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WW2 Italian SPGs

Semovente L40 da 47/32

Italy (1942 – 1945)
Self-Propelled Gun – 414 built

The Semovente L40 da 47/32 was developed by Ansaldo and built by FIAT between 1942 and 1944. It was designed to allow the Bersaglieri regiments, assault infantry units of the Regio Esercito Italiano (Royal Italian Army), to provide direct fire support from the Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 medium support gun during infantry assaults without having to tow them and, secondly, to provide the Italian armored divisions with a vehicle with anti-tank performance. These self-propelled guns (Semovente in Italian, Semoventi plural) were used from 1942 to 1945 by Italy and Germany, as well as by the Independent State of Croatia and Yugoslavian partisans. In total, 402 vehicles in different variants were built.

Two Regio Esercito’ Semoventi L40 of the 1st series in Tunisia. Source: pinterest.com

History of the L6/40

In 1938, the standard tanks of the Italian Army were the L3 series light tanks, which, during the Spanish Civil War, did not give a positive impression to Italian officers because they were inferior to the Republican Army armored vehicles of Soviet origin, such as the BT-5 fast tanks, the T-26 tank and the BA-6 heavy armored cars.
On the basis of Spanish experience, the High Command of the Royal Italian Army issued several requests to some Italian auto companies to develop more advanced vehicles able to fight with the most modern foreign tanks. In order to modernize the armored units, Ansaldo, helped by FIAT, started to develop different vehicles on the chassis of the L3 series tanks, all of which remained at the prototype stage. By 1940, the M6T was developed, a vehicle with a hull and suspension similar to those of the L3s, but with a new superstructure and the same turret used on the AB40 armored cars armed with two 8 mm machine guns. After some tests, as on the armored car, it was clear that the armament was not sufficient, and, therefore, a new turret was designed, the Mod. 1941 armed with the powerful Breda 20/65 cannon.

The new vehicle was called the Carro Armato Leggero da 6 tonnellate Modello 1940 (Light Tank Lightweight 6-ton Model 1940) or, more simply, L6/40, and went into production in 1941, with 283 being produced until 1945.

It was designed by FIAT and Ansaldo to fight on the narrow and steep Italian mountain roads, but was used by the Italian Army mainly in Russia and North Africa. After the Allied landings in Sicily in July 1943 and the September 1943 Cassibile Armistice, which led to the surrender of the Royal Italian Army, some L6/40s were captured by the Wehrmacht, which reused them in its second line units for anti-partisan duties in Italy and the Balkans.

Early production L6/40 outside the Ansaldo-Fossati plants in Genoa. The prototype, very similar to the production vehicles, was painted with the standard 1939 camouflage, the ‘Continentale’ (Continental), often mistakenly called ‘Spaghetti’ or ‘Strisce’ (Stripes). Source: Ansaldo Archives

History of the prototype

The idea of developing a light and fast vehicle to support the Bersaglieri units was born in the late 30s, when the standard support gun used by Italian infantry assaults was the 47/32 Mod. 1935 Cannon. The Mod. 1935 variant could not be towed by artillery tractors or trucks because it lacked a suspension. For this reason, it could only be towed by horses or disassembled in 5 parts and loaded on mules. During the war, in order to make infantry units faster, the soldiers loaded the cannons on the cargo bay of trucks such as the SPA38R or the Lancia 3Ro. In 1939, a new version of the cannon was created, the Mod. 1939, with a suspension, allowing it to be towed by trucks. At the same time, in order to provide a vehicle that could directly support the infantry on the assault, the Breda factory decided to modify the chassis of the L3/35 light tank by removing the superstructure and mounting a 47/32 cannon in the center of the hull.

The project, called Semovente L3 da 47/32, was not accepted by the Army because of the poor crew protection offered by the 10 mm thick gun shield. Ansaldo wasted no time and decided to create a self-propelled mock-up with the L6/40 light tank chassis, with a powerful 75 mm L.18 cannon designed and produced by Ansaldo. The weight that the vehicle would have had, the low speed and the little ammunition that could be stowed on board were not acceptable by the Army and the project for a 75 mm self-propelled gun on the chassis of the L6 was canceled, but the Army did not cancel the plans for a 47 mm cannon that proceeded even after 1940.

The first design of a self-propelled gun armed with a 47 mm gun on the L6 hull resulted in only one mock-up and consisted of the hull of an L6/40 without the turret. Above the superstructure was mounted the 47 mm cannon with a gun shield in the middle to protect the gun servants from enemy light weapons fire.

This project was also not accepted by the Italian Army because of the height. In late 1940, Ansaldo was requested to modify the project while maintaining the chassis and the cannon.

The Semovente L6 da 47/32 mock-up. Next to it is probably the first L40 da 47/32 prototype, Spring 1941. Source: pinterest.com

Development began in January 1941 and, on May 10, 1941, the prototype of the L40 47/32 self-propelled gun was presented at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione Militare (Centre for Military Motorisation Studies). The cannon was inside a casemate, so the vehicle was much lower than the first L6 da 47/32 mock-up. It had an armored roof with two hatches.

This prototype was very much appreciated by the High Command of the Royal Italian Army, which considered it suitable for the task of infantry support and, secondly, for the role of tank hunter.

During the tests in late 1940, it was evident that the limited space hindered the tasks of the three members of the crew, so it was ordered to remove the roof of the vehicle, decreasing the protection of the crew but increasing the available space.

An interesting and strange curiosity is the presence of the right-side access hatch. Both the prototypes and the first series vehicles were equipped with it, inherited from the L6/40. The hatch could never be used because there was a rack in front of it and, consequently, it was welded to the structure.

The L40 prototype without the armored roof. Source: FIAT Archives
The inside of the prototype. The bolt holes on the superstructure where the armored roof was fixed are visible, as are the absence of the loader, the 21 round 47 mm rack loaded with dummy wooden rounds and, behind the driver, the starter batteries of the vehicle. Source: pinterest.com
Another photo of the prototype of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 prototype. In this photo, the loader is also present and the cramped space inside the casemate is clear. Behind the dashboard and the ammunition rack in front of the side door with the slit is visible. Source: pinterest.com
The L40 da 47/32 prototype, rear view. Source: worldwarphotos.info

In the last months of 1940, the last version of the prototype of the Semovente L40 47/32 was presented to the Army General Staff. It was similar to the previous prototype with some modifications: the superstructure was redesigned, completely removing the supports for the armored roof, repositioning the ammunition in two new protected racks and with the addition of rounded sides of the gun mantlet. Instead of the roof, a waterproof tarpaulin protected the crew from the rain and the breech of the gun from the desert dust. The tarpaulin, when not in use, was placed on the back of the superstructure, tied with leather straps.

The vehicle was accepted in service with the name Semovente Leggero Modello 1940 da 47/32 (Self-Propelled Gun (on hull) Lightweight Model 1940 (armed with) 47/32) or, more simply, Semovente L40 da 47/32.

On the production vehicles, the rounded sides of the gun mantlet were eliminated to increase the production speed.

The last Semovente L40 da 47/32 prototype in the Ansaldo-Fossati factory. Source of the photos: Ansaldo Archives

Design of the Semovente L40 da 47/32

Crew

The crew of the self-propelled gun was composed, as on other Italian self-propelled guns, of 3 men. The driver was positioned on the right, on a fixed seat. The gunner/vehicle commander sat on the left, also on a fixed seat, while the loader was positioned behind the driver, on the right of the gunner, sitting on an ammunition rack fixed to the floor of the fighting compartment.

An interesting detail is that, on this vehicle, the man who had the better battlefield visibility was the loader, so it was customary for the loaders to monitor the battlefield and spot targets to hit.

One of the most serious problems of the self-propelled vehicle was the little space inside the vehicle that, among other things, forced the loader to expose himself to load the cannon.

During battles when the vehicle was within range of the enemy infantry’s weapons, the loader, in order to avoid exposing himself to the enemy’s weapons, could only give the gunner the ammunition and he had to load the cannon. This significantly reduced the rate of fire and distracted the gunner/vehicle commander’s attention from the situation and whereabouts of the enemy forces seen through the gun’s optics. As on other Italian self-propelled guns, during skirmishes, especially at short distances, crews wore infantry steel helmets instead of tanker padded helmets to protect themselves from enemy fire and grenade splinters.

Recruiters from the Royal Italian Army are training on a Semovente L40 da 47/32. Source: reddit.com

Engine and suspension

The engine of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was the same as on the light L6/40 tank, the FIAT-SPA 18D gasoline, 4 cylinders in-line, liquid-cooled engine with a power of 68 hp (some sources claim 70 hp) at 2,500 rpm. It had a volume of 4,053 cm3.

The engine could be started either electrically or using a handle that had to be inserted at the rear. The Zenith type 42 TTVP carburetor was the same one used on AB series armored cars and allowed ignition even when cold.

The engine used three different types of oil, depending on the temperatures in which the vehicle operated. In Africa, where the outside temperature exceeded 30°, ‘ultra-thick’ oil was used; in Europe, where the temperature was between 10° and 30°, ‘thick’ oil was used, while in winter, when the temperature fell below 10°, ‘semi-thick’ oil was used. The instruction manual recommended replacing the oil every 100 hours of service or every 2,000 km.

This engine was an enhanced version of the one used on the military cargo trucks SPA38R, SPA Dovunque 35 and FIAT-SPA TL37, the 55 hp FIAT-SPA 18T.

The 165-liter tanks guaranteed a range of 200 km on road and about 5 hours off-road, with a top speed on-road of 42 km/h and 20-25 km/h on rough terrain, depending on the terrain on which the self-propelled gun was operating.

The running gear consisted of a 16-teeth front sprocket, four paired road wheels, three upper rollers and one rear idler wheel on each side. The swing arms were fixed to the sides of the chassis and were attached to torsion bars. The L6 and L40 were the first Royal Army vehicles equipped with torsion bars. The tracks were derived from those of the L3 series light tanks and were composed of 88 track links on each side.

Armor

The armor was the same as on the L6/40. The front plates of the superstructure were 30 mm thick, while those of the gun shield and driver’s port were 40 mm thick.

The front plates of the transmission cover and the side plates were 15 mm thick, as was the back. The engine deck was 6 mm thick and the floor had 10 mm armor plates. The armor was produced with low-quality steel because, while the demand for ballistic steel to produce armored vehicles had increased since 1939, the Italian industry was not able to supply very large quantities. This was further worsened because of the embargoes that hit Italy in 1935-1936 due to the invasion of Ethiopia and those that started in 1939.

The armor of the L40s often cracked after being hit (but not penetrated) by enemy shells, even small-caliber ones such as the Ordnance QF 2 Pounder 40 mm rounds. The armor plates were all bolted, a solution that made the vehicle dangerous because, in some cases, when a shell hit the armor, the bolts flew out at very high speed, potentially seriously injuring the crew members. The bolts were, however, the best that the Italian industry could offer in 1941 and they had the advantage of keeping the vehicle simpler to manufacture than a vehicle with welded armor and it had the possibility of replacing a damaged armor plate with a new one very quickly even in poorly equipped field workshops.

Diagram of the superstructure armor plates of an L40 da 47/32. Source: FIAT archive

Hull and Interior

On the front side was the transmission cover with a large inspection hatch that could be opened by the driver through a lever. This would often be kept open to cool the brakes during travel. On the right fender, the shovel and crowbar were carried, while on the left one was the jack support. For night driving, the only headlight was mounted on the right, because, due to the 47 mm gun shield, the one on the left was removed.

