead of 8 as in the 1930 and 1931 vehicles (and the tractor prototype). Armor all-round ranged from 8 mm up to 14 mm thick.

Headlamps were added, one on each side, fitted to the new metal mudguards. Gone were the flimsy metal mudguards trialed on the tractor. The mudguards were now sleek and neatly fitted flush to the glacis, covering the track all the way back under the front part of the casemate. There were no mudguards on the rear. One often overlooked change was the toolbox. The semi-triangular toolbox which was located behind the drive sprocket on the prototype vehicles and tractor was moved on the pre-series to behind the casemate in front of the exhaust.

Pre-series CV.3/33 without its armament fitted during trials in Lazio in 1933. Source: Tallillo and Guglielmi

The back of the hull was changed significantly too. The 1930 design had 2 ventilation grilles on each side and more on the flat roof of the engine bay. Both were vulnerable to mud being thrown up by the tracks, and this pre-series vehicle did away with them, apart from the vents over the radiator. Instead of side and roof grilles, the air intake was moved forwards to the side of the casemate in the form of a large, rectangular multi-slat grille mounted alongside the driver’s head on the right, and the commander/gunner’s head on the left. This feature raised the air intakes, consequently improving the fording height of the vehicle and reducing the likelihood of being clogged with mud as well as providing airflow through the casemate to provide ventilation for the crew. It would also have the unfortunate side-effect that it replaced the side hatches, restricting visibility for the crew. These large side vents were dropped immediately after these four vehicles as a result.

Ansaldo CV.3/33 Pre-Series production vehicle. The framework on the back is a tripod for the machine gun. Source: Falessi and Pafi

Mobility and Suspension

There was little changed between the suspension on this pre-series vehicle and that of the 1931 Prototype. The front-drive sprocket had moved from the multipiece type on the prototype to a single-piece sprocket on the pre-series, and the rear supporting bracket for the rear idler was changed too. Instead of being short with a square hole and solid support wheel underneath to keep the track in place, this pre-series vehicle had a longer supporting bracket with a rectangular hole along with a single solid roller and a rubber-tire road wheel.

New rear idler support bracket on the pre-series vehicle (left) to the 1931 Prototype suspension (right). Source: Composite image by Author taken from Falessi and Pafi

Power for the vehicle was supplied by the Fiat CV3-type 4 cylinder petrol engine, as was later adopted for the production vehicles. That 2.745 litre engine received various modifications to improve the power output over its production, but as it was fitted to the pre-series vehicle, it could produce 43 hp at 2,400 rpm. This enabled the tank, which only weighed 3.1 tonnes, to manage up to 42 km/h on a road and about 15 km/h off-road.

Conclusion

The 1932 ordered pre-series CV.3 vehicles were a critical step in the development of the CV.3, as they marked the conclusion of prototype trials and the final outlay of the engine bay, with the exception of the air vents which had to be moved following trials. The development process had gone fairly quickly for a tank, taking just 3 years from CV.29 to the construction of the pre-series CV.3/33. Trials in July 1933 had shown a few minor problems, such as the new headlamps being fouled or damaged by undergrowth, and the large vulnerable side vents in the casemate, but the design was successful and was formally adopted as Italy’s new light tank known as the Carro Armato Veloce Ansaldo. With the changes for the first production, the Series I CV.3 approved, an initial order for 240 examples was ordered.

Over the course of the next several years, this vehicle would serve as the workhorse of the Italian army serving as far afield as Russia and East Africa and forming the basis of many modifications and specialist vehicles. The four pre-series vehicles would go on to be used as driver training vehicles. None are believed to have survived.

One of the Pre-Series CV.3 vehicles being used circa 1942 for driver training as indicated by the markings on the front and side ‘SCUOLA GUIDA’ (Driving School). The armament has been removed and the vehicle is showing the positions of the related headlamps and toolbox as adopted for the Series I production vehicles. Source: Private collection
A pre-series CV.33 in red primer colors.
Illustration of the CV.3 preseries showing the peculiar under-track toolbox. Illustration by Adrielcz, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Pre-Series CV.3/33 Light Tank specifications

Dimensions 3.15 m long, 1.4 m wide, 1.287 m high
Total weight, battle ready 3.1 tonnes
Crew 2 (Commander/Machine Gunner, Driver)
Propulsion 2.745 litre 43 hp Fiat CV.3-005 4-cylinder petrol
Speed est. 40 km/h road, 14 km/h off-road
Armament Single Fiat Model 1914 air-cooled 6.5mm Machine Gun (tipo aviazione)
Armor 8-14 mm
Total production 1 built
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Sources

Italie1939-45.com
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

Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

AB43 ‘Cannone’

Italian Flag IconKingdom of Italy 1943-1945
Heavy Armored Car – 1 prototype built

The AB43 ‘Cannone’ (Eng: Cannon) was a prototype version of the AB armored car series armed with an anti-tank variant of the standard 47 mm support gun of the Italian infantry. It was meant to improve the anti-tank and support features of the ‘AB’ armored car series.

The single prototype was developed and produced by Ansaldo and FIAT for the Regio Esercito (Eng: Italian Royal Army). The AB43 ‘Cannone’ prototype was only able to take part in trials before September 8, 1943, when the Cassibile Armistice was signed, effectively putting Italy out of the war.

In the weeks after the Armistice, German troops captured the prototype. Considered of little use by the Germans, the vehicle was then stored in the Ansaldo factory warehouse.

The “Panzerspähwagen Fiat/SPA Typ AB43(I) mit 4,7cm kanone im Drehturm” or “Autoblinda Mod. 1941 con cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938” prototype while it was being tested during the last days of July 1943. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Why an armored car armed with a 47 mm gun?

At the beginning of World War II, most armored cars were armed only with machine guns, and only in some cases with 20 mm or larger cannons (most notably the Soviet 45 mm equipped heavy armored cars). Their armor ranged from 7 to 15 mm depending on the model and the nations that used them.

During the Spanish Civil War, Italian volunteer soldiers, who fought for General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces, captured several examples of heavy Soviet-made BA-6 armored cars and Republican Blindados B.C., both armed with 45 mm guns. Many were reused by Italian or Nationalist Spanish soldiers, while one was sent to Rome to be studied by Royal Army engineers, together with a BT-5 tank.

During the drafting of the report on the efficiency of the vehicle, the Italian engineers understood that the AB40, the progenitor of the ‘AB’ series, armed with three medium machine guns and protected by 8.5 mm of armor on all sides, was not able to face heavy armored cars of potential enemies. It would be necessary to arm the Italian armored cars with more powerful weapons.

An AB40 of the Pinerolo Training School. Source: pinterest.com

The AB41 was an excellent initial solution. It was armed with a 20 mm cannon developed for an anti-aircraft role, but also efficient against light armored vehicles. It could penetrate 38 mm of armor at 100 m, more than enough to face the British armored cars and also some light tanks of the time.

Standard AB41 armored car. Source: pinterest.com

With the continuation of the war, however, the British developed wheeled vehicles armed with 40 mm guns that could not only perform reconnaissance tasks, but also support the infantry and do limited anti-tank duties.

The Regio Esercito decided to adopt a vehicle with similar characteristics but using the same chassis of the AB40 and AB41 armored cars in order to optimize production times and, above all, save time and money on the preparation of new assembly lines.

History of the project

At that time, FIAT and Ansaldo, which had collaborated on the design of the AB armored cars, were trying to solve the various problems encountered on the AB41. They accepted the new request and started to develop a new vehicle.

As usual, FIAT and its subsidiary SPA (Società Piemontese Automobili) worked on the mechanical and propulsion parts, while Ansaldo engineers worked on the armament and the armor of the vehicle.

The idea was born to arm the AB41 with the same gun as the ‘M’ tanks, the Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935. This weapon could deal effectively with light and reconnaissance vehicles.

History of the prototype

The first attempt by FIAT and Ansaldo

The 20 mm cannon, in addition to not being able to deal with better-armored threats, had explosive ammunition that was not effective against fortifications or machine-gun nests. Therefore, Ansaldo developed, by order of the Ispettorato delle Truppe Motorizzate e Corazzate (Eng. Armored and Motorized Troops Inspectorate), a vehicle on the chassis of the AB42, with the superstructure of the AB41 and with a more powerful armament.

The turret and the roof of the superstructure of the vehicle were removed and the sides of the superstructure were vertical in order to increase the space inside the combat compartment. The front of the vehicle and the frontal driving position were not changed but, behind the driver, a 47 mm 47/32 Mod. 1932 cannon was mounted. It was fitted with a large shield that protected the gun servants from enemy small arms fire from the front.

Frontal view of the AB41 Cannone. Source: pinterest.com

The ammunition supply consisted of 100 rounds of 47 mm caliber. The vehicle was not equipped with any secondary armament.

Presented in December 1942 and first completed in early 1943, this prototype was never accepted into service due to the poor crew protection, its height and the limited traverse angles of only 30° to each side.

AB41 47/32, the only prototype built. Source: Wikipedia.it

After the failure of this project, in 1943, Ansaldo and FIAT tried to modify a standard AB41, powering it with the engine of the AB42, with a new superstructure with vertical sides and arming it with a larger and wider turret armed with a more powerful 47 mm cannon. This was the ‘AutoBlinda Modello 43 Cannone’ or, more commonly, AB43 ‘Cannone’ or ‘Anticarro’ (Eng: Anti-tank).

Design

Turret

The new riveted enneagonal (nine sided) turret of the AB43 ‘Cannone’ was very low and wide enough for two crewmen. The loader sat on the left side and the commander/gunner on the right side.

The access hatch was mounted in the middle, behind the cannon breech. In front of it was a protuberance that allowed the cannon to depress more.

On the right side, there was a periscope for the vehicle commander, which allowed a 360° view of the battlefield.
The armor was the same as on the Mod. 1942 turret, 22 mm on the frontal side and 8.5 mm on the sides and rear. The roof was 6 mm thick.

Frontal view of the AB43 ‘Cannone’. Source: Ansaldo archives

Hull

Externally, the hull was similar to that of the standard AB41. The sides of the superstructure were modified, becoming vertical in order to increase the internal space necessary for the new larger turret. The armor was the same on the previous AB41, with 8.5 mm on all sides of the superstructure and 6 mm on the roof and bottom. This was enough to protect the crew from small arms fire and grenade splinters.

The machine gun in the rear of the superstructure was removed to facilitate crew entry and to increase interior space.

The machine gun was replaced with a slot from which, in case of need, the crew could defend themselves with their personal weapons.

The side doors were similar, made in two parts and with one pistol port for defense. On the sides of the hull were hooked two spare wheels and sapper tools, exactly as on the other armored cars of the ‘AB’ series.

An important note is that Ansaldo developed this version of the AB43 for the North African theater. However, when it was presented to the Italian Army, the African campaign was drawing to a finish. During testing, the vehicle was equipped with ‘Libia’ tires developed by the Milanese company Pirelli for the desert theater.

The left side of the AB43 ‘Anticarro’. Source: pinterest.com

On the left side, the 3 m radio antenna connected to the RF3M radio system produced by Magneti Marelli was mounted. The radio was mounted on the left side of the superstructure wall. The antenna could be raised by a crank mounted inside the vehicle and could reach 7 m fully extended, with a maximum radio range of 60 km and 25-35 km when only 3 m high.