As mentioned earlier, the driver was positioned on the right and had both a slit that could be opened by a lever mounted on the right and, on top, an episcope that had a horizontal field of view of 30°, a vertical field of view of 8° and had a vertical traverse from -1° to +18°. On the left, he had the gear lever and the handbrake, while on the right he had the dashboard. Under his seat were the batteries produced by Magneti Marelli that were used to start the engine and to power the vehicle’s electrical systems.

Behind him, there was a box with a spare episcope mounted on a 33 cannon round rack on which the loader sat. On the left, the loader had an armored rack for another 37 rounds that took up almost all the space available. In the middle of the fighting compartment was the transmission shaft that connected the engine to the transmission. On the left of the loader was the gunner/vehicle commander who had, in front of him, the breech of the cannon and, under it, the cranks for the horizontal and vertical traverse. On the right of the cannon was mounted the 1x optical sight produced by the San Giorgio factory of Sestri-Ponente. This was also used on the medium tanks of the ‘M’ series.

Due to the small amount of space inside, the vehicle was not equipped with an intercom system.

On the sides of the superstructure were mounted two rails for attaching the tarpaulin when the crew used it to cover the crew compartment. These rails were also used as handles to better enter into the vehicle or to attach backpacks, steel helmets and spare tracks to offer more protection from enemy fire.

Interior view of a Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the first series in Tunisia. The loader, who spots targets with the binoculars, the left tarpaulin rail and the ammunition rack on the right are visible. Behind, the folded waterproof tarpaulin and the two air intakes mounted on the rear armor plate can be seen. This L40 was the 4th self-propelled gun of the 2nd Platoon of the 2nd Company of the CXXXVI Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri, Tunisia, January 1943. Source: pinterest.com

On the back of the combat compartment, behind the head of the loader, a rectangular tank with the cooling water of the engine was placed. In the middle was a fire extinguisher. On the sides, there were two air intakes, useless for the L40 but inherited from the L6/40, exactly like the access hatch positioned on the right side. Above the transmission shaft, there were two inspection doors for the engine compartment.

The engine and crew compartments were separated by an armored bulkhead which reduced the risk of fire spreading to the crew area. The engine was located in the middle of the rear compartment, with two 82.5-liters tanks on either side. Behind the engine were the radiator and the lubrication oil tank. The engine deck had two large doors with two grilles for engine cooling and, behind, two air intakes for the radiator. It was not uncommon for the crew to travel with the two hatches open during African operations, in order to better ventilate the engine due to the outside temperatures.

On the rear parts of the mudguards were positioned two big boxes for tools closed by locks and, on the left side, a spare wheel. On the right, the muffler was placed. On the first vehicles produced, this was not equipped with a cover. The cover dissipated the heat and averted damage.

The engine compartment with powerplant, tanks, and radiator removed. The torsion bar and part of the transmission shaft with its universal joint are visible. Source: FIAT Archives

Armament

The primary armament of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was the Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935, nicknamed by the soldiers “Elefantino” (Eng: Little Elephant). This gun was designed by the Austrian Böhler company and over 3,200 units were produced under license by various companies for the Royal Army from 1937 until 1945. The main producers were Breda of Brescia, Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino (Eng: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin) or ARET, Arsenale Regio Esercito di Piacenza (AREP) and Ansaldo. Designed as an infantry support cannon, it proved to be reliable and precise during the Spanish Civil War and capable of taking out the few opposing armored vehicles. Its maximum range was 7,000 m, but it was effective up to 4,000 m for infantry support and about 1,000 m for anti-tank fire.

The gun was mounted on the left side of the hull, in a support that allowed a horizontal traverse for 27° and a vertical traverse from -12° to +20°.

The Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 on the L40 mount. The bag for the ejected cartridges and the round in the breech can be seen. Source: Ansaldo Archives

Although lacking interior space, the crew began to bring on board L40 Carcano Mod. 91 rifles, MAB 38 submachine guns and OTO, Breda or SRCM Mod. 35 hand grenades for close defense against enemy infantry. Often, due to the limited space in the fighting compartment, the weapons were transported in boxes or bags attached to the engine deck.

Ammunition

The cannon had a rate of fire of about 15 rounds per minute on the L40, due to the cramped available space but, when the vehicle was under enemy infantry fire, the loader could not perform his function safely and therefore could only pass the ammunition to the gunner and this sensibly lowered the rate of fire.

The ammunition consisted of 70 rounds and the cannon could fire five types of ammunition:

Name Type Fuze Projectile weight (kg) Muzzle Velocity (m/s)
Cartoccio Granata da 47 mod. 35 High-Explosive Percussion mod. 35 or mod. 39 2,45 250
Perforante mod. 35 Armor Piercing – Tracer Percussion mod. 09 1,42 630
Proietto Perforante mod. 39 Armor-Piercing Composite Rigid – Tracer Percussion mod. 09 1,44 650
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto High-Explosive Anti-Tank Internal mod. 41 1,2 //
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale High-Explosive Anti-Tank IPEM front fuze 1,5 //

A serious problem was the lack of HEAT ammunition which was produced late and not often distributed to the crews. In fact, according to Italian Army documents, in May 1942, there were only 12,537 47 mm EP rounds in North Africa out of 145,777 47 mm caliber rounds in total.

Precise values on the penetration of the Mod. 35 armor-piercing ammunition are not available. However, an Italian document of the Spanish Civil War era states that it penetrated 37 mm at a distance of 700 m.

The Mod. 39 armor-piercing ammunition could penetrate plates with thicknesses of 55 mm at 100 m, 40 mm at 500 m, and 30 mm at 1000 m, angled at 0°.

From the left, three Proietto Perforante mod. 39 and two Proietto Perforante mod. 35 for the Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935. Source: pinterest.com

There is no precise data on the penetration of the HEAT ammunition of the 47 mm gun, but an Italian report from some tests in October 1942 shows that the Effetto Pronto round was not able to penetrate the 52 mm thick side armor of the turret of a T-34/76 Mod. 1942 captured by the Italians on the Eastern Front.

The Effetto Pronto Speciale round, produced in very few numbers between early 1943 and the end of the war, had greater anti-tank capabilities and was able to penetrate the front armor of an M4 Sherman.

The Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto on the left and the Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale on the right in a German ammunition document written in 1944. Source: Kennblätter für fremdes Gerät

Production

Production of the Semovente began at the end of 1941, but the first Semovente da 47/32 was completed in early 1942.

The L40 production started while construction of 583 L6/40 tanks was already underway. A new contract was immediately signed by the Italian Royal Army with Ansaldo to reduce production of the L6 light tank to 283 vehicles and simultaneously produce 300 L40. In June 1942, however, the Italian Royal Army signed a new contract for 444 L6/40 light tanks and 460 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 to be produced.

As for the L6/40 light tank, Ansaldo subcontracted production to FIAT due to the large orders received from the Royal Army. The self-propelled guns were produced in Turin, in the same plant where the L6/40s were produced.

Due to the lack of raw materials to produce the armored vehicles, in the first months of 1941, the Regio Esercito ordered FIAT to give priority to the production of AB41 armored cars, which were considered much more useful than the L6/40 light tank in long-range reconnaissance roles.

FIAT continued to produce light tank chassis but could not complete them due to the scarcity of molybdenum, used in the steel alloy of the suspension, and due to delays in the delivery of radios, optics of and other parts of the Mod. 1941 turrets. In January 1942, the FIAT factory warehouses were full of L6/40 chassis waiting to be completed, so many of these vehicles were modified into L40 self propelled guns.

Between January and May 1942, the production rate was 30 vehicles per month, decreasing to 25 L40s produced in June up to 13 units completed in December. This was due to a lack of 47 mm cannons and San Giorgio optics, which were also used for the medium tanks of the ‘M’ series.

340 L40s were produced in the standard version (320 delivered to Regio Esercito units) and another 47 in command and radio station versions, for a total of 387 vehicles between January 1942 and September 1943.

On 9 November 1943, the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen signed contracts with Italian factories to restart the production of several Italian vehicles. The FIAT plants in Turin started producing light tanks again in the following days, producing a total of 74 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 between November 1943 and October 1944.

For the Germans, another 10 platoons command tanks were also produced, 7 in 1944 and 3 in 1945 and 36 battalion command tanks (also known as radio station version), with 27 produced in 1944 and 9 produced in 1945, for a total of 120 vehicles on the L40 hull produced between 1943 and 1945.

October 7, 1942. FIAT employees work on L40s on an assembly line of the Turin plants. Source: FIAT Archives

Versions – First, Second and Third series

Three different series of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 were produced.

The first series was produced between January 1942 and mid-1943 and is distinguishable from the other series by the early production idler wheel and the welded access hatch on the right side of the hull.

Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the first series with lateral access door and early-type idler wheel. Source: worldwarphotos.com

In mid-1942, new idler wheels began to be available and were mounted on the first series L40, before moving onto the second series produced in a few numbers for the Regio Esercito. The side access hatch was removed and the idler wheel was replaced by a more robust model (also mounted on the late production L6/40s).

Two Semoventi L40 da 47/32 of the second series used by Germans in Slovenia. In this photo, the absence of the lateral access door is clearly visible. Source: worldwarphotos.com

The third series, better known as the ‘Ausf. G’ series, with the ‘G’ standing for ‘Germanico’ (Eng: German), was produced for the Germans by FIAT factories in Turin. This series had some modifications from the second series, as requested by the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen. The superstructure was enlarged and raised at the rear, becoming much more “cubic” than the Italian versions. An RF1CA-TR7 radio with its respective antenna and a Breda Mod. 38 machine gun shielded with 10 mm thick armored plate were added. The machine gun was mounted on a sliding support on a crossbar in the front part of the superstructure which allowed the loader/machine gunner/radio operator to have a good shooting range, especially on the right side of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the amount of ammunition available for the cannon and for the machine gun is unknown. The speed and range were the same as on Italian versions, but the weight increased to 6.75 tonnes, 250 kg more due to the new additions.

Semovente L40 da 47/32 third series in service with the Slovensko Domobranstvo September 1944. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Variants – Command Vehicles

There were two command versions: the Semovente L40 Comando Plotone (Eng: Platoon Commander) and the Semovente L40 Commando Compagnia (Eng: Company Commander).

The Semovente L40 Comando Plotone was equipped with an RF1CA-TR7 radio which worked on the same frequency as German tank radios. This radio had a range of about 12 km and a model AL-1 Dynamotor power supply with 12V batteries produced by Magneti Marelli.

The radio was mounted on the right side together with the antenna, fixed on the rear right side of the superstructure. Due to the limited space, the ammunition rack with 37 rounds was eliminated and replaced by a rack with 16 rounds.

Side view of a Semovente L40 Comando Plotone vehicle. Source: FIAT Archives
Semovente L40 Comando Plotone vehicle on first series hull. Source: FIAT Archives
Semovente L40 Comando Plotone vehicle with lateral access door and late-type idler wheel disembarked by a merchant ship in Corsica, October 1942. This vehicle was the first self-propelled gun of the 1st Platoon of the 2nd Company of the XX Battaglione Controcarro. Source: pinterest.com

The Semovente L40 Commando Compagnia was produced only in late 1942 and had several modifications. A new, more powerful radio equipment was added instead of the RF1CA radio, the RF2CA. This radio had a range of about 25 km and was used by the Company or Battalion commander to stay in contact with other unit commanders or commanding officers. The power supply was the same as the RF1CA. The radio was also mounted on the left side together with its antenna which was mounted on the rear left side.

Due to the reduced space inside the vehicle, in order to make room for the new radio system of over 120 kg, the main armament and its ammunition were completely removed. For defense purposes, the crew had at their disposal a Breda Mod. 38 8 mm caliber machine gun mounted on a spherical support in place of the cannon. To avoid being recognized even at a very long distance, a fake 47 mm wooden barrel was fixed on the spherical support in order to make the vehicle look like a standard L40.

The ammunition for the machine gun was 1,608 rounds, which was 67 magazines with 24 rounds stored on the right side of the superstructure next to the RF1CA-TR7 radio.

The two command versions were called Panzerbefehlswagen L6 770(i) by the Germans and 47 units were produced for the Italian Royal Army and 46 for the Germans on the chassis of the second series vehicles.

Side view of a Semovente L40 Comando Compagnia vehicle. Source: pinterest.com
Semovente L40 Comando Compagnia on a first series hull. The machine gun ball mount covered by the wooden barrel and the two radio antennas are clearly visible. Source: FIAT Archives

Organization

It was planned to assign a Battaglione Semoventi Controcarro (Eng: Anti-Tank Self-Propelled Guns Battalion) to each Italian armored division. This would be composed of 21 self-propelled guns, in two 10 vehicle platoons and one L40 Platoon Command vehicle. In June 1942, the units were reorganized and each armored battalion received a third platoon, for a total of 30 L40s and one L40 Platoon Command. In December 1942, with the entry into service of the L40 Company Command vehicle, the Battaglioni Controcarro were reorganized with 10 L40s and one L40 Platoon Command tank for each of the three platoons and one L40 Company Command for a total of 34 self-propelled guns per battalion.

The anti-tank battalions were assigned not only to the armored divisions but also to autonomous battalions, Raggruppamenti Esploranti Corazzati or R.E.Co. (Eng: Armored Exploring Groups) and Cavalry regiments. The latter received two or three platoons, depending on the unit.

The Semovente L40 da 47/32 in action

Regio Esercito

The first self-propelled guns completed became part of the XIII Gruppo Squadroni Semoventi Controcarri (Eng: 13th Anti-Tank Self-propelled Gun Squadron Group) of the 14° Reggimento ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ (Eng: 14th ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ Regiment), which left for the Eastern Front on 3rd August 1942, supporting the 3ª Divisione Celere “Principe Amedeo Duca d’Aosta” (Eng: 3rd Fast Division). The 31 Semoventi L40 took part in various battles against the Soviets, with all vehicles being lost during the Soviet offensive on the Don. On 11 December 1942, together with some L6/40s of the Bersaglieri units assigned to the XIII° Gruppo Alessandria Cavalleria (Eng: 13th Alessandria Cavalry Group), they had the task of repelling Soviet attacks at the center of the very long sector held by ARMata Italiana In Russia or ARMIR (Eng: Italian Army in Russia). They covered a section that remained open in order to support the 5ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Cosseria’ and the 3ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Ravenna’ (Eng: 5th and 3rd Italian Infantry Divisions) that had suffered losses in the last few days due to the continuous assaults by the Red Army. The remaining operational tanks were fewer than twenty due to the lack of supplies and spare parts. All L40s and almost all L6/40s were destroyed in the fighting in Gadjucja and Foronovo. The unit was reorganized in May 1943 in the Italian town of Codroipo in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, incorporating the few survivors from the retreat from Russia.

Two Semoventi L40 da 47/32 of the first series in Russia during the frigid Russian winter. Source: pinterest.com

These light self-propelled guns were not suitable for use on the snow-covered ground and muddy roads because of their narrow tracks. The 47 mm cannon was not able to cope with the most modern Soviet tanks, such as the T-34/76 and KV-1s, but could effectively knock out pre-war or light vehicles such as the BT series tanks, T-60s and T-70s often used to support Soviet infantry assaults.

A bad quality photo, probably taken from a Soviet propaganda film, showing an L6/40 light tank on the left and a Semovente L40 da 47/32 abandoned by Italian soldiers being inspected by Red Army soldiers. Source: pinterest.com

In September 1942, the registers of the Royal Army mention the sending to Tunisia of two platoons, amounting for a total of 21 L40s, which armed XXX Battaglione Controcarro of the RECo ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’. The vehicles were supposed to arrive in Tunis in the first days of November but, after the departure from Italy on September 27, 1942, the merchant ship carrying them, the Francesco Barbaro, was hit and damaged by the Royal Navy submarine HMS Umbra. On the next day, the submarine reengaged the merchant ship, sinking it.

An L40 da 47/32 of the first series and a German Sd.Kfz. 233 Schwerer Panzerspähwagen in Tunisia during a break. The Italian crew covered their tank with foliage to better hide it from airstrikes. The gunner and the loader are wearing steel helmets and the driver wears a padded tanker helmet. An MAB38 barrel is also visible. Source: comandosupremo.com

Due to this (the merchant ship was also carrying other vehicles besides the 21 self-propelled guns ones), RECo ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ only reached Tunisia in February 1943, when the situation in Africa forced the Axis forces to a desperate defense.

In North Africa, the L40 self-propelled guns were used during the Tunisian Campaign by the I and CXXXVI Battaglioni Controcarro and in units of the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’ (Eng: 132nd Armored Division ‘Ariete’) and the 133ª Divisione corazzata ‘Littorio’ (Eng: 133rd Armored Division ‘Littorio’).

In late 1942, the British sank dozens of merchant ships and shot down hundreds of Italian and German transport planes. This meant that the Deutsche Afrika Korp (DAK) and the Royal Italian Army could not replace their losses.

Some soldiers of the Fallschirmjäger-Brigade “Ramcke” inspect a Semovente L40. It is not clear if the vehicle was abandoned by Italian soldiers or if the photo was taken during a break. Source: bundesarchives.com

The Italians gathered all their operational armored vehicles in the Raggruppamento (Eng: Group) ‘Cantaluppi’, named after its commander. The ‘Cantaluppi’ included the surviving armored vehicles of the ‘Ariete’ and ‘Littorio’ divisions, some medium tanks of the ‘M’ series, armored vehicles of the 101ª Divisione Meccanizzata ‘Trieste’ (Eng: 101st Mechanised Division ‘Trieste’) and, finally, the very few vehicles of the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ which had managed to land in Africa after November 1942.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 loaded on the cargo bay of a Lancia 3Ro during the Tunisian Campaign. Source: pinterest.com

In February 1943, General Giovanni Messe took command of the 1ª Armata in Tunisia (Eng: 1st Army in Tunisia) and reorganized the armored units under his command into two divisions.

The 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ was reformed with the surviving vehicles of the armored divisions ‘Ariete’ and ‘Littorio’, along with new units just landed in Africa, such as the RECo ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ (with 34 L40 self-propelled guns) and other new armored vehicles.

The 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ received the surviving regiments of the ‘Trieste’ division.

An L40 da 47/32 of the first series in Tunisia, February 11, 1943. Source: Istituto Luce

The Semoventi L40 da 47/32 were the most numerous Italian tracked vehicles present in the Tunisian Campaign and participated in few numbers in all battles until March 10, 1943.
During the Battle of Kasserine Pass, these fast self-propelled guns were fundamental to launching the decisive counterattack that, on February 20, made the inexperienced American units retreat, succeeding, at the cost of huge losses, to knock out some M4 Sherman tanks at a very short distance. The Italo-German forces under the command of General Erwin Rommel managed to capture more than 30 M3 half-tracks, cannons and also some M4 Sherman medium tanks, while destroying more than 40 enemy tanks.

A Battaglione Controcarro in Tunisia, March 1943. This photo was probably taken during the Battle of Médenine. The first three vehicles in the foreground are L40 Platoon Command tanks. Source: Istituto Luce

The last known action of the self-propelled guns units was during the Battle of Médenine on March 6, 1943, when a platoon of L40s of the 20th Italian Army Corps launched an assault on the British forces with disastrous results. In a single day, the units under Rommel’s command lost about 50 Italian and German tanks.

The use of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 by the Regio Esercito in Balkans

The precise date when the first L6/40 and the Semovente anti-tank vehicle based on it first arrived in occupied Yugoslavia is unknown. One of the first known units that operated the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was the Reggimento ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ which had 13 L6/40 and 9 Semoventi L40. The Reggimento ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’, which was stationed in Albania until the Italian surrender in 1943, also operated Semovente da 47/32 vehicles.

During an anti-partisan action conducted by the Italian occupation forces in late July 1943, at least one Semovente L40 da 47/32 was lost, as it hit a Partisan anti-tank landmine. After the Italian Armistice, most Italian units were forced to surrender to different factions, including the Germans, Croats and to the Partisans. One Italian unit, the Italienische Panzer Schwadron (later renamed to Panzer Abteilung Adria), was used under German command during 1944-45 in Yugoslavia. It had some 34 armored vehicles, including unknown numbers of Semoventi da 47/32. Despite having armor in their possession, this unit was rarely used against the Partisans.

The Fight in Italy

After the Tunisian Campaign, the Allies landed in Sicily on July 9, 1943.

On July 11, the 4ª Divisione fanteria “Livorno” (Eng: 4th Infantry Division “Livorno”) and the Fallschirm-Panzer-Division 1. “Hermann Göring” launched a counterattack but without success. In the following days, the survivors of the two divisions and other Italian and German units desperately tried to slow down the advance of the Allied forces.

The armored units equipped with the Semoventi L40 in Sicily were the IV° Battaglione Controcarro of the 4ª Divisione fanteria “Livorno” and the CXXI, CXXX, CXXXII, CXXXIII, CCXXX and CCXXXIII Battaglioni Controcarro, for a total of over 100 vehicles that fought with very little results against the Anglo-American tanks.

A British soldier inspects a Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the first series belonging to the CXXXII Battaglione Controcarro in Noto, Sicily after the battle for the city on July 10, 1943. On the vehicle are two 47 mm wooden ammunition boxes and on the front are positioned some stone bricks to provide some camouflage. Source: gbmodelli.blogspot.com

On July 12, 1943, a platoon of the CCXXXIII Battaglione Controcarro was involved in a skirmish at a short distance from Bivio Gigliotto near San Michele di Ganzaria. There, after a furious fight, the commander was taken prisoner by the American soldiers and the second in command, Luigi Scapuzzi, assumed the role of platoon commander.

In the following days, the CCXXXIII positioned itself on the Italian-German defensive line between Assoro and Leonforte in a vain attempt to resist the assaults of the US and Canadian troops that were inexorably advancing. The enemy succeeded in capturing Valguarnera, a few kilometers from the defensive line.

Italian L40 near a Panzer II and some German Fallschirmjäger, probably during the Assoro Battle. Source: pinterest.com

The objectives of the Canadians were the capture of the cities of Assoro at 920 m above sea level, assigned to Hastings and Prince Edward of the 1st Brigade of Graham, and Leonforte at 600 m above sea level assigned to Loyal Edmonton and Princess Patricia’s of the 2nd Brigade of Vokes. In that area were entrenched the Italian-German units that had survived the counterattacks of the previous days, two Panzergrenadier-Regiments of the “Hermann Göring” division, 33° and 34° Reggimenti di Fanteria of the ‘Livorno’ division, 6 81 mm mortars, some guns and a pair of 149/13 Skoda howitzers of the 28° Reggimento Artiglieria ‘Monviso’.