Engine and suspensions

The engine mounted on the AB43 ‘Anticarro’ was the same as that of the AB42 and AB43, a FIAT-SPA ABM 3 6-cylinder water-cooled petrol engine with a displacement of 4,995 cm³. This developed a maximum power of 108 hp at 2,800 rpm and was an improved version of the previous ABM 1 of the AB40 and ABM 2 of the AB41, with the same capacity of 4,995 cm³.

The FIAT SPA ABM 2 6-cylinder engine mounted on the AB41. Unfortunately there are no ABM 3 photos, but the differences are minor. Source: Pignato

Performance was not bad. In fact, the 8-tonne AB43 ‘Cannone’ reached a top speed of 81.4 km/h, compared to the 90 km/h of the 6-tonne AB42 and the 88 km/h of the 7.6-tonne AB43.

The suspension for each wheel was independent. The wheels were all driven and all steered, allowing the vehicle to have good off-road performance even on sandy or rough terrain.

Thanks to a complex steering mechanism, the armored cars of the series ‘AB’ could change direction by pulling a lever. They had two drivers, one at the front and one at the rear. This allowed the crew to retreat quickly without having to make complicated maneuvers to change direction.

The engine was paired with a Zenith type 42 TTVP carburetor housed in the back of the engine compartment, the same as on the previous armored cars of the ‘AB’ series, the L6/40 light tank, and the Semovente L40 da 47/32. The muffler was positioned on the rear right sponson.

The fuel was stored in three different tanks, totaling 495 liters, with a range of about 400 km. Five 20 liter jerry cans were carried, two on the front fenders, two on the right side, and one on the left side. These increased the range to 480 km.

The problem of the ‘AB’ series armored cars that was not solved in this model was the absence of a firewall between the engine compartment and the crew compartment.

Main armament

The main armament of the AB43 ‘Cannone’ was the Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938. This was also mounted on the Italian M15/42 medium tank. It was a significantly more powerful cannon than the 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon used on the Semovente L40 da 47/32 and the M13/40 and M14/41 medium tanks.

An officer takes a photo near the AB43 ‘Cannone’ during the prototype testing. The cannon is clearly visible. Source: pinterest.com

The cannon was developed in 1938 and produced only for vehicles. It was made by the Ansaldo-Fossati factory of Genoa. The elevation in the AB43 was +18° and the depression was -9°. The firing rate was about 8-10 rounds per minute due to the reduced space inside the vehicle. Thanks to the semi-automatic breech, the 47/40 cannon could, with trained loaders, fire up to 28 rounds per minute.

The cannon had a maximum range of about 9,000 m, but its effective anti-tank range was only between 1,200 and 1,500 m.

The Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938. Source: Ansaldo Archives

Secondary armament

The secondary armament consisted of an 8 mm Breda Mod. 38 machine gun mounted coaxially on the left side of the gun. This machine gun was a vehicle version of the Breda Mod. 37 medium machine gun used by the Italian infantry and had a top curved 24-round magazine.

It was planned for mass production vehicles to mount a support on the turret roof for an anti-aircraft mount for the Breda MG. It is unclear if a second machine gun would have been carried in the vehicle or if the crew would have to disassemble the coaxial machine gun when under air attack.

The Breda Mod. 38 with its 24-round top curved magazine. Source: wikipedia.com

Ammunition

The 47 mm cannon used the same ammunition as the previous 47 mm L.32 gun. The ammunition types consisted of:

Cartoccio Granata da 47 mod. 35. High Explosive (HE) with percussion fuze mod. 35 or mod. 39.

Proietto Perforante mod. 35. Armor-Piercing – Tracer (AP-T) with percussion fuze mod. 09 and tracer.

Proietto Perforante mod. 39. Armor-Piercing Ballistic Capped – Tracer (APBC-T) with percussion fuze mod. 1909 and tracer.

Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto. High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) round with internal fuze mod. 41, distributed after 1942.

Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale. High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) with IPEM front fuze, distributed in early 1943.

The advantage was that the new gun had a larger breech that allowed the use of 328 mm long shell casings instead of 227 mm on the previous gun. This meant the muzzle velocity was about 43% higher. For example, the Proietto Perforante mod. 35. fired from the 47/32 Mod. 1935 had a muzzle velocity of 630 m/s, while the same ammunition fired from the 47/40 Mod. 1938 gun had a muzzle velocity of 900 m/s.

That round could penetrate 112 mm at 100 m and 43 mm at 1000 m instead of the 30 mm at 1000 m of the 47/32 Mod. 1935 round.
The 47 mm rounds were carried in two large box racks on the floor of the crew compartment.

It is not clear what material the two racks were made of, but it can be assumed that they were made of wood (like the other racks of the ‘AB’ series armored cars). This did not provide much protection in case of fire or penetration by enemy bullets.
The Breda machine gun had 27 magazines of 24 rounds each, for a total of 648 rounds. The 8×59 mm RB Breda cartridge had two types of bullets. These were standard ammunition and the M.39 AP (Armor Piercing) that weighed 12 grams and, with a muzzle velocity of 780 m/s, could penetrate a 16 mm RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armor) plate at 90° at a distance of 100 m. The standard ammunition with the same muzzle velocity penetrated 11 mm at 100 m.

The Breda magazine racks were mounted on the sides of the superstructure.

Operational use

The prototype was presented to the High Command of the Royal Army on May 21, 1943, and satisfied the officers involved. 380 vehicles of the AB43 ‘Cannone’ and AB43 armed with 20 mm cannons were ordered.

Unfortunately, the Royal Army did not order the AB43s until August 16, 1943, less than a month before the Armistice of September 8, 1943.

The AB43 ‘Cannone’ during the tests. Source: pinterest.com

When the Germans occupied the Ansaldo-Fossati factory in Genoa after the Armistice, they captured the prototype and gave it the designation “Panzerspähwagen Fiat/SPA Typ AB43(I) mit 4,7 cm kanone im Drehturm” (Eng: Armored Reconnaissance Car Fiat/SPA Type AB43 Italian with 47 mm cannon in turret).

The German Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (Eng. Inspector General of the Armed Forces) considered the AB43 ‘Anticarro’ not suitable for their purposes because the gun was not of anti-tank quality compared to the guns mounted on similar German vehicles, such as the Sd.Kfz. 234/2 ‘Puma’. They preferred the standard AB43, which were called Beute Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i) (Eng. Captured Armored Reconnaissance Car AB43 203 Italian) in German service. The Cannone prototype was kept for over a year in some factory warehouse to rust.

German AB43 used somewhere in Northern Italy. Source Beutepanzer.ru

It is not clear under what circumstances but, in June 1944, the 90. Panzergrenadier-Division was sent to Genoa to reorganize itself after the losses suffered during the defense of Rome. On this occasion, it was assigned 16 AB43s, of which one was the prototype of the AB43 ‘Anticarro’.

Unfortunately, there is no information on the use of the AB43 ‘Cannone’, but the operational history of the 90. Panzergrenadier-Division can be traced.

On October 15, 1944, the division was ordered to move further south to defend the retreat of the German divisions towards Bologna.

An Sd.Kfz. 251 of the 90. Panzergrenadier-Division somewhere in Italy. Source: pinterest.com

In the following weeks and months, the division fought furiously against the Allied divisions that were trying to advance with the final objective of conquering Bologna. During these battles, the battalions of the division suffered very high losses, being reduced to little more than 200 men per battalion.

In March 1945, the division was assigned to the reserve and was able to reorganize itself until the first days of April. In fact, the division participated in the Battle of Bologna, fought between April 9 and 21.

The AB43 ‘Anticarro’ was probably lost in one of the battles fought between January and March 1945, as, on May 28, 1945, when the division surrendered to the Allies, it had no more vehicles available. The use of the AB43 ‘Cannone’ was not reported during the defense of Bologna.

Versions

The only version of the AB43 ‘Cannone’ was the AB43, an AB41 chassis with a new Mod. 1942 turret (the same from the AB42) and a new ABM 3 engine which allowed a top speed of 88 km/h, compared to the 80 km/h of the AB41.

102 AB43s armed with a 20 mm cannon were produced and assigned exclusively to German units. Some vehicles were captured by the partisans during the war and some were reused after the war by the police of the Italian Republic until 1954.

The AB43 prototype, without the radio antenna, parked outside the Ansaldo factory. Source: Army Motors

Conclusion

The AB43 ‘Anticarro’ was a project developed to face the more armored Allied reconnaissance vehicles, mainly in the vast deserts of North Africa. There, it would have probably been quite effective thanks to the adequate anti-tank gun and with sufficient speed that would have allowed it to engage the enemy and retreat quickly.

AB43 ‘Cannone’ during testing. Early 1943.

AB43 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5,20 x 1,92 x 2,28 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 8 tons
Crew 4 (driver, gunner/vehicle commander, loader and rear driver)
Propulsion FIAT-SPA 6 cyl, 108 hp with 195 liters tank
Speed 81 km/h
Range 460 km
Armament Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938 with 63 rounds and one 8 mm Breda 38 with 648 rounds
Armor 8,5 mm all hull sides, 22 mm turret front and 8,5 mm sides and rear, 6 mm roof and bottom
Total Production 1 prototype

Sources

Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano – Nicola Pignato e Filippo Cappellano.
Le autoblinde AB 40, 41 e 43 – Nicola Pignato e Fabio D’Inzéo.
Italian Armoured & Reconnaissance Cars 1911-45 – Filippo Cappellano & Pier Paolo Battistelli
Panzer Tracts No. 19-2: Beute-Panzerkampfwagen – Thomas Jentz, Werner Regenberg
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’esercito italiano: Dalle origini fino al 1939. Volume II – Filippo Cappellano e Nicola Pignato

Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo

Italy Kingdom Of Italy (1943)
Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun – 1 or 2 built prototypes

During the Second World War, the Regio Esercito (Italian Royal Army) lacked an anti-aircraft vehicle that could protect its armored formations from enemy air attack. Sometime in 1942-43, the Italian Royal Army began development of an anti-aircraft vehicle based on the new M15/42 tank chassis. As its development began too late, only one or two prototypes would be built. Sadly, due to insufficient sources being available, very little is known about this vehicle.

The Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo. Note that the sides of the turret are missing. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

Development

During the fighting in North Africa, the Italian ground armored forces were often subject to Allied fighter and fighter-bomber attacks. The Italian Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) lacked modern fighter designs and was thus unable to provide sufficient aerial protection. One solution was to mount anti-aircraft guns on a mobile chassis. There were some attempts to mount 20 mm anti-aircraft guns on available trucks. These proved to be insufficient due to many factors like poor mobility, weak firepower, and no armor protection for the men or vehicle.

One of the first attempts to use a truck chassis (the SPA Dovunque 35) for the role of a mobile anti-aircraft vehicle. Such vehicles were usually armed with a Breda 20 mm gun. Source: Pinteres

Due to the ineffectiveness of these truck-based vehicles, the Royal Army moved on to the idea of using a tank chassis for this role. With only limited time and resources, it was decided against developing a brand new chassis and to instead use the available tank production capacities. As the M15/42 was entering production during 1942, it was decided to use it for this modification. During early 1943, one prototype was completed and presented to the Royal Army. The only visible change in contrast to the original M15/42 was the introduction of a new polygonal turret equipped with four 20 mm Scotti cannons. According to D.Nešić, (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija), this vehicle was built using the command version of the M15/42, which lacked the hull machine guns and had an extra radio set.