The situation remained calm for a few days but, on July 21, the Canadians began the attack on the positions held by the Germans and the self-propelled guns of the CCXXXIII Battaglione Controcarro were called to intervene.

In the clash, three L40 were destroyed or knocked out. These included that of Major Villari, commander of the Battalion, who was taken prisoner, that of Lieutenant Pierino Varricchio, commander of the second platoon of the CCXXXIII, who was saved but slightly wounded, and another was destroyed by a hand grenade thrown inside the fighting compartment. It is not clear how but the three crew members survived miraculously and were hospitalized at the German infirmary.

Soldiers and tankers of the 4ª Divisione fanteria “Livorno” before the Sicily Campaign. Source: pinterest.com

In the afternoon, one after the other, all the self-propelled guns were destroyed or knocked out. One of the last L40 still working was that of Luigi Scapuzzi, placed in the locality of Casa Ricifari that, after a whole day of fighting, in the late afternoon, had ran out of ammunition, so the Italian officer started throwing hand grenades at the enemy soldiers and, after also running out hand grenades, leaped out of the L40 taking his MAB38 and repelling the Canadian soldiers until he was mortally hit towards the evening. After his death, four German soldiers were captured by the Canadians soldiers, but were executed by the Canadians who, at dawn on July 22, conquered Leonforte. The Canadian troops suffered 56 soldiers killed and 105 wounded during the fight. The two surviving self-propelled guns from the battle, belonging to the 3° Plotone of the CCXXXIII, withdrew and joined the 26ª Divisione di Fanteria “Assietta” and the 28ª Divisione di Fanteria “Aosta” in Nicosia where they took part in the defense of the city and then they were withdrawn to the Italian peninsula.

The crews of Semoventi L40 da 47/32 in Sicily. Source: pinterest.com

The XX Battaglione Controcarro formed in October 1942 with two platoons of L40 from 47/32 was sent to Corsica in late October 1942.

An L40 disembarked from a merchant ship in Bardia, October 1942. Source: Istituto Luce

The CXXXI Battaglione Controcarro of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (Eng: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) with two platoons, was also sent to Corsica in 1943. These two units were still on the island at the time of the Armistice. The Italian commander of the forces on the island, General Giovanni Magli, received news of the Armistice an hour before the official announcement from Radio London and prepared to fight the German forces by freeing the Corsican partisans captured in the previous months from prison. Around one in the morning, there were the first skirmishes with the German soldiers who tried to occupy the port city of Bardia. The Italian counterattack supported by some L40s, L3s and some AB41s also managed to repel the German forces for several days but, on September 13, some Tiger tanks landed on the island and the Italians were forced to retreat and hide themselves waiting for Allied support. On September 17, the troops of Free France landed on the island and made contact with General Magli and on September 29, the Bersaglieri units, the 4th Mechanized Regiment and the Goumiers of the 1st Moroccan Regiment, supported by L40s, re-occupied Bardia, forcing the Germans to re-embark for the mainland and the last German forces surrendered on October 5th. After the battle, the French disarmed their erstwhile Italian allies, treating them as prisoners of war and loading them on ships bound for Sardinia.

L40 Platoon Command vehicle in the port of Bastia on September 9, 1943. Source: Istituto Luce

On April 1, 1943, in Ferrara, the Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’ was reorganized from scratch and renamed 135ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete II’. After a period for training the troops, it was sent on July 25 to Rome. In May, a new armored division was created, the 1ª Divisione corazzata di Camicie Nere “M” (M standing for Mussolini) formed by veterans of the Russian Campaign and the North African Campaign. This unit was supposed, in Benito Mussolini’s projects, to represent the vanguard of the Italian divisions and in fact, it was also armed with 36 German tanks, 12 Panzer III Ausf. Ns, 12 Panzer IV Ausf. Gs and 12 StuG III Ausf. Gs. The two divisions had 23 Semoventi L40s in two platoons each for a total of 40 L40 da 47/32s, 4 L40 Platoon Command vehicles and 2 L40 Radio Centre vehicles in addition to some vehicles in reserve.

On July 25, 1943, the Duce, Benito Mussolini, was arrested and a new Italian fascist government, with the Italian Marshal Pietro Badoglio as Prime Minister, was created and decided to continue the war with the Axis armies.

In August, however, the proposals for an agreement offered by the Allies convinced Badoglio, supported by the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, to accept an armistice on September 3, 1943.

The news of the Armistice, however, was not made public until September 8 at 19:42 in the evening. The German secret service had already discovered it a few days earlier and had alarmed the Wehrmacht, although the Anglo-American soldiers were informed in advance of the Armistice, the only ones who did not know about it were the soldiers and many generals of the Italian Royal Army who were taken by surprise by the announcement on the evening of September 8.

On the day of the Armistice of Cassibile in Rome, there were 24 L40s of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ of the 135ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete II’. These vehicles took part in the defense of Rome between 8 and 10 September against the German attack. In the confusing battle, not only the soldiers of the Regio Esercito but also men, women and children took part, some armed with shotguns or rifles from the First World War, whilst others threw stones from the windows when German troops passed by.

A L40 of the RECo ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ during the defense of Rome, September 10 1943. Source: pinterest.com

The RECo ‘Lancieri di Montebello’ took part in the defense Rome from September 8 to the morning of September 10, after which the survivors took part in the defense of Porta San Paolo, holding back the Germans for several hours, but at 5 pm, it had to retreat leaving on the battlefield many casualties and almost all the vehicles at its disposal.

The 24 L40s in the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato of the 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri of the 1ª Divisione corazzata di Camicie Nere “M”, after the arrest of Mussolini, which was renamed the 136ª Divisione corazzata ‘Centauro II’, were transported, with the entire division, by train to Rome. Some trains were blocked by sabotage of the railways.

The units that managed to arrive in Rome on the night of September 9 blocked the access to the city from Tivoli, clashing with the German troops on the morning of the 10th. Beginning on the morning of September 10, the few soldiers and almost all the L40s of the RECo of the 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri managed to arrive in Rome and joined the ranks of the ‘Ariete II’ division, which had lost almost all the men and vehicles of the RECo ‘Lancieri di Montebello’, which had, along with the 21ª Divisione fanteria ‘Granatieri di Sardegna’, fought against the German 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division “Ramke” at Porta San Paolo. In the afternoon, other elements of the division attacked the Germans at Porta San Sebastiano. At 5:00 p.m. the RECo received the news that a ceasefire agreement had been in place since 4:00 p.m. by means of flyers launched from a German aircraft. Under incessant enemy fire, the survivors of the RECo and the few surviving vehicles retreated to Settecamini where, in the evening, an air attack by Ju-87 “Stuka” dive bombers destroyed several tanks and trucks belonging to the Regiment. On the morning of September 11, the unit, with less than half of the surviving soldiers, disbanded after sabotaging the still operational vehicles. Most of the surviving soldiers joined the Italian resistance.

The 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri fought the Germans near the Colosseum and the Circo Massimo with some L40s taken from RECo reserves, but at the end of the September 10, the Regiment surrendered to German troops.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 second series of the Armored Exploring Group of the 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri destroyed near the Circo Massimo obelisk, September 10, 1943. Source: reddit.com

Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (ENR)

On September 12, 1943, Benito Mussolini was rescued from prison by a German paratrooper commando unit and was immediately taken to Germany, where he met Adolf Hitler on September 14, where he agreed to continue the war. He returned to Italy on September 23 1943 and founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (Italian Social Republic).

After September 8, the Germans had captured the Italian soldiers, their weapons and their armored vehicles, but with the proclamation of the new republic, the Italian soldiers still loyal to Fascism and Benito Mussolini were released and re-equipped and joined the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (Republican National Army) and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (Republican National Guard), the military police corps of the RSI.
Because of the situation of the Axis forces and also because German soldiers had little confidence in Italian soldiers after the events of September 8, 1943, they received very few armored vehicles and trucks.

Five Semoventi L40 da 47/32 were delivered by the Germans to the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano. One of these was delivered to the 1° Battaglione Bersaglieri Volontari ‘Benito Mussolini’ (Eng: 1st Bersaglieri Volunteer Battalion ‘Benito Mussolini’), one of the first units founded in Verona in early September 1943.

They fought from the end of October 1943 until April 30, 1945 on the eastern Italian border, mainly on anti-partisan duties in the Gorizia area. Most of the soldiers had been trained in the Centro Costituzione Battaglioni Cacciatori di Carro (Eng: Instructions Centre for Tank Hunter Battalions) in Verona.

The battalion was employed in operations against the Slovenian partisans of the IX Corpus in the Isonzo and Baccia valleys and with defensive tasks along the Gorizia-Piedicolle railway, with numerous strongholds. The Semovente was used together with some FIAT 626s to patrol the supply routes of the various strongholds.

Around the middle of April 1945, this unit had many losses and the self-propelled vehicle was destroyed in combat.

Other sources claim that the vehicle, being unsuitable for fighting partisans, would have been provided to another RSI unit but there is no information on which unit or when it was provided.

Val Baccia, early 1944, the Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the first series belonging to the 1° Battaglione Bersaglieri Volontari ‘Benito Mussolini’ during an assault. Source: reddit.com

The Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ (Eng: Armored Squadron Group ‘San Giusto’) received two Semoventi L40 da 47/32 of the second series, probably provided by the Germans when the unit was stationed in Gorizia.

Casteldoria, February 1945, a soldier in front of an L40 da 47/32 of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ with last plate numbers ‘28’. Source: Di Fazio

The two self-propelled guns were part of the Squadrone Semoventi (Eng: Self-Propelled Gun Squadron) together with one Semovente M41 da 75/18, two Semoventi M42 da 75/18 and one Semovente M42M da 75/34.

They were used with success in the area of Gorizia, Fiume and Mariano del Friuli against the Yugoslav partisans until April 1945, when a major partisan offensive forced the unit to retreat to the Italian territory and then to surrender.

Another photo of the Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the second series of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ with the plate number ‘5228’ in Mairano del Friuli, May 1944. Source: reddit.com

The Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani or RAP (Eng: Anti Partisans Group) stationed in Turin and active throughout Piedmont received two L40 da 47/32s at the end of 1944, found in an abandoned military depot in Caselle.

They were almost immediately employed in anti-partisan duties. In fact, on November 2nd, the unit took part in the retaking of the city of Alba which, on October 10, 1944, had been freed from the fascist forces by the partisans, who had founded an autonomous partisan republic. During the assault, the RAP lost an AB41 and probably also one of the L40s.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 with some tank crew. The photo was taken before the Armistice in the Military depot of Caselle. In the background, a Lancia 3Ro. Source: reddit.com

Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (GNR)

Some of the soldiers freed by the Germans joined the Republican National Guard, the military police of the Italian Social Republic that was not equipped with armored vehicles by the Germans and had to arm themselves with abandoned vehicles hidden by Italian Royal Army units, those forgotten in abandoned depots consequently not captured by the Germans or by repairing damaged vehicles.

The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was formed in late September 1943 at Montichiari, in the province of Brescia, with officers and soldiers of the 136ª Divisione corazzata ‘Centauro II’ who refused to fight against the Germans on September 8 and swore allegiance to them, avoiding arrest and internment in prison camps.

Under the command of the GNR, the ‘Leonessa’ was the largest RSI unit with subunits in Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia Romagna. In January 1944, it had more than 800 men and repaired or found more than 100 tanks, self-propelled guns and armored cars, 158 transport trucks, 48 cars and more than 60 motorcycles during its operative life, among which were five Semoventi L40 da 47/32.