M15/42 tank

Due to the increasing obsolescence of the M13 Series (including the M14/41) and the slow development of the heavy tank program, the Italians were forced to introduce the M15/42 medium tank as a stopgap solution. The M15/42 was mostly based on the M14/41 tank, but with a number of improvements. Most noticeable was the introduction of a new 190 hp FIAT-SPA 15TB (‘B’ stands for Benzina – Petrol) engine and a new transmission. With the installation of the new engine, the tank hull was lengthened compared to the M.13 Series tanks by some 15 cm. The standard 8 mm Breda anti-aircraft machine gun was removed and the access hatch door was repositioned to the right side. The removal of the anti-aircraft machine gun on the turret may appear odd given Allied air superiority of the time and the threat it posed, but a single 8 mm Breda machine gun was almost completely ineffective in the anti-aircraft role and was seen as a waste of resources and weight. Most noticeable for the M15/42 was the installation of a new 4.7 cm main gun with a longer barrel, producing a more effective anti-tank gun, albeit still inadequate by this point in the war. The armor protection on the tank was also slightly increased, but this too was still inadequate to keep up with newer and better Allied tanks.

The most modern Italian tank available in 1942 was the M15/42. Source: www.worldwarphotos.info

The Royal Army placed an order for some 280 M15/42s in October 1942. However, due to attempts to produce more Semovente self-propelled vehicles, the order for 280 was reduced to 220 tanks. These were built by June 1943 and an additional 28 tanks would be built under German command after the September Armistice was signed with the Allies. The M15/42 had introduced some improvements, but these tanks were generally outdated by the time they were put into service. Nevertheless, they would remain in service up to the end of the war, mostly with their new Germans owners (known as PzKpfw M15/42 738(i)), although some would also serve with Italian Fascist troops of the Italian Social Republic (RSI – Republicca Sociale Italiana).

Just like the earlier M13 Series tanks, a command tank variant (carro centro radio/ radio tank) of the M15/42 was developed. On these vehicles, the turret was removed and some were rearmed with 13 mm heavy machine guns instead of the two 8 mm machine guns and extra radio equipment was added. By the time of the September Armistice, some 45 M15/42 CC vehicles were built. An additional 40 vehicles were built after September 1943 under German control. There were also a few different Semoventi vehicles based on the M15/42 built.

The command version based on the M15/42 (like all Italian command tanks) lacked the turret and had the two radio antennas on the rear of the casemate. Source: pinterest

Designation

Various sources give many different names for this vehicle, including: Semovente (self-propelled) M15/42 Antiaereo (anti-aircraft), Carro Armato Medio Antiaereo (anti-aircraft medium tank), M15/42 Antiaereo or Contraereo (M15/42 anti-aircraft), M15/42 “Quadruplo” (M15/42 Quad), Semovente Antiaereo M42 (self-propelled anti-aircraft gun M42), Semovente da 20/70 quadruplo, among others.

In Italian service

Not much is known of this vehicle’s development history. What is known is that the first prototype was completed sometime in early 1943. It was presented to the Italian Army at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (Study Center of Motorization). If the Army showed any interest in it is unfortunately not known. In March 1943, the prototype was stationed in Cecchignola (Rome) and given to the VIII Reggimento Autieri (8th Driver Regiment), possibly to be used for evaluation.

Illustration of the M15/42 Antiaereo. Source: pinterest

Some sources (mostly on the internet) suggest that this vehicle was shipped to Tunisia for field combat tests and that it would remain there until the Axis surrender in May 1943. This seems highly unlikely, mainly due to the lack of evidence and photographs of it in the theater. If it was captured, its unusual construction would have certainly sparked some interest among the Allies and they would have certainly taken photographs or mentioned it in their documents. The more realistic fate of the M15 anti-aircraft vehicle (or vehicles) was that, after the Italian capitulation in September 1943, it was seized by the German forces.

Technical characteristics

Being an obscure vehicle and rarely mentioned in sources in more detail, the precise technical characteristics are hard to come by. What is known with certainty is that it was based on a slightly modified M15/42 tank or the command version of the same vehicle. Most parts of the tank, including the suspension and hull, were unchanged. The only visible change to the hull was the removal of the two machine guns which were replaced with an armored cover. If the armor thickness was changed there is no information about it, but it seems likely that it remained the same in order to save development time.

The most obvious change was the introduction of a new turret equipped with four 2 cm Scotti cannons. The new turret had a polygonal shape and was made using a frame on which (unusual for the Italians) armor plates were welded.

The two obvious changes to the M15/42 tank were the introduction of a new turret and the removal of the two hull positioned machine guns. Source: https://forum.warthunder.com/index.php?/topic/390776-semovente-contraerei-2070-quadruplo-m1542-aaa/

For the main weapon, four Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/70 autocannons (generally known as Scotti, after their designer, Alfredo Scotti) were chosen. This type of gun was intended to be cheaper and easier to build compared to the Breda Cannone-Mitragliera da 20/65 modello 35. But, despite its simplicity, a higher rate of fire, and being lighter, its performance was not much better than its counterpart. In all, some 300 were built either as static emplacements or with a twin-wheel carriage. The Germans also managed to capture a number of these guns, where they were known as 2-cm Scotti(i). The Scotti had a 250 rpm rate of fire with a maximum range of 2,100-3,500 m (depending on the source). It had a barrel length of 1,540 mm and the muzzle velocity was 830 m/s. Elevation was -10° to +85°, with a rotation of 360°.

The Scotti during the African campaign. While it could be fed by using a drum magazine, it was usually fed by a 12 round strip. Source: Wiki

The Scotti anti-aircraft guns that survived the war would be used by the new Italian Army for some years on. These would mostly be used to equip navy ships. An unknown number of quadruple-gun systems would also be built after the war, with some even supplied to Israel in the late forties.

One Scotti quad system is preserved in the Santa Barbara barracks of Sabaudia. Source: warthunder.com

Prior to their installation into the new turret, the four Scotti cannons had to be modified and a specially designed mount had to be developed. The most obvious change to the cannons was the feed mechanism. This type of cannon had two feed options, by a clip or by drum magazine. Both of these were unusable due to the cramped space of the turret, and for this reason, a new type of fed system had to be adopted. The manufacturer of this cannon, Isotta Fraschini, developed a new ammunition supply system that consisted of a metal belt feed with disintegrating mesh which allegedly also increased the rate of fire up to 600 rpm per gun. The elevation of the new turret installation was -5° to + 90° with a full traverse of 360°. How the main armament was mounted inside the turret is, due to a lack of information, unknown. The armor thickness is also unknown, but would most likely have been very light, in order to provide protection at least from small-caliber weapons while keeping weight down.

Interestingly, in some photographs, the front part of the new turret is lacking armor plating. The reason why is not known. It could potentially be that it was not yet completed or due to some problems with the main weapon mount that required more working space.

The M15/42 Antiaereo’s four cannons placed at a high elevation. Thanks to its good elevation, it could cover a wide arc of fire, Source: Pinteres
Interior illustration of the M15/42 Antiaereo turret and main weapon. Source: warthunder.com

According to the few sources available, the crew consisted of three crew members. While they are not listed, an educated guess can be made. At least one crew member had to be the driver. The second crew member would be the commander who was probably also the gunner and his position would likely be behind the main gun installation. The last crew member was probably a radio operator (if a radio was ever to be used on this vehicle) or a loader.

The mobility of the M15/42 Antiaereo was probably similar to that of the original tank configuration. The new turret and weapons would have probably been similar to the weight of the previous turret and gun, giving a total weight in the vicinity of 15.5 tonnes. The speed and the operational range were probably also similar. Some of the dimensions, such as the length of 5.06 m and width of 2.28 m, were almost assuredly the same but the vehicle may have been somewhat higher than 2.4 m.

How many were built

The precise number of built vehicles is unfortunately not known. What is known with certainty is that at least one prototype was built and tested. According to the few available photos, there is a possibility that at least one more vehicle was built. This vehicle has German markings, camouflage paint, and lacks the frontal turret armor. Of course, there is the possibility that this was simply the first vehicle just slightly modified by the Germans. Author D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija) quotes that a few were built but does not mention how many precisely.

In German hands

The Germans managed to capture the M15/42 Antiaereo prototype during their occupation of Rome. Interestingly, in one photo, this vehicle is lacking some front turret armor plates, despite having pictures of it with them. This may be additional proof that at least another vehicle was built beside the one prototype.

What the Germans did with it is not completely clear. According to a few sources, it appears that the prototype was transported back to Germany for evaluation. It also allegedly saw service against the Soviet Forces in 1945 in the Teupitz area (Germany). At that time, it was supposedly attached to the 5th SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgskorps (Mountain Armored Corps).

The prototype in the barracks of the VIII° Reggimento Autieri, at Cecchignola (Rome) which was seized by the Germans. The vehicle has camouflage paint on it, but it is not clear who applied it. Also, note the German Balkenkreuz on the turret side. Source: beutepanzer.com

The Germans did use large quantities of Italian captured weapons and thus had available spare parts and ammunition, making it plausible that this information has some merit. By 1945, the Germans were trying desperately to stop the Soviet offensive, and in their desperation they used any available weapons that they had on hand, perhaps including the M15/42 Antiaereo prototype. Of course, on the other hand, due to insufficient sources, the information about its use by the Germans could easily be incorrect or even fake.

After seizing a number of Italian production factories, the Germans produced small numbers of some Italian equipment, mostly self-propelled Semovente vehicles. Why the Germans did not bother producing more Antiaereo, even as they were themselves in great need of such a vehicle, is unknown.

Influence

It is relatively common to find claims that, after the M15/42 Antiaereo, was seized by the Germans, it influenced their development of anti-aircraft tanks like the Flakpanzer IV (2cm Flak 38 Vierling) ‘Wirbelwind’. Does this assumption have any merit? First, it must be taken into account the fact that this vehicle was completed in the first months of 1943 and captured by the Germans later that year, after the Italian capitulation. This meant that it would have been shipped out to Germany after September 1943.

The issue is that the German had already begun (in early 1943) to develop their own anti-aircraft tank based on the Panzer IV. This vehicle had a completely different design, simply installing the 2 cm Flakvierling anti-aircraft system on a Panzer IV chassis, protected by large metal plates that could be folded down during combat situations. As the 2 cm caliber was deemed weak by the Germans, it would be later replaced with the 3.7 cm gun and put into production as Flakpanzer IV (3.7cm Flak 43) “Möbelwagen”. Also, even earlier in the war, the Germans had tested the anti-aircraft tank concept on the Panzer I and later Panzer 38(t) chassis.

While not the first Flakpanzer, this Flakpanzer IV armed with four 2 cm cannons was the first serious attempt made by the Germans to develop an anti-aircraft vehicle based on a tank chassis. This vehicle (and the later Möbelwagen) was obviously not inspired by the Italian vehicle. Source: Panzernet

Conclusion

The Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo was certainly an interesting vehicle that was developed for the Italian army. It also represents a modern concept of an anti-aircraft vehicle based on the tank chassis. The installation of its main weapon in a fully enclosed turret had important benefits, as it would provide sufficient protection for the crew. In practice, this was not easy to achieve and often came at the cost of reduced visibility, and not many anti-aircraft vehicles were built during the war that used an enclosed turret.

The Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo, showing the new turret placed on the body of an M15/42. It would have been a potent SPAAG for its time, but very cramped. Illustration by Andrei Octo10 Kirushkin

Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo

Dimensions 5.06 x 2.28 x 2.4 m
Total weight, battle ready ~15 tonnes
Crew 3 (Commander/Gunner,Loader and Driver)
Propulsion 190 hp FIAT-SPA 15TB
Speed 38 km/h road, 20 km/h off-road
Operational ranger 200 km road, 130 km off-road
Armament 4x20mm Scotti-Isotta Fraschini M41 20/70 cannons
Armor 6-50 mm
Total production 1 to 2 prototypes
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Source:

D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija, Beograd

F. Cappellano and P. P. Battistelli (2012) Italian Medium Tanks 1939-45, New Vanguard

D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.

Pafi, Falessi e Fiore Corazzati Italiani Storia dei mezzi corazzati

N. Pignato, F. Cappellano. Gli Autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume secondo

L. Ceva and A. Curami (1989) La meccanizzazione dell’esercito italiano dalle origini al 1943, Volume 2″ from Stato maggiore dell’Esercito, Ufficio storico,

V. Meleca, Semovente M 15/42 “Contraereo”.

N. Pignato, (2004) Italian Armored vehicles of World War Two, Squadron Signal publication.

A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books

C. Bishop (1998) The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, Barnes Book.

R. Riccio and N. Pignato (2010) Italian Truck-mounted Artillery in Action. Squadron Signal publication

N.Pignato (1978) Le armi della fanteria italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale, RIVALBA,

Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Autoblinda AB42

Italian Flag Icon Italy 1942, Armored Car – 1 prototype built

In 1941, the Regio Esercito (Eng. Italian Royal Army) realized that the performance of its modern AB41 armored cars was not able to meet the operational demands of the African Campaign. It was therefore decided to modify the AB41 to better adapt it for use in North Africa. Thus was born the lighter and faster AB42, a single prototype of which was produced in 1942. It was not accepted in service due to the changing war situation at the end of 1942 when the North African Campaign turned to the disadvantage of the Axis forces and a long-range reconnaissance vehicle with the characteristics of the AB42 was no longer necessary.

The AB42 at the Ansaldo factory
The AB42 at the Ansaldo factory. Source: pinterest.com

Development of the project

Between the end of the First World War and 1937, in the Kingdom of Italy, projects for new armored cars were shelved in favor of light tank projects. The Royal Army considered the Lancia 1ZM and the FIAT-Terni-Tripoli produced between 1915 and 1918 still effective until 1937, when it sent 10 Lancia armored cars together with the Corpo Truppe Volontarie (Eng: Corps of Volunteer Troops) to support General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War.
After the first clashes it was clear that, although the Lancias were still able to provide support to the infantry, its low speed, light armor and, finally, the poor off-road driving characteristics did not allow it to still provide the long-range reconnaissance capabilities that the Royal Italian Army High Command demanded.

The Italian Army and the Italian African Police, the police corps of the African colonies, which employed the FIAT-Terni-Tripoli, issued two separate orders for new vehicles meant for reconnaissance. FIAT and Ansaldo responded by producing two prototypes of an armored car, then called ABM, one for the Army and the other for the Police. After numerous tests and some modifications, the two vehicles were consolidated into one to speed up production. Thus was born the AB40, the first modern Italian armored car armed with two machine guns in the turret, one on the back of the hull, an all-wheel steering system, maximum armor of 17 mm, and a FIAT-SPA ABM 1 6-cylinder 78 hp petrol engine that gave the vehicle a maximum speed of 80 km/h and a range of 400 km.

An AB40 armored car at the Training Center of Pinerolo
An AB40 armored car at the Training Center of Pinerolo, Northern Italy date unknown. Source: pinterest.com

From the very first tests, it was clear that the primary armament was not powerful enough for its long-range reconnaissance and infantry support tasks. As soon as production began in early 1941, Ansaldo began developing a prototype with a new turret.

In the end, in order to save time and money, a new, slightly larger and more powerful engine, the FIAT-SPA ABM 2, a 6-cylinder 88 hp petrol engine, was mounted on the armored car, along with the same turret as that of the L6/40 light tank, armed with the Cannone da 20/65 Mod. 1935. With the new engine, it could reach a top speed of 80 km/h and had an unchanged range at 400 km.

The new version, called AB41, replaced the AB40s on the assembly lines and, between 1941 and 1945, more than 667 units were produced. 12 AB40 and AB41 armored cars were also converted into AB Ferroviaria for patrolling the Yugoslav railways with various external modifications to adapt them to the rails.

AB41 of the Gruppo Corazzato “San Giusto”, September 1944.
AB41 of the Gruppo Corazzato “San Giusto”, September 1944. The differences with the AB42 are visible. Source: Di Fazio

Even the AB41 was not exempt from defects. The problem of the armament was solved, but the chassis had other problems. The steering system was very delicate and forced the crews to constantly overhaul it to keep it operable, especially in a desert environment where dust and sand damaged the gears. In addition, the mechanism that allowed dual steering took up a lot of space inside the crew compartment of the vehicle.

The armor, thick enough to defend the crew from light infantry weapons, was adequate for a reconnaissance vehicle. However, due to the lack of adequate vehicles and the lack of organization of the Italian Army, the AB41 was often used as a breakthrough vehicle.
Obviously, this caused a lot of losses, in fact, these long-range reconnaissance vehicles were an easy target even for the British Boys anti-tank rifles, which could penetrate the armor of the AB series armored cars at a distance of more than 100 m.

When having to attack enemy positions, the crews often advanced with their vehicles facing backward. The rear-facing machine gun could provide increased firepower and the presence of the engine at the rear increased the protection for the crew. However, this made the vehicle more vulnerable, increasing the fire risk.

The vehicle was equipped with dual steering to allow it to retreat quickly from a firefight. The narrow streets of the Italian mountains or those of the villages in the African colonies meant that normal vehicles had to make complicated and time-consuming maneuvers to be able to withdraw. This system, which also became very useful even when the vehicle was in the middle of a minefield, was practically useless in North Africa, where the vast expanses of sand did not hinder any retreat. Another problem encountered was the lack of space for the four-man crew inside the vehicle, also due to the four-wheel steering system. The rear machine gun, inherited from the old Lancia 1ZM (which had the same armament configuration as the AB40) in North Africa was almost never used in its original arrangement, but was often taken out by the crews and hooked up to anti-aircraft supports built by the crews to defend themselves from the raids of the RAF’s aircraft. The weight of 7.52 tonnes in combat order often caused the vehicle to be silted up on the sandy ground, forcing the vehicles to travel on the few dirt roads in the desert. Realizing the necessary modifications to be made to the AB41 in desert environments, the Italian Army looked for an economical and fast solution.

History of the prototype

At the beginning of 1942, the High Command of the Royal Italian Army requested that FIAT and Ansaldo design a new radical modification of the armored car to better adapt it to the service in the North African Theatre.

The Royal Army’s specifications were: removal of the double steering, which had proved to be of little use in the desert, the rear machine gun, and its rear ball bearing. They also required the installation of a more powerful engine to increase the speed of the vehicle on roads and the development of a new turret. Finally, it was required to increase the armor but, at the same time, lighten the vehicle.

As in the previous vehicles, FIAT-SPA was responsible for developing a more powerful engine and removing the dual steering system, while Ansaldo was responsible for developing a new superstructure and a new turret with the same 20 mm cannon as the AB41.

At first, it was attempted to modify the AB41’s superstructure by increasing the hull size, but the weight would have been too high and the Ansaldo technicians preferred to start developing a new superstructure from scratch.

In order to meet the Royal Italian Army’s requests to reduce the weight of the armored car, on the project dated 3rd June 1942, it was decided to slope the armor of the vehicle much more. The space inside the vehicle was redesigned, reducing the crew to three and keeping the ammunition capacity unchanged. The design work was very fast and, after the production of a wooden model of the vehicle, a prototype of the new armored car called Autoblinda Alleggerita Mod. 1942 (Eng. Lightweight Armored Car Mod. 1942) or, more simply, Autoblinda Mod. 1942, abbreviated to AB42, was immediately produced.

The High Command of the Royal Italian Army made an order on 19th July 1942 for between 200 and 300 examples of the new armored car to be produced after the tests at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione Militare (Eng. Centre for Military Motorisation Studies), which were scheduled for late November 1942.

The AB42 wooden model.
The AB42 wooden model. Source: Museo Storico della Guerra di Rovereto

The prototype was ready by 7th November 1942 and it was planned to send it to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione Militare a few weeks later. However, due to the defeat of the Italian forces at El Alamein on 11th November 1942, and the costs associated with modifying the assembly lines, the project was no longer considered a priority by the Italian High Command and the prototype was shelved.

In the following months, Ansaldo recovered the engine and the turret from the prototype, which went to be mounted on the chassis of an AB41, giving birth to the more powerful Autoblinda Mod. 1943 or, more commonly, AB43. After this recovery, the rest of the prototype was probably scrapped because the chassis was now useless. At the date of the Armistice of Cassibile, 8th September 1943, the AB42 prototype was not in any register.

The AB42 on the left and an AB41 on the right
The AB42 on the left and an AB41 on the right. In this photo, taken in the Ansaldo factory after the construction of the prototype, the differences between the two vehicles are clearly visible. Source: pinterest.com

Design

The crew consisted of three, one less than on the AB40 and AB41. The driver was seated in front and had a steering wheel, an episcope, a slit, and a seat with a folding backrest to allow access to the vehicle to other crew members. Behind the driver, in the single-seater turret, was seated the vehicle commander, who also acted as the gunner, and finally, behind him was the loader. Due to the limited space on board, he could not reload the cannon and could only deliver the ammunition to the vehicle commander. In addition to the loader function, the third man in the crew was also the radio operator. The reduction of the crew and the redesign of the interior space increased the space available to the crew, who could thus operate more comfortably inside the vehicle.

Engine and suspensions

FIAT and its subsidiary, SPA, designed the new engine by upgrading the engine of the AB41, the FIAT-SPA ABM 2 6-cylinder petrol water-cooled engine with a displacement of 4,995 cm³. This developed a maximum power of 88 hp at 2,700 rpm and was itself derived from the FIAT-SPA ABM 1 with less displacement and a maximum power of 78 hp, which was mounted on the AB40. The new engine for the AB42 was improved. The displacement remained unchanged at 4,995 cm³, but the maximum power recorded was 108 hp (other sources round this figure to 100 hp or 110 hp, whilst others mention a maximum power of 115 hp) at 2,800 rpm. This significantly increased the speed on roads to about 90 km/h, compared to 80 km/h of the AB41 and 78 km/h of the AB40.

Apart from the removal of the dual-drive system and rear controls, the chassis, also used on the SPA-Viberti AS42 “Sahariana”, was no longer modified by FIAT-SPA. Though few, the modifications lightened the chassis, which nevertheless maintained the 4×4 configuration, the possibility of steering with all four wheels, and independent suspension for each wheel.

There is no clear information about the fuel and other liquids tanks of the vehicle. It is clear that the 57-liters tank in front of the driver was moved and replaced by another larger tank. The 118-liters tank between the floor of the combat compartment and the bottom of the vehicles was not changed. On the AB41, a serious problem was the lack of a bulkhead between the crew compartment and the engine compartment and the presence in front of the engine of the 20-liters reserve tank which often caused violent fires inside the vehicle. It is not clear if a bulkhead was installed on the AB42, but surely the reserve tank was moved.

The armored car had a range of 460 km thanks to the new fuel tank and the lighter total weight. To further increase the range, five jerry cans mounts were added externally on the left side of the prototype of the new armored car, which contained a total of 100 liters of fuel and increased the range to over 500 km.

The enormous fairings for the spare wheels were removed to increase the interior space of the vehicle and, on the right side of the vehicle, a support for only one spare wheel was fixed.

The prototype was fitted with the tires developed by Pirelli specifically for desert terrain, the Pirelli “Libya” type (Eng: Libya) 9.75 x 24″ (25 x 60 cm). Obviously, the rims were not modified and the vehicle could have mounted all the tires produced by Pirelli for the 24″ rims also mounted on the other AB series armored cars and the Camionette SPA-Viberti AS42.

right side of the AB42.
Photo of the right side of the AB42. The spare wheel and the radio antenna are visible. Source: La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Fino al 1943

Turret

The Mod. 1941 turret mounted on the L6/40 light tank and on the AB41 was narrow, making loading operations very uncomfortable and did not allow the commander to rotate the panoramic hyposcope 360° due to the limited space inside. Another problem was the height of the armored car, 2.48 m, of which about 50 cm were the turret. Ansaldo designed a new turret, called Mod. 1942, which was lower (35 cm) and wider than the Mod. 1941.

The Mod. 1942 turret mounted on an AB43 hull.
The Mod. 1942 turret mounted on an AB43 hull. On the roof are visible the anti-aircraft mount, the protuberance for the Breda magazine, and the episcope. Source: masterminiatures.it

On the sides of the turret, the two air intakes were removed (it is not clear, however, whether a smoke extractor was added). The two slits on the sides remained, as well as the rear hatch used to facilitate the removal of the 20 mm Breda cannon during overhauls. On the roof of the turret was mounted a two-piece hatch, the usual panoramic hyposcope with 360° field of view, a new anti-aircraft support and, finally, a protuberance that contained the top-mounted curved box magazine of the Breda Mod 38 machine gun, allowing the cannon to reach a depression of -9°.

The rear hatch of the Mod. 1942 turret
The rear hatch of the Mod. 1942 turret. Source: masterminiatures.it

This turret, although lower, had more interior space than the Mod. 1941, making it easier for the commander to load the weapons on board.

In addition to the considerable advantage of the increased interior space, the new turret was also more balanced than Mod. 1941, which in fact needed a rear counterweight. It is interesting to note that, on the mock-up of the Lightened Armored Car Mod. 1942, the air intakes mounted on the sides of the Mod. 1941 turret were also mounted.

Hull and armor

The hull was completely redesigned by increasing the sloping of the armor in order to increase protection. Previously, the slit, the driver’s episcope, and, lower down, an unprotected headlight for night driving were placed on the front armor plate. The front mudguards were slightly modified to a more angular shape. On the two well-inclined sides, just behind the front wheels, there were the same armored doors mounted on the AB40 and 41 armored cars, divided into two parts. The upper part had a central slit for close defense with the use of personal weapons. On the left side, behind the door, there were five jerry cans, two on the upper row and three on the lower row. On the right side, there was the horn and, behind the armored access door, the spare wheel of the armored car and the radio antenna which was mounted at the rear. The antenna could be lowered to horizontal during movement. When raised, it was 3 m high but could reach 7 m fully extended, with a maximum range of 60 km and 25/35 km when it was 3 m high. The rear of the armored car was sloped and had two large hatches.

The engine compartment was completely redesigned, with two large square inspection hatches with air intakes and the tank cap. On the back, in addition to the large radiator fan grille, two large air intakes were present. On the two rear mudguards, there were two storage boxes. The one on the left was smaller because of the muffler, which was fixed to the mudguard.

The tools were probably transported inside a big box inside the armored car, like on the AB41, except the shovel and the pickaxe. The pickaxe was placed between the jerry cans and the rear fender while the shovel, in the wooden mock-up of the vehicle, was placed transversely on the left side and was probably not mounted on the prototype in order to make room for the jerry can supports.

The radio equipment of the armored car was probably a Magneti Marelli RF3M, already present on the AB40, AB41, and later on the AB43. It consisted of a transmitter, a receiver, two power supplies, and two batteries.

The armor of the vehicle was bolted to an internal structure. This made the vehicle dangerous because, when the armor was hit, the bolts shot away, becoming dangerous for the crew, but it made it easier to replace only one part of the armor in case of damage.

The hull armor was 8.5 mm on the front, sides, and back. The new Mod. 1942 turret had a front armor of 22 mm, while the sides and back were 8.5 mm thick. The roof and floor were 8.5 mm thick, while the engine deck was 6 mm thick.

The left side of the Autoblinda Alleggerita Mod. 1942
The left side of the Autoblinda Alleggerita Mod. 1942. The five jerry cans, the rear mudguard box and the new door position are visible. Source: La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Fino al 1943

Main armament

The main armament was the Breda Mod. 1935 20/65 Breda Cannon, developed as an anti-aircraft gun. Due to the smaller space inside the armored car, it had a rate of fire of about 200 rounds per minute. It had a depression of -9° and an elevation of +18°. This cannon was more than suitable for the roles that Italian armored cars had to play. It was effective, easy to replace, and with excellent anti-tank characteristics. It fired 20 x 138 mm B caliber ammunition, i.e. the same caliber as the German FlaK 38 anti-aircraft guns and the Swiss Solothurn S-18/1000 anti-tank rifles.

The ammunition produced in Italy was of different types, but most had been developed for anti-aircraft use and therefore High Explosive (HE) and the Armor Piercing (AP) were used on the AB. The AP Mod. 1935 had a muzzle velocity of 840 m/s which could penetrate 38 mm of armor at 100 m and 30 mm at 500 m. With German production shells, such as the Pz.Gr. 40, with a muzzle velocity of 900 m/s, the gun could penetrate 50 mm of armor plate at 100 m and 40 mm at 500 m.

A 20 mm Breda Mod. 1935
A 20 mm Breda Mod. 1935 used by Italian soldiers in Africa. Source: pinterest.com

Secondary armament

The secondary armament consisted of a Mod. 38 caliber 8 x 59 mm RB Breda machine gun with a top-mounted curved 24 rounds magazine. This machine gun was the vehicle version of the Breda Mod. 37 infantry machine gun with a theoretical firing rate of 600 rounds per minute but, due to the reduced space inside the turret, the firing rate dropped to about 350 rounds per minute.

In case of an air attack, the machine gun could be dismounted and used on the anti-aircraft support on the roof of the turret. The machine gun could fire different types of bullets, such as the M.39 AP bullets, with a muzzle velocity of 780 m/s. These weighed 12 grams and could penetrate a 16 mm armor plate at a distance of 100 m. Standard ammunition with the same muzzle velocity penetrated 11 mm at 100 m.

Ammunition

In total, the vehicle carried, as on the AB41, 57 magazines with 8 rounds for the main cannon, for a total of 456 rounds, probably transported in wooden racks on the sides of the vehicle and at the back. Unfortunately, the amount of 8 mm ammunition transported by the AB42 is unknown, although it can be assumed that they were, as on the AB41 and the subsequent AB43, around 1,992 rounds, i.e. 83 magazines with 24 rounds.

Versions

Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’

In 1942, a prototype of a Camionetta (in Italian, the word “Camionetta” describes a four-wheeled vehicle, with particular characteristics of robustness, capable of traveling over rough terrain, and generally equipped with protective elements) on the hull of the AB42 was presented to the Italian High Command, for a similar task as the AB42. The SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’ was a large vehicle with a central fighting compartment and the same engine as the AB41 at the back. This Camionetta was used for long-range reconnaissance, ambushes and to counter the British Long Range Desert Group (LRDG).

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

An unarmed AS42 Sahariana
An unarmed AS42 ‘Sahariana’. Source: pinterest.com

Another version of the vehicle, called AS42 ‘Metropolitana’, used for ‘continental’ soil, differing only by the adoption of two huge boxes of ammunition instead of the rows of ten petrol jerry cans. These vehicles were used in Italy, the Ukrainian steppes, France and Germany.

In total, of the two versions, about 200 vehicles were produced. The sources are not very clear, as production records were destroyed during the war. These vehicles fought in North Africa, Italy and, after 8th September 1943, were captured by German forces and were used by Italian soldiers under German command until the end of the war. After the war, these were produced in small numbers and used by the Italian police until 1954.

A Camionetta AS42 'Metropolitana' without jerry cans, armed with a 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun in Rome
A Camionetta AS42 ‘Metropolitana’ without jerry cans, armed with a 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun in Rome, during a break in the days after the armistice. Behind it, two AB41 armored cars wait to get into action against the Germans. Source: Wikipedia.it

Autoblinda AB43

Shortly before the Armistice, the last project, called AB43, was proposed by the Ansaldo to the Wehrmacht. This vehicle was based on the normal chassis and superstructure of the AB41, but with the new turret of the AB42 and the more powerful FIAT-SPA ABM 3 engine. The amount of ammunition transported was the same, the maximum speed was increased compared to the AB41, and the range was reduced to about 400 km. It was immediately tested and accepted for service but, due to the Armistice, FIAT and Ansaldo did not have time to build even a single one. In November 1943, after being judged suitable by German technicians, production began for the German Army. About 100 vehicles were produced for the Wehrmacht and used in anti-partisan duties in northern Italy and the Balkans. After the war, some surviving AB43s were employed by the Italian State Police until 1954, and eight vehicles were also used by the Italian Army Railway Engineers in the ‘Ferroviaria’ version.

The only AB43 in running condition.
The only AB43 in running condition. Source: reddit.com

Conclusion

The AB42 was a version of the AB series armored car developed for use in the North African Campaign, lighter and faster than the AB41. Due to the defeats in Africa and the cost of retooling the assembly lines, it was decided to continue to produce the AB41, which remained the main reconnaissance and infantry support vehicle until 1943 with the Royal Army. Fortunately, some of the systems developed for the AB42 were reused on the AB43, which kept the chassis and superstructure of the AB41 but had the new and more powerful engine and the turret of the Lightened Armored Car Mod. 1942.

The AB42 prototype illustrated by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign

AB42 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.2 m x 1.93 m x 2.24 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 6 tonnes
Crew 3, driver, gunner and commander
Propulsion FIAT-SPA ABM 3, 6-cylinders 110 hp engine
Road Speed 90 km/h
Off-Road Speed 50 km/h
Range 460 km
Armament 1x 20/65 Breda Mod. 1935 1x 8 mm Breda Mod. 38
Hull Armor 8.5 mm front, sides and rear
Turret Armor 22 mm front, 8.5 mm sides and rear
Total Production 1 Prototype

Sources

I mezzi blindo-corazzati Italiani 1923-1943 – Nicola Pignato
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano – Nicola Pignato e Filippo Cappellano
Le autoblinde AB 40, 41 e 43 – Nicola Pignato e Fabio D’Inzéo
La Meccanizzazione dell’ Esercito fino al 1943 – Lucio Ceva e Andrea Cerami

Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype 1931

Italy Kingdom of Italy (1929-30) Light Tank – 1 Built

Following tests in 1930 with a new and improved light tank to replace the interim CV.29, changes had to be made to the vehicle to improve mobility. Ansaldo had made the prototype in 1930 copying the general arrangement of the CV.29, which was, in turn, a copy of the Carden Loyd Mark VI light tank. The 1930 vehicle had improved armor by virtue of a proper roof plate and better suspension than the CV.29, but it was still not acceptable. The armament was light, just a single Fiat Model 1914 water-cooled 6.5 mm machine-gun, and whilst that would be changed later, the priority was to achieve better mobility by focusing on the suspension system.