The 2nd Company of the ‘Leonessa’, commanded by Giovanni Bodda, was stationed at the Da Bormida barrack in Turin and was the only unit to use them together with some L3 light tanks and M13/40 and M14/41 medium tanks.

In November 1944, after participating in the conquest of Alba with elements of the RAP, some companies of the ‘Leonessa’, including the 2nd, were sent to Piacenza, Emilia Romagna, and used in anti-partisan duties in the Apennines Mountains of the Piacenza region and Val Trebbia. They were also used, along with tanks and armored cars, for the protection and patrolling of the highway to Liguria, the protection of the garrisons, and above all else, along with armored cars, patrolling the oil zone of Montechino to protect the few oil wells of the Agenzia Generale Italiana Petroli or AGIP (Eng: Italian General Oil Agency). In March 1945, in Busseto, in the province of Parma, a detachment was sent under the command of Antonino Condemi to reinforce the Black Brigade of Parma, which owned an armored vehicle independently produced by the Arsenal of Piacenza, very probably similar to the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVI° Black Brigade “Natale Piacentini” of Piacenza.

For several months, these units of the ‘Leonessa’ effectively neutralized any disturbing action of the partisan brigades, which rarely launched small attacks on peripheral garrisons or fascist units on patrol.

The Partisan Command of Emilia preferred to avoid offensives, both because of the arrival of the companies of the ‘Leonessa’ but also because the Allies planned to liberate Emilia Romagna by mid-March (offensive postponed until April 1945). In order not to give all the credit to the Americans, at the end of February, the partisans launched a large-scale offensive against the garrisons of Rallio di Rivergaro, Busseto, Gropparello and Montechino, all garrisoned by soldiers of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, to cut off oil supplies to the Italian Social Republic.

The companies were ordered to resist at all costs while waiting for reinforcements. The soldiers of the ‘Leonessa’ and the Black Brigades of the cities under attack were commanded by Captain Bodda, who was seriously wounded in combat with the partisans, and by Lieutenant Loffredi, who took command after Bodda’s injury. They put up strenuous resistance for ten days, mainly thanks to their armored vehicles. The platoons of medium tanks were ordered to defend the garrisons and command centers, whilst the platoons of armored cars and light vehicles, among which were the three Semoventi L40 da 47/32, could launch fast and effective small scale offensives or counter-attacks against the partisan brigades if they were able to break through the fascist’s defensive lines.

On March 10 1945, the Waffen Grenadier Brigade der SS (italienische Nr. 1), a brigade of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS ‘Italienische Nr. 1 formed by Italian volunteers, also known as 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS “Italia” or in Italian as 29ª Divisione SS Italiana, attacked the partisans, forcing them to retreat and took numerous prisoners. During the fighting, all the L40s of the ‘Leonessa’ took part, and at least a couple were knocked out by the partisans.

A month later, the Allied soldiers arrived after violent fighting near Piacenza. Against all predictions, however, the partisans, after the assault of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division, reorganized and launched a new assault in the first days of April, succeeding in defeating the Nazi-Fascist forces, and entered Piacenza on April 26, 1945.

Between 1945 and 1946, the Arsenal of Piacenza scrapped several damaged or destroyed Allied and Axis vehicles, including Jeeps, some M3 half-tracks (including one “recovered in the countryside around Piacenza in the street between Albone and San Polo with evident signs of anti-tank weapons penetration”), “a damaged self-propelled gun on L6 hull” and two M8 Greyhound armored cars. According to the records of the Wehrmacht, the Italian Social Republic and the US Army, the only vehicle in the area capable of damaging these three Allied vehicles belonging to the Força Expedicionária Brasileira or FEB (Brazilian Expeditionary Force) was the last Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ which destroyed the two M8 Armored cars and the M3 half-track on April 26, 1945, in the last battle between Italian armored vehicles and the Allies of World War II.

German Service

After the armistice, the German Army occupied the part of the Italian peninsula not conquered by the Allied Forces and captured lots of Italian weapons and soldiers.

74 Semoventi da 47/32 were captured and also, in the same days the Turin factory was occupied.

By the 9th of November, the production was restarted with another 120 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 produced in all the variants.

Croatia and Slovenia

Some of the 194 L40 da 47/32 employed by the Wehrmacht were delivered to the Croatian and Slovenian Armies that reused them in anti-partisans actions.

Yugoslavian Liberation Army

After the armistice, some Semoventi were captured or spontaneously delivered from Italian soldiers to the Yugoslavian Partisans that used them against the occupants of their territories until they ran out of ammunition or for lack of fuel.

Post-War Service

After the Second World War, an unknown number of Semoventi L40 47/32s were put into service with the Polizia di Stato (Eng: State Police) police corps of the nascent Repubblica Italiana (Eng: Italian Republic) founded on June 10, 1946.

Being a police corps of a state no longer at war, Semoventi were used only as a deterrent in demonstrations, elections, or political rallies, leaving the barracks only a few times throughout the late 40s.

During the first years of the Italian Republic, the Italian government and the USA feared that the former partisans and factory workers could attempt a communist coup d’état supported by Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. For this reason, the police and the Arma dei Carabinieri (Eng: Arm of Carabiners) were equipped with light armored vehicles and armored cars that were rarely used.

The event in which the most vehicles were employed was during the Italian institutional referendum between 2 and 3 June 1946 and on the 10th, when the results of the referendum were made public.

The L40s were only used, according to the information available, in Rome, with no more than 4 vehicles, which were repainted in Amaranth Red, a reddish-pink shade, taking to the streets.

Photo of two Semoventi L40 taken in Rome in June 1946. The oil barrel placed on the engine deck was unusual. Source: pinterest.com

Camouflage and markings

As on all Italian vehicles of the Second World War, the standard camouflage applied in the factory on 47/32 L40 self-propelled vehicles was the Kaki Sahariano Chiaro (Eng: Light Saharan Khaki). The vehicles used in the Soviet Union left for the Eastern Front in the classic khaki camouflage, but in an unspecified period between Summer and Winter 1942, the vehicles were repainted in olive green, leaving some stains of Light Saharan Kaki clearly visible. This camouflage was used only on the Eastern Front on the L40, it is not known why the Italians decided to repaint the self-propelled guns with this camouflage pattern, but they kept even during winter, at which time the camouflage made them easier to observe.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 first series self-propelled gun used by the 2nd Platoon of the 1st Company of the XIII Gruppo Squadroni Semoventi Controcarri abandoned in a Russian village south of Stalingrad. The vehicle is clearly visible in the unusual camouflage. Source: pinterest.com

The self-propelled guns used in North Africa, Italy, and France had the standard khaki camouflage pattern, often with the addition of foliage to better camouflage them from potential aerial attacks. Many Italian vehicles received new camouflage patterns painted in the field by the crews, Italian flags to avoid friendly fire, mottos or phrases, though no other camouflage patterns are known before German service.

In the final months of the North African Campaign, the Royal Air Force had complete control of the skies over North Africa so it could act almost undisturbed at any time to support Allied ground troops on the battlefields.

To avoid being spotted by Allied ground attack aircraft, the crews of the L40 self-propelled vehicles began to cover their vehicles with foliage and camouflage netting.

This practice was also used by the crews who fought in Sicily even if, in that campaign, the Regia Aeronautica (Eng: Italian Royal Air Force) and the Luftwaffe were able to provide more efficient cover against the Allied ground attack aircraft.

A Semovente L40 in Saharan Khaki Camouflage in Tunisia with foliage to better hide it. Source: pinterest.com
An abandoned Semovente in Saharan khaki inspected by a British soldier, probably in Sicily. Source: pinterest.com

The markings that the L40s possessed placed them in the platoons and companies of the Regio Esercito they belonged to. This system of cataloging vehicles was used from 1940 until 1945 and was composed of an Arabic number indicating the number of the vehicle within the platoon, a rectangle of different colors for the company; red for the first company, blue for the second and yellow for the third company of a Battaglione Controcarro.

White vertical lines were then inserted inside the rectangle to indicate the platoon to which the vehicle belonged.

Three L40 da 47/32s of the 2nd Platoon of the 1st Company during a march in Tunisia. Source: worldwarphoto.com

Battalion command vehicles had the rectangle divided into two red and blue parts if the battalion had two companies or three red, blue and yellow parts if the battalion had three companies.

L40 Platoon Command vehicle used in an Anti-Tank Self-Propelled Gun Battalion with two companies. The ‘R’ over the rectangle stood for ‘Radio’ to identify this vehicle as a Radio Center vehicle. Source: pinterest.com

The vehicles of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana had different camouflage depending on the unit that used them. Note that the original plates were in some cases kept, but deleting the references to the Royal Army.

The 1° Battaglione Bersaglieri Volontari ‘Benito Mussolini’ added big olive green stripes to the standard camouflage in an unspecified moment between early 1944 and Spring 1944.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 first series of the 1° Battaglione Bersaglieri Volontari ‘Benito Mussolini’ with a clearly visible two-tone camouflage. The bad photo quality is explained by the fact that the image is a still from a propaganda video. Source: modellismopiù.com

The Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ painted on top of the standard camouflage of one L40 dark brown and dark green stripes while the second one was delivered to the unit with the standard three-tone Continentale (Eng: Continental) camouflage pattern i.e. dark green and reddish-brown painted on standard khaki camouflage. To repaint the first vehicle, the unit did not use military-grade paint and completely covered the previous plates while with the second vehicle they only covered the reference to the Regio Esercito, that is, the letters R.E. on the right side of the frontal armor plate of the hull keeping the original serial numbers. On the second vehicle, a Balkenkreuz was painted on the frontal armor of the superstructure in February 1945.

The vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ kept the khaki camouflage but painted on the sides of the superstructure a red ‘m’ (for ‘Mussolini’) with a lictorian beam, the Italian Fascist Party symbol, used also by the Armored Group.

Some sources also mention Continentale camouflage. The vehicles probably received this camouflage in Emilia Romagna but there is no precise information on how many were repainted.

Members of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ on an L40 da 47/32 with a three-tone camouflage scheme, February 1945. The absence of the original number plate is visible. Source: reddit.com

Surviving Vehicles

Unfortunately, today, there are only two 47/32 L40 self-propelled guns remaining. One is at the U.S. Army Ordnance Training and Heritage Center, Fort Lee, in the US state of Virginia. This vehicle was probably captured in Sicily and taken by ship to the United States. It seems in good condition even if a good part of the interior has been removed. Between 2018 and 2019, it was restored externally and also repainted in a khaki color similar to the original Italian camouflage. Before that the vehicle was at the United States Army Ordnance Museum at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland before the museum was relocated to Fort Lee. There, the vehicle had been left in a poor state and had previously been painted white.

The L40 da 47/32 at Fort Lee, United States. Source: pinterest.com

The second L40 is located in Corsica where, after the war, it was demilitarized by removing the cannon and ammunition racks and used by the Forest Guards of the island for an unspecified period of time and then abandoned to rust in a warehouse.

In recent years, it has been restored and is now on display in Zonza in Corsica.

The L40 da 47/32 second series exhibited in Zonza, Corsica. Note the jerry can support, probably mounted by the forest guards to most likely increase the range of the vehicle. Source: pinterest.com

Conclusions

This self-propelled gun armed with a 47 mm cannon proved ineffective against the most modern British, American, and Soviet tanks when it appeared on the battlefield in late 1942.