The 1930 Light Tank Prototype was modified and from the few available photographs and records on the project, the evolution from CV.29 to CV.3 Series vehicles can be traced directly through this 1930 vehicle modified into the 1931 model.

Ansaldo 1931 Light Tank Prototype

Trial and Development

With the lessons from the trials of the CV.29 and the 1930 Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype available, the evolution of the CV.3 had moved significantly in just a couple of years. The 1930 trials of the Light Tank had been promising, and new trials were ordered for 1931. Giuseppe Rossini, the engineering brains behind the designs at Ansaldo, took this knowledge and experience and replaced the suspension on the 1930 vehicle. It is not clear whether the suspension was changed from the 1930 vehicle to the 1931 vehicle first and then was copied over onto the Ansaldo Light Tractor (for hauling field guns) or vice versa, or indeed if it was done simultaneously, but regardless, the old suspension was gone and a new, improved system fitted.

Layout

As this 1931 vehicle was simply the 1930 vehicle with modifications, it retained the all-welded upper bodywork with bolting and riveting kept to the lower sections. The armament remained weak however, as it retained the same single Fiat model 1914 6.5 mm water-cooled machine-gun mounted behind a large, curved mounting on the front left. This would still be operated by the commander/gunner with the driver sitting on the front right. Movement for the machine-gun was acceptable as it was able to move 20 degrees in each direction horizontally and could be elevated between -12 and +18 degrees, thus permitting a wide field of fire. An estimated 3,800 rounds could have been carried, but as it was a prototype, this is not definitive and is merely an estimate based on the loadout of the CV.3/33 when it was eventually finished.

The engine was at the back and the transmission at the front with the drive shaft running between the two men. The body of the vehicle was mostly welded armor between 8 and 14mm thick with some bolts used to attach sections together. Notably, the vertical front plate on the nose of the vehicle was bolted together and used two vertical reinforcing pieces. On the glacis, above this nose, was a single, wide hatch used for accessing and also for cooling the transmission.

The internal layout of either the 1930 or 1931 version of the prototype tank. The interior layout remained unchanged from the 1930 to 1931 versions with the commander/gunner on the left and the driver on the right. The chequered floor plate gives an idea of the attention to detail which went into the design. Source: Pignato

On the casemate itself was a wide rectangular hatch on the front right for the driver in addition to a large rectangular hatch on the right of the driver for vision. Another two square hatches were provided in the back of the casemate directly behind the driver and gunner respectively. The roof was a single large metal panel attached by two simple hinges at the back of the casemate, being large and awkward to open and close.

At the rear, the engine bay had a flat roof, and ventilation for the engine was provided by means of large louvred grilles on each side of the engine compartment. On the roof of the engine compartment, there were more ventilation louvres. One unusual feature is the addition of ventilation grooves into the cover for the muffler on the exhaust from each side, presumably there to help keep the exhaust cool or assist in air flow.

Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype of 1931. The framework on the rear deck is a folding mount for a machine gun. Source: Pignato

Mobility and Suspension

The suspension was changed from 3 pairs of wheels to the better known 2-1-1-2 arrangement in which the fore and aft pairs of wheels were mounted on a bogie and the central individual wheels mounted on a dog-leg shaped arm. The horizontal supporting bar for the suspension components was retained, although it was shorter and slightly reshaped. The rear idler mount was also changed from a simple bar holding it in place to an integrated mounting holding a small wheel to keep the track from excessive flexing during high-speed movement and especially from being buckled upwards during reversing. As with all of the previous vehicles, the slightly triangular box behind the sprocket was retained and hand tools for the tank were kept in it.

1931 Ansaldo Light Tank prototype during testing in the mountains. The roof has been removed for an unknown purpose. This image provides an excellent view of the flat engine deck of this machine. The tiny silhouette of the machine is also apparent. Source: Private collection and Pignato respectively

The power source for the vehicle is not known for certain, although it is possible, albeit unlikely, that it was still using the same 2.9-litre Ford Model T petrol engine as was being used in the CV.29. That engine produced just 20-22 hp for a vehicle over a tonne lighter. Performance for the 1931 Prototype is not known but had it been using this Ford engine it would have been totally unsatisfactory mobility wise, meaning it is far more likely to have had the same Fiat CV3-type 4 cylinder petrol engine as was later adopted for the production vehicles. That 2.745-litre engine received various improvements and modifications to improve the power output. As the production engine in the formally adopted CV.3/33 delivered 43 hp, it is a reasonable assumption to place the engine output for the 1930 prototype at or about 43hp. In this case, this would have enabled to the tank to manage about 40km/h on a road and about 14 km/h off-road.

Conclusion

The 1931 Prototype with the improved suspension was still not perfect but was superior to its earlier (1930) form and significantly better in every regard than the CV.29 which had been made as an interim tank whilst this new tank was developed. The Fiat model 1914 water-cooled 6.5 mm machine-gun was still not ideal, but that was to be a relatively simple thing to change. The design for the new tank had been set. Able to be transported by truck and capable of good mobility even in mountainous terrain, it was all that had been asked for and, save for the use of a turret, was an ideal light tank. The new suspension was still not perfect but had been sufficiently improved over the rigid 1930 system to form the basis for a new production tank for the army.

The design was thus selected for mass production with a few minor changes and standardized as the Carro Veloce 33 (CV.33). This vehicle, throughout a life of modifications and variants, would be Italy’s most widely produced armored vehicle of WW2.



Illustration of the Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype 1931 produced by Andrei Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.17 x 1.4 x 1.28 meters
Total weight, battle ready 3.2 tonnes
Crew 2 (driver, commander/machine-gunner)
Propulsion 40-43hp Fiat CV.3 petrol
Top speed 40km/h road, 14 km/h off-road
Armament: x1 Fiat Model 1914 Water-Cooled 6.5 mm Machine-Gun
Armor 8 – 14 mm
Total Production 1

Sources

Italie1939-45.com
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


Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Semovente Moto-Guzzi

Italy ww2 Kingdom of Italy (1921)
SPG – 1 Built

Mountainous northern Italy was treacherous tank country. Any war fought there on that terrain would be difficult. As well suited to defense as mountains were, any force which could deploy armor there, especially if they could also deploy some mobile artillery, would have a significant advantage. Combine this need with the late 1920’s assessment that the doctrine for new warfare should be highly mobile tactically making full use of light tanks combined with strategic mobility and Italy had a clear requirement for a vehicle able to achieve both goals.

Early work had involved testing the British Carden Loyd Mark VI light tank as well as the Mark V* light tank. Both had some advantages such as their small size and mobility but also some disadvantages in terms of the arrangement of automotive components.

Carden Loyd Mark V* fitted with Schwarzlose machine gun. Source: Ceva and Curami

The Carden-Loyd Mark VI entered service with Italy fitted with a single machine gun as the CV.29. The Mark V* was not assigned an official Italian service number but served as an inspiration for Ansaldo’s design for a 65 mm gun armed vehicle.

The Entry of Moto-Guzzi

The Italian firm Società Anonima Moto Guzzi, better known as just ‘Moto Guzzi’, is world famous for motorcycles and is Italy’s oldest motorcycle producer, having started in 1921. They even developed a completely enclosed armored motorcycle mounting a heavy machine gun. Of far more military use though they also worked on a fully tracked vehicle design. This design was a significant departure from anything seen before. It had two versions. The first was just a tractor which served as a test bed and the second was based on the same vehicle, but mounting a gun.

Semovente Moto-Guzzi 65/17. Source: Pignato

Structure

The basic structure of both vehicles was the same as the chassis were the same consisting of two independent track units mounted on arms and driven by an engine in the front. The driver and another crew member would sit at the back to command, drive and service the gun. The cabin seen in the test bed is a roll cage for protection from rolling over and it is unknown whether it was intended to be a permanent feature on either vehicle. Certainly, some sort of protection for the crew would have been required for the Semovente (a self propelled gun for infantry support) should it have been built.

Suspension

The suspension was very unusual and consisted of two tracks completely independent of each other consisting of four wheels on a supporting bar, along with an idler and drive sprocket all suspended on three rotatable arms. As one track moves down, these arms rotated, ensuring that the body of the vehicle remains horizontal and the tracks move at different heights. The arrangement was unlike anything before in Italy and had the significant advantage of allowing movement across the side of a steep slope. The drawing from Moto-Guzzi suggests a side slope of approximately 45 degrees. Drive appears to be provided via the front sprocket as per the prototype vehicle. However, the exact arrangements of the fastenings for the wheels is likely to have differed on the envisaged production vehicle from the test bed.

The drawing of the Semovente shows four road wheels and the test bed also has four wheels but each wheel is paired so as to leave a gap down the centre for the track guide. A large external supporting bar ran from the front sprocket to the rear idler wheel on which were mounted small track support wheels.

Engine

Moto-Guzzi made a lot of motorcycles for the Italian Army and had a lot of experience in small high powered engines but it is not known what engine was used in the design. The cylindrical object at the front of the test bed is unknown but appears to be either the exhaust or possibly a fuel tank, which would have to have been completely rearranged on a production vehicle to permit the gun to be used.

The Moto-Guzzi designed vehicle chassis, during mountain trials, showed off its incredible ability to remain upright even when traversing a steep side slope. This flexibility is shown in the modified image from the outline drawing. Source: Ceva and Curami, and Pignato (modified) respectively
1: The Moto-Guzzi vehicle showing its ability to climb very steep slopes even in snowy alpine conditions. 2: The Moto-Guzzi traversing a steep side slope in snowy conditions. The ability of the tracks to move vertically keeps the body horizontal. 3: The Moto-Guzzi tractor during trials. Note the large logo on the cab. Source for all: Pignato
Enlarged view of the logo on the side of image 3. Source: Pignato

Armament

The Moto Guzzi, as a tractor, would (amongst other duties) be used for towing light guns. As a semovente, it would mount the 65mm Model 1913 mountain gun. This gun was made by the Royal Arsenal in Naples and was 17 calibers long. It was an ideal gun for use in the mountains as it could be broken down easily into 5 loads for transport. It fired the 65mm x 172R rounds just under 5kg in weight and ammunition for the gun was mainly high explosive, but a specific shrapnel shell was also available. Later, an armour piercing (AP) and also a hollow charge shell were available for it.

65mm L.17 Model 1913 Mountain gun. Source: Italian Ministry of Defence

Conclusion

The Semovente Moto-Guzzi was a very advanced design for the time. A design ideally suited to the rigours and demands of mountain warfare and carrying a weapon specifically designed for the job. It was not to be, however. The Moto-Guzzi design, either for work as a tractor or as a semovente, was discontinued by 1930. The Italians would have to look elsewhere for a suitable gun carrier to meet their unusual requirements.



Illustration of the Semovente Moto-Guzzi produced by Andrei Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Crew 2
Armament 65mm L.17 Model 1913 mountain gun

Sources

Italie1939-45.com
Italian Artillery of WWII, Ralph Riccio
Iron Arm: The Mechanization of Mussolini’s Army, 1920-1940, John Sweet
Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento Dell’Esercito Italiano V.2, Pignato and Cappellano
Italian Armoured Vehicles of World War Two, Nicola Pignato
La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano, Ceva and Curami
motoguzzi.com


Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

‘Rossini’ CV.3 Light Tank Prototype

Italy Kingdom Of Italy (~1935)
Light tank – 1 built

Giuseppe Rossini was the engineering brains behind the Ansaldo Carro Veloce (Ansaldo Fast Tank) projects. In 1930 and 1931, he had created a prototype based loosely on the general arrangement of the CV.29, which, in turn, was copied from the Carden Loyd Mark VI Light Tanks purchased from Great Britain in 1929. Throughout 1930 and 1931, that design had been refined and tested, which resulted in the 2-1-1-2 bogie suspension system seen on production CV.3 series vehicles from the model of 1933 to the model of 1935.