Developed primarily for providing close support to Italian Army assault units, the L40 was very effective in the infantry support role, where it could hit targets up to 4,000 m with efficient accuracy.

Its weaknesses were the absence of secondary armament and radio equipment, feeble protection and the small and cramped internal space. These problems were mostly resolved by the third series produced for the Germans after November 1943, but due to the vehicle’s overall size, little could be done to increase the firepower with a more potent gun.

The article was written by Arturo Giusti, who provided the parts concerning the design and Italian operational service, and by Marko Pantelić, who provided the parts concerning the German, Croatian and Yugoslav partisan history operational service.


Semovente 47/32, 3rd Fast Division “Principe Amedeo Duca d’Aosta”, 8th Army (ARMIR), Ukraine, August 1942.

Semovente 47/32, CXXXVI Battalion Controcarri, Tunisia, January 1943

Semovente 47/32, Stalingrad area, southern sector, winter 1942-43.

Semovente 47/32, possibly from a Black Shirts unit, 6th Army, CXXXII self-propelled antitank battalion, Sicily, July 1943. All illustrations by David Bocquelet

L40 da 47/32 specifications
Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.82 x 1.92 x 1.63 m
Total weight, battle ready 6.5 t
Crew  3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader)
Propulsion Fiat SPA, 6 cyl. gasoline, 68 hp
Speed 42 km/h, 25/20 km/h (cross-country)
Range 200 km
Armament One Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun and one machine gun
Armor 30 mm front, 15 mm sides and rear and 10 mm floor
Number Built 414 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 plus 93 command tanks

 

Sources

Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd
T. L. Jentz (2008) Panzer Tracts No.19-2 Beute-Panzerkampfwagen
F. Cappellano and P. P. Battistelli (2012) Italian Light tanks 1919-45, New Vanguard
Nicola Pignato e Filippo Cappellano – Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Volume secondo (1940-1945).
Filippo Cappellano – Le artiglierie del Regio Esercito nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale
Nicola Pignato – Armi della fanteria Italiana Nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale
Gianni Oliva – I vinti e i liberati. 8 September 1943-25 aprile 1945: storia di due anni
FIAT Archives
AREP Archives
Olivio Gondim de Uzêda – Crônicas de Guerra

Categories
WW2 Italian SPGs

Semovente M43 da 105/25

Italy (1943 – 1945)
Self-Propelled Gun – 121 built

A Semovente M43 da 105/25 at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, near Genoa. That is the sixth vehicle of that model produced, with the plate ‘R.E. 5852’.
Source: pinterest.com

The Semovente FIAT-Ansaldo M43 da 105/25 was an Italian self-propelled gun developed by FIAT and Ansaldo. It was based on the M42 da 75/18 and used in limited numbers by the Regio Esercito (Eng. Italian Royal Army) before the armistice of 8th September 1943. After the armistice of Cassibile and the occupation of the center and northern parts of Italy by the Germans, the Semoventi were captured and used by the German Army and by the new Italian Collaborationist Army.

Development

After the entry into service of the Semoventi (singular Semovente) armed with 75 mm L.18 cannons, based on the chassis of the tanks of the ‘M’ series (Medi, Eng. Medium), the M13/40 and M14/41, it was found that the vehicles were adequate for infantry support and anti-tank vehicles. However, the Regio Esercito needed something more heavily armed and armored to be able to fight against the more modern vehicles put into service by the Allies. By this point, the Italians were fighting the latest versions of M4 Sherman.

A fresh Semovente M42 da 75/18 outside the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente near Genoa.
Source: pinterest.com

A specification was issued in mid-1942 for a Semovente that could support the infantry, but also fight against such modern threats using the heavy Italian Cannone da 105/23. At that time, Odero-Terni-Orlando (OTO) and the consortium Ansaldo-FIAT, two Italian tank manufacturers, proposed two different self-propelled gun prototypes. The OTO proposal was to mount the 105/23 cannon on the hull of the heavy tank P26/40, which was still under development and entered into service only after September 1943.

However, FIAT-Ansaldo could build a prototype of their vehicle faster because the project was based on the already under construction M15/42 Italian medium tank hull. This had already been tested in February-March 1943 and under construction since April of that same year.

The Carro Armato Medio M15/42, the last of the ‘M’ series.
Source: pinterest.com

At the same time, the FIAT-Ansaldo project was also chosen because the manufacturers had mastery over the components involved. It also required only small modifications to the assembly lines. This meant it could be put into production very quickly. The Italian Army evaluated it positively for two simple reasons. Firstly, because there were already existing courses for the training of new crews (and mechanics) of self-propelled guns on almost identical chassis. Secondly, because a self-propelled gun based on the modified M15/42 chassis was lighter than a self-propelled gun on the P26/40 hull, which meant that the FIAT-Ansaldo self-propelled gun needed a less powerful gasoline engine. This was a big advantage for the Italian Army that had to replace diesel engines with gasoline engines after 1942 due to the limited resources available.

Prototype history

A prototype was built between 16th and 28th January 1943 and was armed with a prototype of the 105/23 Mod.1943 cannon. It was first examined by the Ispettorato delle Truppe Motorizzate e Corazzate (Eng. Inspectorate of Motorised and Armored Troops) and the Ispettorato dell’Arma d’Artiglieria (Eng. Inspectorate of the Artillery Corps) on 1st February. It was presented to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (Eng: Centre for Motorisation Studies) in Rome on 27th February for official testing. Early photos of the prototype show that the vehicle initially lacked a radio antenna, racks for the 20-liters cans, and headlights, which were fitted before the presentation in Rome. In particular, 6 racks were mounted on the prototype, two on the front, two on fenders, and two more on the rear of the vehicle.

The prototype of the M43 da 105/25 at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione.
Source: pinterest.com

The testing of the prototype took about a month. In the end, the Regio Esercito was very impressed by the firepower of the 105 mm cannon. On 29th March 1943, the High Command of the Regio Esercito ordered 130 vehicles divided into two batches, the first batch of 30 and a second of 100 self-propelled guns. It was now officially renamed as the ‘Semovente FIAT-Ansaldo su scafo M43 da 105/25’, abbreviated to ‘Semovente M43 da 105/25’ (Eng: Self-propelled gun FIAT-Ansaldo on hull M43 armed with a 105/25). It was nicknamed “Bassotto” (Eng: Dachshund) by the crews for its lower and larger profile.

The prototype of the M43 da 105/25 at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione.
Source: icvi.at.ua

Orders

In addition to the first order of 130 units placed in March 1943, the FIAT and Ansaldo consortium received new contracts from the Regio Esercito for the production of 105 mm-armed self-propelled guns. On 10th May 1943, the total order was increased to 200 vehicles, and then to 454 in June. Some sources mention 494 units ordered in July 1943, but this can not be confirmed due to the partial loss of the Ansaldo Archives following the armistice of September 1943.

Fourteen M43 da 105/25s, four M15/42s, and a dozen M42M da 75/34s in the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Genoa, ready for delivery to the Regio Esercito in July 1943.
Source: icvi.at.ua

The first vehicles produced in the gigantic Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, near Genoa, Northern Italy, were completed at the end of May 1943. They were delivered to the Regio Esercito at the beginning of July. According to the records, by 30th June, a total of 30 M43 105/25s had already been completed. After the Armistice of Cassibile and the occupation of the central and northern parts of Italy by the Wehrmacht, production was initially interrupted. However, the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (Eng. Inspector General of the Armed Forces) quickly evaluated the self-propelled gun, and, judging it positively, production was restarted.

By the end of 1943, the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Genoa had produced another 24 M43 self-propelled 105/25 vehicles for the Germans. However, in 1944, only 67 more were produced due to bombing, lack of raw materials and strikes. The production was not continued in 1945 because of heavy Allied bombing that stopped the production of most of the plant and because the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen, together with the Reichsministerium für Rüstung und Kriegsproduktion (Eng: Reich Ministry for Armaments and War Production) in Berlin, had decided to discontinue production of all Italian vehicles except the Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i), Panzerspähwagen Lince 202(i) and the Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 75/46 852(i) self-propelled vehicle which they considered adequate.

The total production of the Semovente М43 da 105/25 was 121 units between April 1943 and December 1944.

Design of the “Bassotto”

Hull and armor

The M42 hull was 14 cm longer than the previous M40 and M41 hulls. The new M43 hull (also called M42 ‘Lungo’ – Eng. ‘Long’) was even longer, with 4 cm more than the M42, reaching a length of 5.10 m (18 cm more than the M41), 17 cm wider (2.40 m compared to 2.23 m of the M42) and 10 cm lower (1.75 m compared to 1.85 m of the M42). Finally, the flameproof armor plate separating the engine compartment from the fighting compartment was moved back 20 cm, increasing the space for the crew. All these modifications brought the total weight of the vehicle to 15.8 tonnes battle-ready compared to the 15 tonnes of the M42.

Comparison between the M42 da 75/18 (left) and the prototype of the M43 da 105/25 (right) at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant near Genoa.
Source: pinterest.com

This made the vehicle’s silhouette more elusive and also allowed the cannon to be positioned in the center of the superstructure, instead of being moved to the right, like on the previous chassis.

The armor was both bolted to an internal frame and partially welded (a great innovation for Italian vehicles) and had great thickness compared to Italian standards. The hull armor was 50 mm on top and 25 mm on the bottom. The superstructure had an armor plate 75 mm thick (some sources mention 70 mm) frontally, 45 mm on the sides, while the rear was protected by a plate 35 mm thick. A plate of the same thickness protected the back of the engine compartment.

The roof and floor of the vehicle were 15 mm thick. New to the vehicle were the side skirts that were divided into three parts. These were presumably 5 mm thick. They partially protected the sides of the vehicle. The side skirts had a hole in the back to allow the crew to be able to reach the track tension adjuster.

Lateral view of the M43 da 105/25 prototype (left) and of the M42 da 75/18 (right) at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Genoa. Notice the differences between the two self-propelled guns. The M43 da 105/25 prototype did not have the holes that permitted the adjusting of the track tension.
Source: pinterest.com

In general, the protection was increased compared to the 50 mm frontal, 35 mm side, and 20 mm on the rest of the frame of the previous M42, or the 50 mm frontal, 25 mm lateral, and 15 mm rear of the M41, even if the Italian industry was not able to provide ballistic steel of good quality. In fact, the Italian armor was fragile compared to the armor of equal thickness of other nations involved in the war. When an enemy round hit Italian armor, the armor often broke or splintered even without being penetrated, causing damage to the vehicle and/or crewmembers and leading to the need to send the vehicle to specialized workshops to replace the damaged armor plates.

Frontal view of an M42 da 75/18 (left) and the prototype of the M43 da 105/25 (right) at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Genoa. Notice the wider and lower hull of the M43.
Source: pinterest.com

Exterior Features

On the roof, on the left side, there was the radio antenna, a fully rotatable periscope and an opening for the cannon. The commander was equipped with an optical sighting system produced by Ansaldo and weighing about 13 kg. On the left front mudguard, there was a support for the jack. On the sides of the superstructure, there were two headlights for night operations. The engine deck had two large inspection hatches equipped with grills for engine cooling. Behind them were the fuel tank cap and two grills for radiator cooling. At the rear, there was a spare wheel, a hole for the engine crank, the towing hook and a smoke grenade launcher system consisting of a launcher and a rack carrying smoke grenades to reload the launcher.