Whilst it was a robust suspension system, it was not perfect, and various minor changes were made, mostly to the rear idler, but also to the bogies themselves. On top of this, the armament was weak. A single machine-gun had been mounted inside the Prototypes of 1930 and 1931 in a limited-traverse mount. It would not be until 1934 when this was this switched to a double machine-gun but, again, this was in a hull mounting with a limited field of fire. The obvious solution to the underwhelming firepower was the addition of a turret. Rossini clearly saw an opportunity to address both the suspension and firepower limitations and, sometime between 1932 and 1935, created a new vehicle with improvements to both suspension and firepower.

Hull

This new vehicle was using the same welded steel hull, with armor ranging from 8mm to 14mm, as in the CV.3/33 Series I Light Tank (the Series I being distinguished by the air intake for the engine being located centrally at the back of the casemate, flanked by two rectangular hatches which could be opened from inside). Based on the use of this hull (which was discontinued in 1934 when production switched to the Series II vehicles), this would appear to date the design between 1932 and 1934. It is possible, however, that Rossini was simply experimenting with an older body that had been discontinued after this date. By 1935, production had switched from welding the casemate to a bolted structure, so the estimated likely date range is kept at 1932 to 1935 for this reason. The rest of the casemate retained the features of the CV.3/33 Series I production tank, with the same flush-fitting mudguards and casemate mounted headlamps.

The machine gun position cut into the front left was replaced with a new glacis plate which covered the hole all the way up to the nearly vertical driver’s plate. This too was now a single piece without the machine gun opening, and other than the driver’s hatch which had been retained on the right, this was now a clean single plate. The driver’s position remained unchanged. Sat on the right and steering by levers, the driver still had a single large rectangular hatch over his head to get in and out, plus the same small square vision port to his right to see out of. The vision port on the left of the casemate was kept, but instead of a seated weapons position for the commander/gunner, he would now have a turret. He would have to stand up to use this small turret, though he could presumably sit back down in the hull if he wished to when he did not need to maintain observation or man the machine gun in the turret.

Suspension

Other than the obvious addition of a turret, the most significant change to the vehicle was the new suspension system. The normal CV.3/33 used the standard 2-1-1-2 suspension consisting of bogies connected and held together by a stiff outer steel bar. The movement of the wheels was thus limited, which reduced off-road performance. A new type of coiled spring suspension was tested at around this time on a Series I Production CV.3/33 and showed that the wheels had a wider range of movement than the bogies which were held rigidly in place by a horizontal bar.

For this turreted tank, Rossini used a new system. Four large wheels connected by a horizontal flat steel bar sandwiching the wheels. This steel bar was connected to a pivot point on the lower edge of the hull. A leaf spring was at the back of each side of the tank on the horizontal bar, although this was reversed on the rear pair of wheels on each side. This system meant that when the wheels encountered an obstacle or change in ground-height, the wheels could pivot together around this central pivot point and the leaf spring attached to the horizontal bar provided both shock absorbency but also returned the bogey back to its starting position.


‘Rossini’s’ CV.3 prototype showing the effectiveness of the new suspension system. Source: Ansaldo

Turret and Armament

The armament of the Series I vehicle had been weak, consisting of just a single Fiat Model 1914 6.5 mm machine gun (tipo aviazione). This was a much more suitable weapon for a vehicle than the previous water-cooled machine gun used in the prototypes of 1930 and 1931, but was still inadequate for providing sufficient weight-of-fire to support infantry attacks and had insufficient power to penetrate enemy revetments or even light armor. This deficiency was addressed in the production of the Series II vehicles from 1934 when a new mounting was fitted, this time coupling a pair of Fiat 1914/1934 8 mm machine guns together. This firepower increase came at a price.

The single machine gun of the Series I was able to move 20 degrees in each direction horizontally and could be elevated between -12 and +18 degrees with space inside for 3,800 rounds of ammunition. The two 8 mm machine guns though, had a reduced traverse, with just 12 degrees to each side, and the elevation was limited too, down from +18 on the Series I to 15 degrees on the Series II. A bigger bullet also meant that fewer rounds could be carried, with just 2,320 8 mm rounds on the Series II compared to the 3,800 6.5 mm rounds carried on the Series I tanks.

Side view of the modified CV.3 showing the turret and new 4-wheel suspension system. Source: Ansaldo

Along with this decrease in ammunition stowage came the further downside of weight. The new machine gun mounting was also significantly heavier. The solution was clearly met with the addition of a turret. A machine gun mounted in a turret atop the machine would be able to provide not 24 total degrees of traverse, but 360. Thus, a small circular turret was added over the commander/gunner’s position. Around the circumference of the turret sides and rear was a series of 4 horizontal vision slits which served to significantly improve visibility from the vehicle too. The front of the turret had a similar style of mounting as was fitted previously in the hull, projecting out of the front of the turret in a box structure, into which a second fitting was installed which could move up and down. Through this second piece, the single machine gun armament was mounted to the right-hand side. Unlike the former hull mount, there does not appear to have been any ability to move the machine gun side to side within this mounting, which would be no surprise as lateral movement was now provided by the turret.

The roof of the turret was formed from a single steel hatch opening backward, but when closed, actually sloped forwards slightly. The exact armament is not clear. Rossini demonstrated his vehicle fitted with just a single machine gun of an unknown type, possibly the Fiat M.26 or M.28 (experimental) 6.5 mm machine guns, although whether a different machine gun was planned is unknown as the 6.5 mm Fiat Model 1914 (tipo aviazione) was already known to be insufficient. With added space inside the tank, it is also likely that there was sufficient room in which to store more ammunition in addition to the 2,320 rounds carried in the Series II vehicle. Photographic evidence shows one extremely useful feature of the design, which was that the machine gun could actually be withdrawn by the commander/gunner and, with the turret roof open, mounted pointing upwards as a defence against low flying aircraft. None of the CV.3 vehicles had, to this point, any capacity for protection against aircraft whatsoever, and a single 8 mm anti-aircraft machine gun was as much as most Italian tanks in WW2 had a few years later, so the flexibility of the firepower on offer was excellent.

Questions arise as to why the fitting of a 20 mm cannon, such as the 20 mm Breda (20/65 Breda M.35), was not attempted, although it is possible that it was considered. Without the original paperwork for the development, designer’s notes, or blueprints though, it can only be speculated. Should such a weapon have been considered however, it would have been a significant increase in firepower, providing just what the Italian troops fighting with Franco’s Nationalists had really needed in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). During that war, the Italian machine gun armed tanks were mostly ineffective against the Soviet-supplied T-26 tanks of the Spanish Republic. Ironically, the Italian Breda 20 mm cannon, being the ideal weapon against the T-26, was mounted on another light tank during that war, the German Panzer I, and on an Italian CV.3 Series vehicle for exactly this purpose.


Illustration of the Rossini CV.3 light tank prototype. Illustrated by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.


Conclusion

Very little is known about this development. At a time when the CV.3/33 Series II was either starting production or in production, this design was a significant improvement over that tank in all areas from enhanced mobility on and off-road, better visibility, to improved firepower. Even retaining the same CV.3-005 43 hp petrol engine of the Series I and II vehicles, this tank would have had comparable performance in terms of speed, combined with beneficial features, such as greater cross-country ability, better visibility and more flexibility in terms of firepower.

Modified CV.3 showing the elevated position of the main armament for use as an anti-aircraft gun. Source: Ansaldo
It was to come to nothing, however. The potential of this vehicle was never realized, as the development of the CV.3 continued into 1935 and other schemes for a light, turreted tank began. Those plans would improve on the Series I’s suspension as well, but never again was the CV.3 series vehicle to have this big-wheel suspension system fitted.

Sources

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

‘Rossini’ CV.3 Light Tank Prototype specifications

Dimensions 3.167 x 1.4 x ~1.7 m
Total weight, battle ready ~3.4 tonnes
Crew 2 (Commander/Machine Gunner, Driver)
Propulsion 2.745 litre 43hp Fiat CV.3-005 4-cylinder petrol
Speed est. 40 km/h road, 14 km/h off-road
Armament Single machine gun (Fiat M.26 or M28) 6.5 mm
Armor 8-14 mm
Total production 1 built
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index
Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Corni Half-Track

Italy Kingdom of Italy (1923) Half-Track – Design Only

Guido Corni was an Engineers Major from Modena (Italy) who had served in the Italian Army during World War One (Regio Esercito – RE). Towards the end of the war, he had worked alongside Captain Scognamiglio on armored car designs and their designs were considered by the High Command. The Great War had ended before their work had left the paper design stage and, with a stock of armored cars like the Ansaldo-Lancia 1ZM in stock as well as serious financial problems, the government was not going to spend more money on a new armored car.
That particular vehicle (the Corni-Scognamiglio) had been quite conventional. It was based on a wheeled truck – as were most armored cars of the era – with an armored fighting compartment built behind the driver. With the pressures of war over, Major Corni had lost none of his ingenuity, filing a patent for improvements in combustion engines in August 1920. In 1923, he filed another patent for another armored fighting vehicle. This time it was a half-track with some unusual features.

Corni Halftrack diagram taken from Patent FR588288

Raising the Tracks

The primary purpose of the patent was specifically concerning “some improvements in armored autocars or armed war tanks and, in general, in autocars for heavy loads or in tractors which must be able to move safely and expeditiously both on loose and inconsistent grounds and on common roads” by means of using an endless track system. Wheeled vehicles were obviously preferable for use on roads and tracked vehicles superior for off-road and, amongst many ideas in this era to combine the two means of traction, Major Corni had his own. His vehicle was to solve the problem of tracked vehicles using the road by simply arranging it in such a manner that the track could be lifted from the ground when not in use. Such a system could be, he proposed, useful for all manner of vehicles from tanks, to trucks, and, lastly, to armored cars. The armored car was drawn and the truck was described, but, sadly, Corni did not provide additional information as to how he envisaged these design elements into a tank.

The highlighted area within the structure of the armored car showing the area filled by the mechanicals underneath the armor and the unusual raised driving position. Source: Patent FR588288 as modified by the author

A Monocoque Hull

Most armored cars were based upon a truck chassis, but the Corni vehicle, in order to save weight, did away with this rather inefficient idea. The layout remained inherently ‘truck-like’ but the support of the vehicle was by means of the armor itself, a monocoque hull. The front wheels would remain in place and be used (un-driven) merely for steering. The frame of the truck would be maintained along with the engine and transmission providing drive to the rear axle. The driving cab area though was gone, removed and replaced with a firing position for the forward-firing weapon and a built-up structure roughly in the middle of the load area for the truck. On top of this load area sat the driver perched very high off the ground using a horizontal steering wheel and with his head poking up into a small fixed vision cupola providing 360º of vision. This had the advantage of giving the driver good all-round vision as well as permitting for the rapid change of direction with the seat simply rotating around this central steering column. The pedals and gear lever, however, did not rotate which would have meant a considerable degree of skill would be required to suddenly change around going backward. A large rectangular-shaped door was on each side of the hull drawn in such a way as to show a double opening door. No other fittings or description was provided.