On either side of the engine deck, on the rear fenders, there were two storage boxes and the mufflers covered by a steel shield to protect them from impacts. Six racks for 20-liter cans were placed on the sides of the vehicle, three on each side, just like other Italian self-propelled guns and tanks. In fact, from 1942 onward, the racks were factory fitted on all vehicles, as most would have gone to operate in Africa, where the cans would have increased the range of the vehicle. It should be noted, however, that in the majority of cases, on the Semoventi M43 da 105/25, the cans were not transported because, in Italy, it was not that difficult to find fuel.

Suspension

The suspension was a semi-elliptical leaf spring type. On each side, there were four bogies with eight doubled rubber road wheels paired on two suspension units in total. This suspension type was obsolete and did not allow the vehicle to reach a high top speed. In addition, it was very vulnerable to enemy fire and mines.

The tank had 26 cm wide tracks, with 86 track links per side. The drive sprockets were at the front and the idlers and track tension adjusting mechanism were at the back, with three rubber return rollers on each side. The small surface area of the tracks (20,800 cm²) caused a ground pressure of 0,76 kg/cm² (to give an example, the Soviet SU-100 had 0,56 kg/cm² and the German StuH 42 0,92 kg/cm²), increasing the risk that the vehicle would bog down in mud, snow or sand.

The suspension of the Semovente da 105/25.
Source: amazonaws.com

Main armament

The main armament was a Cannone da 105/25 (sometimes also called Mod. S.F. ‘Serico’ for Spherical) produced by Ansaldo. It was developed on the basis of the Obice da 105/23 Mod. 1942, a howitzer developed by OTO-Melara as a prototype for divisional artillery together with the Obice da 105/40 Mod. 1938.

Unfortunately, the two prototypes were produced and tested by the Regio Esercito too late. 600 of the Mod. 1938 were ordered, but only a few were delivered before the Armistice of Cassibile. The Mod. 1942 was not ordered in time.

At least two prototypes of the Obice da 105/23 Mod. 1942 were produced. One, or perhaps more, were on a fielded carriage and one was on a spherical support meant for the prototype of the Semovente M43 da 105/25.

The Cannone da 105/25 mock-up at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente.
Source: Ansaldo Archives

The field version of the gun had a maximum range of 13 km and a practical range of 2,000-2,500 m for anti-tank ammunition. It had a practical firing rate of 8 rounds per minute. Obviously, inside the narrow fighting compartment of the self-propelled gun, this dropped dramatically.

The gun weight is not given in the sources, but we can assume that it did not exceed one tonne together with its spherical support. The Cannone da 105/28 Mod. 1912, also produced by Ansaldo (and with which it shared the ammunition) had a barrel length of 2.987 m (compared to 2.6 m of the 105/25) and weighed 850 kg.

Thanks to the enlargement of the vehicle, the cannon’s spherical mount was centrally placed on the front plate. The gun had a horizontal traverse of 18° to the right and 18° to the left, as well as an elevation of +18° and a depression of -10°.

After the war, some 105/25 guns were used as anti-tank artillery in the bunkers of the fortification line called the “Alpine Wall”, on the border with Yugoslavia, in the early years of the Cold War.
No other data is available on this artillery piece due to the few units produced and their limited use.

The Cannone da 105/25 blueprint in a spherical support for bunker mounting.
Source: associazionenazionalefantiarresto.it

Secondary Armament

The secondary armament consisted of a Breda Mod. 38 medium machine gun, a vehicle version of the Breda Mod. 37 medium machine gun used by the Italian infantry. The machine gun weighed 15.4 kg and was chambered with the 8×59 RB Breda cartridge. It was specially developed for Italian machine guns in 1935 and had a muzzle velocity of 775 m/s. The Breda Mod. 38 had a theoretical firing rate of 600 rounds per minute, which in practice dropped to about 350 rounds per minute. One of the advantages of this machine gun, in addition to its reliability, was its small size. In fact, the machine gun was only 89 cm long, taking up little space when stowed inside the vehicle.

Breda Mod. 38 8×59 RB Breda caliber.
Source: wikipedia.com

Some sources claim that, due to the lack of Breda machine guns or for simple convenience, some German crews who received these self-propelled guns replaced the Breda Mod. 38 with German-made machine guns, such as the MG34 or MG42. This would have greatly increased the anti-aircraft firepower of the vehicle, but there is no photographic evidence or data confirming the use of Mauser machine guns on the self-propelled vehicles.

Although lacking interior space, the crew brought onboard the Semovente M43 their Carcano Mod. 91 rifles, MAB 38 submachine guns and OTO, Breda or SRCM Mod. 35 hand grenades or their German counterparts for close defense against enemy infantry.

Ammunition

The 105/25 Cannon could fire a wide range of projectiles:

Name Type Weight (kg) Explosive Filler (kg) Maximum Range (m) Penetration at 1,000 m
Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 32 HE 16.3 2.35 TNT 13,640
Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 36 HE 16.125 1.76 TNT 13,640 //
Proietto Perforante da 105 APC-T 15.65 0.3 TNT 12,500 72 mm at 90°
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto HEAT 14 // 12,630<>

//
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale M43 HEAT 14 2.35 TNT 9,400, effective 2,000-2,500 120 mm at 90°

The Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 32 and the Cartoccio Granata da 105 Mod. 36 were almost identical, but the Mod. 36 with ADE M32 or ADE M36 nose percussion fuze could detonate the ammunition on impact or in the air.

Information about the anti-tank ammunition is provided only by some accounts. The muzzle velocity of the Armor-Piercing, Capped – Tracer (APC-T) was 500 m/s and it could pierce a maximum of 90 mm of ballistic steel inclined at 90° at 100 meters, 80 mm at 500 meters and about 60 mm at 2,000 meters.

The penetration and muzzle velocity of the Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds are unknown. The Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale M43 had a muzzle velocity of 510 m/s. It could pierce a 120 mm plate inclined at 90°. The maximum range was of 9,400 m with anti-tank effectiveness at a maximum distance of 2,000-2,500 m.

There were also smoke and incendiary projectiles developed for the field artillery version. These were apparently almost never used on the Semovente.

The Breda Mod. 38 machine gun was fed by top curved magazines with 24 bullets. This was not ideal, because it did not allow for continuous fire against aircraft or infantry.

The standard 8 mm ammunition had a muzzle velocity of 780 m/s and could penetrate a 11 mm RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armor) plate at 90° at a distance of 100 m.

Although hardly ever used on self-propelled guns, the machine gun could also fire M.39 AP (Armor Piercing) shells. The bullet weighed 12 grams and could penetrate an armor plate of 16 mm at 100 m.

In the wooden rack on the right of the vehicle, there were 864 shells, equivalent to 36 magazines.

Interior Features

Starting from the front of the vehicle, there was the transmission connected to the braking system, which had two armored inspection hatches. These could be opened from the outside by means of two handles, or from the inside by means of a knob located on the right side of the vehicle, which could be used by the gunner.

On the left was the driver’s position with the seat with a fold-down back for easy access. In front, it had the two steering tillers, an armored slot that could be closed with a lever and a hyposcope for driving with the slot closed. On the left was the control panel and, on the right, the gun breech.

Interior of the M43 da 105/25. Clearly visible are the dummy rounds in the ammunition rack.
Source: Ansaldo Archives

Behind the driver, there was a box rack for twelve 105 mm rounds arranged in rows of 4 rounds, with a padding on top that also served as a seat for the loader. Behind this, there was a rack of 24 105 mm rounds, also arranged in rows of 4 rounds.

The loader had, on the left, the radio system and, above him, one of the two armored hatches. In case of an air attack, the loader would also have to use the anti-aircraft machine gun.
On the right side of the fighting compartment, there was the gunner’s/commander’s seat without a backrest. In front of his seat, the gunner had the elevation and swing handwheels. On the left was the gun breech. Interestingly, the lever for opening the breech was placed on the right side of the breech. This meant that, after firing, the gunner had to rotate his torso by about 90° (a very uncomfortable action in the narrow space) and open the breech.

On his right was the support for the anti-aircraft gun (when not in use), a maintenance kit and a fire extinguisher. Behind the support was a wooden rack for the ammunition of the machine gun. In order to prevent the magazines from falling on rough terrain, the rack had a closable curtain.

Behind the gunner/commander was the last ammunition rack with 12 105 mm rounds arranged in three rows of 4 rounds.

On the rear wall of the fighting compartment, there were four cumbersome filters for air, oil and two for the fuel. The engine fan, an engine cooling water tank, the batteries for engine ignition were also there, and the transmission shaft ran through the entire fighting compartment, dividing it in half.

Interior of the Semovente M43 da 105/25 prototype.
Source: Ansaldo Archives

Crew

The Semovente M43 da 105/25 was the only self-propelled gun of World War II armed with a 105 mm gun, but with only 3 crew members. The driver was positioned on the left of the vehicle. On his right was the gun breech. The commander/gunner was positioned on the right of the vehicle and loader/radio operator on the left, behind the driver.

Some sources state that the Germans preferred to add a fourth crewman behind the gunner, who would load the gun. The loader’s seat would be occupied by the commander/radio operator and the gunner would perform only one function. Obviously, adding a fourth crewman meant reducing the quantity of 105 mm ammunition on board and, above all, operating in a fighting compartment that was already cramped with three men.

Engine

The engine of the Semovente M43 da 105/25 was inherited from the previous self-propelled guns on the M42 chassis, which in turn inherited it from the M15/42. This was the FIAT-SPA T15B. ‘B’ stood for ‘Benzina’ (Eng. Petrol). This was a petrol water-cooled 11,980 cm³ engine developing 190 hp at 2400 rpm. It was developed by FIAT and one of its subsidiary companies, the Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA (Eng. Piedmontese Automobile Company). Previously, on Italian vehicles such as the M11/39, M13/40 and M14/41 and the self-propelled guns on their chassis (M40 and M41), the engine was a diesel. Due to the scarcity of fuel as early as the beginning of 1942, the Royal Italian Army converted to gasoline with the M15/42. However, due to the size of the 307 liter gasoline tank (compared to 145 liters-tanks of the previous diesel engined tanks) and the fire extinguishing system, the chassis was lengthened by 14 cm (5.06 m compared to 4.92 m of previous models).

The engine was quite reliable, with a power-to-weight ratio of 12 hp/tonne and was connected to the Fiat 8 F2 transmission (the same as on the previous vehicles) with four forward gears and one reverse gear. This guaranteed a maximum speed of 35 km/h and a range of 180 km.

The FIAT-SPA T15B. On the left of the image is the radiator.
Source: tankarchives.ca

Radio equipment

The Magneti Marelli RF1CA transceiver.
Source: radiomilitari.com

The radio onboard the Semovente was the standard Italian tank equipment, the Magneti Marelli RF1CA produced in Sesto San Giovanni, near Milan. It had a weight of 13 kg. The transceiver had the possibility of adjusting the sensitivity of the amplifier by a two-position switch, ‘Vicino’ (Eng: near) for distances not exceeding 5 km and ‘Lontano’ (Eng: far) for distances between 5 and 12 km, the maximum range of the radio.

The equipment was placed on the left side of the hull, above the fender, under its standard 1.8 m high antenna that could be lowered 90° to the rear by means of a knob. The 8 watt radio transformer and four Magneti Marelli 3NF-12-1-24 batteries were on the radio’s right. Further to the right was the driver’s instrument panel.