Arrangement of engine, transmission and track unit for the Corni half-track. Source: Patent FR588288
The track unit itself featured two large wheels, one at each end, with the rear-most one directly driven on the rear axle of the vehicle. Between these wheels were four sets of wheels arranged in 4 rows of three with the three arranged side by side and all connected together by a system of links. These four sets of wheels were connected, in turn, in pars to a single set of elliptical leaf springs to a common, central anchor point. The anchor point, in turn, was fastened to steel armor forming the structure of the suspension unit. The entire affair could pivot upwards from the rear axle to be raised off the ground when moving onto a road. Off-road, the wheel on the rear axle had to be removed as it was of a larger diameter than the rear wheel of the tracked section and likely would simply be stowed on the side of the vehicle.


Illustration of Guido Corni’s half-track produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Other Features

The armored body itself had two large recesses formed within the sides of it to accommodate the raised track units and, although no thickness of plate is specified, as it had to support the entire structure of the vehicle, it would not be thin. The armored body continued underneath the vehicle as well forming a boat-like hull to which the fitting and mechanicals of the vehicle were attached.
Lateral loopholes were on the front and back of the vehicle as were two weapons. One fore, and one aft, which were specified to be either machine-guns or light field guns. Major Corni did not describe these further as the patent was for the design of the hull, driving position, and track system rather than for weapons.

Views of the Corni half-track from the front (left) and behind (right). The structure in the center is the driving position and the rearview shows the recesses into the armor into which the tracked section moves. Source: Patent FR588288

Basic vehicle structure without an armoured body. Source: Patent FR588288 as modified by the author
Major Corni’s half-track design was an unusual design combining elements of wheel-cum-track vehicles, monocoque hulls, and the unusual raised driving positions. Unfortunately for him though, this idea does not seem to have gained any official interest at all despite offering the potential.

Sources

French Patent FR523100 filed 25th August 1920 ‘Dispositif de chauffage préalable pour moteurs à combustion’
French Patent FR588288 filed 14th October 1925 ‘Vehicule automobile blinde pour terrain meubles et routes normales’
British Patent GB223571(A) filed 17th October 1924 ‘Improvements in Armoured Autocars for Travel of Yielding Ground and Common Roads’

Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Autoblindo T.L.37 ‘Autoprotetto S.37’

Italian armour ww2 Kingdom of Italy (1941) Light Armored Car – 1 Prototype

This vehicle started life in early 1941 with the need for a light armored vehicle for use in North Africa. Italy had a long experience in mobile desert warfare having used armored cars in the desert before the First World War. They had in its possession the design of a very mobile heavy artillery tractor, the T.L.37 (Trattore Leggero – Fast tractor). The T.L. 37 was an excellent vehicle with very distinctive oversized pneumatic tires and it was to form the experimental basis for a new light armored car built by Fiat SPA for colonial service. The vehicle would sometimes be referred to as the T.L.37 Autoblindo, but also as the A.S.37. ‘A.S’ stands for Autoblindo Africa Settentrionale (North Africa Armoured Car), although the A.S.37 name was somewhat confusingly later applied to the armored personnel carrier which followed this one.

Italian Trattore Leggero 37 (T.L.37) with large pneumatic tyres used as a tractor for hauling field guns.

Design and Layout

Just like the T.L.37, the engine for the vehicle was at the front, with the driver positioned at the front left. It retained the basic frame from the T.L.37 with the same over-sized pneumatic tyres, but now an armored body enclosed the vehicle. At least one door, consisting of two parts – upper and lower – was on the right-hand side and a second door on the other side. The back of the vehicle sloped off sharply from the roofline and on top was a small turret. As the A.S.37 personnel carrier version followed this vehicle, it can be surmised that there was no second front seat (on the left) and that the fuel tanks were positioned near the back around the rear wheels.
Power for the T.L.37 was provided by a model 18VT 4.053 4 cylinder petrol engine which delivered 52hp at 2000rpm and the later A.S.37 used a modification of this engine delivering 67hp. It is not known whether the Autoblindo T.L.37 used the original 52 hp or the upgraded model.

Autoblindo T.L.37. Photo: Pignato

Protection and Armament

The vehicle was protected by flat steel plate armor up to 8.5 mm thick and probably down to 6 mm thick in places, bolted to a steel frame. This armor would have provided adequate protection to small arms fire and shell splinters. The vehicle was fully enclosed except for the turret. Initially, it had been planned to use the turret of the AB.40 armored car, which would have meant it was armed with a pair of Breda Model 1938 8 mm machine-guns, but for unknown reasons, this turret was not available. Instead, a small open-topped turret based on that used on the L.6 light tank was mounted. The turret had no back or roof and the sides were very short and steeply angled backwards. A large hooped ring, possibly for mounting a machine-gun for protection from aircraft went over the turret. The turret mounted a single Breda Model 1935 20 mm cannon.

Left side view of the Autoblindo T.L.37. Photo: Arms of Breda


Illustration of the Autoblindo T.L.37 ‘Autoprotetto S.37′ produced by Yuvnasva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Fate

Following the requirement in early 1941, Fiat SPA built this single prototype and it was sent to North Africa immediately for trials. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to effectively evaluate the vehicle under combat conditions. The T.L.37 Autoblindo (A.S.37) is reported to have been lost at Sidi Rezegh (located south of the main road between Tobruk and Bardia, East of El Adem) possibly through a mechanical failure in Autumn 1941.

Autoblindo T.L.37 after it was found by the British showing no sign of battle damage. Photo: Tank Museum, Bovington
Fiat SPA was not to be dismayed by this failure, however. Instead, they further refined the vehicle, abandoned the turret and sloped rear, and by April 1941, had already got plans in hand for an open-topped version for transporting troops and stores or for convoy escort duties. That vehicle was also known as the A.S.37. A vehicle looking very similar to this one but without the turret.

Lince specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.95 x 1.92 x 1.8 m (without turret)
Total weight, battle-ready 5 tonnes (est.)
Crew 2-3
Propulsion 4.053 liter 18VT 4 cylinder petrol engine producing 55 – 67hp
Speed 50 km/h
Range 725 km
Armament 2x Breda Model 1938 8mm machine-guns or 1x Breda Model 1935 20mm cannon
Armor 6mm – 8.5mm steel
Total Production 1

Links & Resources

War Wheels.net
A Century of Italian Armoured Cars, Nicola Pignato
Encyclopedia of Armoured Cars, Crow and Icks
Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of WW2, Ralph Riccio
Gli autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Nicola Pignato
Mezzi Corazatti Italiani 1939-1945, Nicole Pignato
Arms of Breda – Oto Melara

Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

CV.3 Rampa Semovente

Italy (1938)
Bridge Carrier – 3 Built

The CV.3 (Carro Veloce 3 tonnellate), later known also as the L.3 (3 tonne light tank), was the most widely produced and used Italian tank of the second world war, with production starting prior to the Second World War and continuing throughout. Several thousand were made and it, unsurprisingly, found itself used and converted to fulfill a wide variety of roles, from a recovery vehicle to a mortar carrier. One of the least known variants of the CV.3 series is the self-propelled ramp (Rampe Semovente) version.

Three CV.3 Rampa Semovente driving abreast during the October 1938 parade. Source: Italian Newsreel October 1938

The Name?

It is important to start with the name. This vehicle is so obscure that it is known only as a result of being recorded in footage of a parade in Rome on the 19th October 1938 attended by the Japanese Ambassador and Benito Mussolini who watched whilst on horseback. No formal name for this variant is known and, as far as it is known, no documentation for it seems to have survived the war. As a result, it is being referred to by the author only by a literal description of its role, a self-propelled ramp or, in Italian, ‘Rampa Semovente’, pending discovery of the actual name.

The Churchill ‘ARK’ ramp carrier. Source: IWM H36593

The Role

The most similar vehicle to this unusual-looking machine is the British Churchill ARK. ‘ARK’, or ‘Armoured Ramp Carrier’, could be used in two ways: either to provide a ramp which following tanks could pass over to clear high obstacles, cliffs, wall etcetera; or to create a bridge over a wide gap which would otherwise be impassable without a full-length bridge. There were various versions of the British ARK, but in Italy there had only been some limited tests with bridge layers from the CV.3 and no prior work on an ‘ARK’ type system. As fitted to the CV.3, this would work in exactly the same way.

The Design

The design of the bridge/ramp consisted of a single long curved span of framing, presumably made from steel, with the roadway laid over the top. The roadway consisted of a series of transverse steel supporting struts over which was a mesh forming the surface over which following vehicles would pass. A rectangular section right at the apex of the curve was missing, as this was directly over the heads of the two crew positions of the CV.3 and would have prevented them from getting out. It can be inferred that the method of employment would involve the abandonment of the vehicle with the bridge in place and with a separate section of roadway being put over this gap, or else, it would not be useable by wheeled vehicles. It also necessitates the modification of the CV.3 vehicle with the removal of the two roof hatches that would otherwise not be openable. Another modification to the CV.3 was the fastening of supporting brackets for the curved roadway to the body. It is not known if the main armament – a pair of machine-guns – was removed or not. They would not interfere with the bridge, but the use of such a weapon firing through the roadway grille would be very restricted and could damage the roadway.
The curvature of the framework attached to the body of the tank provided sufficient stiffness and strength to bridge or ramp over an obstacle and still bear the weight of passing tanks or trucks. At the front and rear of the design are folding ramps on wheels which can be lifted or lowered into position providing the short span required to cover the gaps between the bridge section and the ground, and to account for undulations in the ground.
A final, and helpful touch is the addition of a longitudinal white stripe painted across the roadway section which would assist vehicles in staying in a straight line as they pass over the vehicle.


Illustration of the ‘Rampa Semovente’ by Bernard ‘Escodrion’ Baker, based on work by David Bocquelet.

Utility

The vehicle clearly retains the original two-man crew of driver (right), and commander/gunner (left), although the status of the armament is unknown. No other modifications are known to the vehicle, but in use – even if just a parade – the vehicle is seen carrying the bridgeway with the end folded up. Upon arrival at an obstacle, the ramps can be released, presumably from inside via a cable release, rather than outside, which under fire would have been extremely hazardous. Once in place, the crew can either get out and leave it in situ for as long as the ramp is in use or simply wait for the one of two vehicles immediately behind to go over the top before withdrawing.

CV.3 Rampa Semovente showing the missing section in the middle to permit crew entry/exit. Source: Italian Newsreel October 1938

Production

With the crew having to abandon out of the top rather than out of the sides, as on the British ARK, they would be dangerously exposed to enemy fire and, with the bridge section curved over the front, any firepower of the vehicle would also be limited. The relatively small size of the bridge carried and the overhang at the front and back severely limited the mobility of the vehicle. Likely, these are these reason that very few (perhaps just the three shown in 1938) were built. None are known to have seen any active deployment and the status of the vehicles is unknown.

An impression of positions for the ramp in use. Top: Carriage, Middle: As a ramp, Bottom: As a bridge

Specifications

Dimensions >5 (est.) x 1.4 x 1.5 (est.) meters
Crew 2 (driver, commander/machine-gunner)
Weight 3.5 – 4 tonnes
Top speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Total Production 3

Sources

‘Luce’ Italian Newsreel, Rome Parade October 1938
Fiat Ansaldo. Maintenance Manual L.3 Light Tank circa 1938