Left interior view of a Semovente M40 da 75/18. Even if the two self-propelled guns were very different, the radio equipment and its location were not modified.
Source: modellismopiù.com

Service History

Regio Esercito

The first Semoventi M43 da 105/25 were completed at the beginning of May 1943. The first self-propelled gun, plate number ‘R.E. 5846’, was delivered on 2nd July 1943, after testing at the tank crew School of the Royal Army in Nettunia, about fifty kilometers from Rome.

It was foreseen by the Regio Esercito that these vehicles would be used in Gruppi Corazzati (ENG. Armored Groups) of 12 self-propelled guns, subdivided into 3 platoons of 4 vehicles. These would have the task of supporting the actions of the P26/40, then at the beginning of production, and of the P30/43, which was still under development.

Five Armored Groups were created by the Regio Esercito, the DC° Gruppo Corazzato, DCI° Gruppo Corazzato, DCII° Gruppo Corazzato, DCIV° Gruppo Corazzato and DCV° Gruppo Corazzato.

On 25th July 1943, Mussolini was arrested by order of the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III d’Italia, and the Gran Consiglio del Fascismo (Eng: Grand Council of Fascism). The new government, presided over by Prime Minister Pietro Badoglio, ordered the Army to continue to fight alongside the Axis powers even if, almost immediately, in secret, it tried to negotiate an armistice with the Allies.

This situation brought much confusion to the soldiers who, in many cases, were not even informed about what had really happened in Rome.

Only the DCI° Gruppo Corazzato and the DCII° Gruppo Corazzato stationed at Nettunia for crew training received all 12 vehicles.

From what is reported, the DCI° Gruppo Corazzato, assigned to the 135ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ (Eng. 135th Armored Division), was the only one to participate in military actions of the Regio Esercito, participating in the Defense of Rome on 9th September 1943.

Rare image of a Royal Italian Army tank crew training on the Semoventi da 105/25 in Nettunia, summer 1943.
Source: pinterest.com

As mentioned, Italian Prime Minister Badoglio tried to sign an armistice with the Allied powers and succeeded in his intent only on 3rd September 1943.

The official proclamation was made by U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower on Radio Algiers at 6.30 p.m. and then repeated by Pietro Badoglio in Italian on Radio EIAR at 7.42 p.m. on 8th September 1943.

Needless to say, this threw almost all units of the Royal Army into chaos, as they did not receive precise orders and were forced to act on their own initiative.

Immediately after the Armistice, the German command, which had foreseen the Italian defection, launched Fall Achse (Eng. Operation Axis), meant to take apart the Italian Royal Army.

On 9th September 1943, the morning after the radio announcement of the Armistice, the 135th Armored Division engaged German troops in the city of Cesano, and on the Via Ostiense leading to Rome.

It is not clear in which part of Rome they took part in the fighting, as the Armored Division fought in every neighborhood of Rome supporting the 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” (Eng. 21st Infantry Division) at Porta San Paolo, the members of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (Eng. Italian Police of Africa) and the 18° Reggimento Bersaglieri (Eng. 18th Bersaglieri Regiment) near the Colosseum.

During the fighting, four Semoventi M43 da 105/25 of the DCI° Gruppo Corazzato were destroyed. It is not clear whether they were all destroyed by German weapons or whether some were sabotaged by the crews before escaping and joining the Italian partisan resistance or returning to their homes.

An M43 da 105/25 of the Regio Esercito without the left track on a Viberti trailer, waiting to be repaired.
Source: pinterest.com

Wehrmacht

Immediately after the Armistice, the Germans launched Fall Achse, which lasted until 19th September 1943 and resulted in the deaths of between 20,000 and 30,000 Italian soldiers, the capture of just over one million Italian soldiers, 2,700 anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, 5,500 howitzers or field guns, 16,600 trucks or cars and 977 armored vehicles.

Among the 977 captured armored vehicles were the 26 surviving Semoventi M43 da 105/25, which were later renamed Beutepanzer Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 105/25 853(i) (Eng. Captured Assault Gun with 105/25 gun Italian).

For the duration of the war, the Germans received another 91 StuG M43 mit 105/25 853(i) produced after the Armistice. This means that the Wehrmacht used a total of 116 M43 mit 105/25.

Some Semoventi M43 da 105/25 captured by Germans in Rome after the Armistice. Note the original Regio Esercito plate, R.E. 6453. Forte Tiburtino, Rome, March 1944.
Source: icvi.at.ua

While the Germans operated relatively large numbers of M-series tanks and some older Semovente in the Balkans for anti-partisan operations, the more modern Semovente M43 da 105/25 were only used in Italy. By the end of September 1943, the German units had around 221 (both 75 and 105 mm) Semovente at their disposal.

At the end of 1943, the 26th Panzer Division had 7, the 356th Infantry Division had 20 and the Panzer training unit Sued had two Semovente M43 da 105/25 vehicles. The greatest concentration of these vehicles was allocated to the SturmGeschütz Brigade 914 (Assault Gun Brigade) and SturmGeschütz Brigade 21. By February 1944, the 914th Brigade had some 31 Semovente da 105/25 in its inventory. The 21st Brigade continued to operate the Semovente da 105/25 up to the war’s end. By mid-March 1945, it had 56 such vehicles, three of which were given to this unit by the 356th Infantry Division.

The M43 da 105/25 was used by the German mainly in anti-tank roles when possible. The Italian vehicles, in general, were plagued by the lack of spare parts and ammunition. So the relatively large number of vehicles did not always necessarily mean that all were operational, as most would be often stored at the rear for much needed repairs. One occasion where the M43 da 105/25 was used was by Panzer Regiment 26 which attacked the Allied positions at Mozzagrogna at the end of November 1943. The attack was spearheaded by 6 Semovente (three 105 and three 75 mm) and five flame tanks (likely based on the CV series). The attack succeeded with the loss of one flame tank. The unit was later on attacked by Allied ground attack planes and decimated, with only one Semovente M43 da 105/25 managing to survive. The Germans were generally satisfied with the Semovente vehicles, but noted that these lacked proper observation sights, had insufficient frontal armor and a cramped crew compartment.

When production resumed, the Germans ordered the vehicles to be modified by adding four large teeth to the sprocket wheel, which decreased the risk of the tracks falling off or coming loose. Some sources also mention that the Germans had replaced the Italian radio system with a German one and also the machine guns, but there is no evidence of these changes.

A StuG M43 mit 105/25 captured by the Germans. Photo taken some days after the Armistice. The Regio Esercito original plate and the marking on the hull side (in red) are noticeable.
Source: icvi.at.ua
A well camouflaged StuG M43 mit 105/25 lies abandoned somewhere in the Nettuno area, being inspected by Allied soldiers.
Source: pinterest.com
An M43 da 105/43 sabotated and abandoned by its German crew is inspected by a British tankman. Note the open engine compartment, with the Fiat-SPA T15B and the telescope for the gunner on the roof.
Source web photo.

Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano

After 8th September 1943, the Germans freed Benito Mussolini and took him to Germany to discuss the continuation of the war alongside the Axis with Adolf Hitler. On 23rd September, he returned to Italy as ‘Duce’ and founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (Eng. Italian Social Republic), a collaborationist state in the territories not yet occupied by the Allies. Some Italian prisoners who had remained loyal to Mussolini immediately joined the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano, ENR (Eng. National Republican Army).

This new army was armed with few armored vehicles, artillery pieces and any other type of military equipment because, after the armistice, the German soldiers no longer trusted their Italian allies.
A good part of the units of the new army and of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, or GNR (Eng. Republican National Guard), had to arm themselves as best they could. They produced several homemade vehicles or recovered abandoned vehicles in very bad condition from former Regio Esercito depots.

One of these units was the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ (Eng. Armored Group) which, during the last two years of the war, was equipped with only 7 L3/35 light tanks, 1 L6/40 light tank, 5 tanks of the ‘M’ series (4 M13/40 and 1 M15/42) and a Semovente M43 da 105/25, the latter from February 1945.

It is not clear how the unit took possession of the self-propelled gun. It is supposed that it was one of the examples in service since February 1944 with the 1° Deposito Carristi (Eng: 1st Tanker Depot) in Verona, where it would have been used for the training of tankers. According to the Army Staff, this vehicle had damaged optics.

The vehicle, part of the Squadrone Comando (Eng. Command Squadron), received the nickname ‘Terremoto’ (Eng. Earthquake) painted in capital letters on the front plate. It also had an Italian tricolor and, on the sides, a lion holding between the paws the fascio littorio, symbol of the Partito Fascista Italiano (Eng: Italian Fascist Party) and Italian flags.

From January to the first days of April, the vehicle was not used in anti-partisan actions, but only for training and was stationed in Polpenazze sul Garda, 130 km east of Milan, at the headquarters of the Armored Group. In April 1945, when the situation was desperate, the Command Squadron was stationed in Milan, avoiding the popular strike and insurrection, but without the Semovente. On the night of 24th April 1945, the day of the partisan insurrection that, in a few days, would lead to the complete loss of the main cities of Northern Italy, such as Turin, Genoa and Milan, a unit formed of the five ‘M’ series tanks, some light tanks and the Semovente, under the orders of the Armored Group Commander Gianluca Zuccaro, moved towards Milan.

During the night, an Allied aircraft noticed the column and attacked the unit repeatedly, but only with machine guns. It disabled an ‘M’ tank that was abandoned on the roadside the morning of 25th April.

After receiving orders to surrender from the Armored Group Headquarters, the tank crews sabotaged the vehicles near Cernusco sul Naviglio, 100 km from Polpenazze and surrendered to the partisans.

The only Semovente used by the ENR since January 1945, from the Gruppo Corazzato “Leoncello”. On it is the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ Commander, Gianluca Zuccaro. The Royal Army plate was covered, not allowing the identification of the vehicle. In this low quality photo, the nickname ‘Terremoto’ is not visible, but the Italian flags and the unit symbol are.
Source: pinterest.com

Variants

Semovente M43 da 75/34

This was a self-propelled gun built on the same hull, but with the Cannone da 75/34 cannon Mod. S.F., the same as on the Semoventi M42M da 75/34. Only 29 were built and they were only used by the Germans in tank destroyer Regiments in Italy and the Balkans. It had more internal space due to the smaller dimensions of the 75 mm cannon breech. The total number of rounds transported was 45, giving the crew more space.

A rare photo of the Semovente M43 da 75/34 on the Eastern Front. Note the triple Breda Mod. 38 machine gun anti-aircraft support.
Source: pinterest.com

Semovente M43 da 75/46

Developed in 1943, with heavy armament and armor, the main armament was a powerful Cannone da 75/46 C.A. Mod. 1934 and the welded armor had a maximum thickness of 100 mm on the frontal plate, the only Italian vehicle with this thickness. Eleven were built during 1944-1945 and only used by the German Army in one tank destroyer Regiment in the defence of the Gothic Line. One was captured by Brazilian soldiers in Piacenza and one was captured by partisans in Milan. None survived the war.

The 87th M43 da 105/25 produced near the prototype of the M43 da 75/46 at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant of Sestri Ponente.
Source: pinterest.com

Conclusion

The Semovente M43 da 105/25 was produced in small numbers during the war and could make little contribution to the Axis forces during the war. Most were used by the Germans, but the lack of supplies and ammunition hindered their use. Their gun proved to be an excellent anti-tank artillery piece. Unfortunately, no M43 has survived to the present day.

Semovente 105/25 M43 in Italian service, prior to the armistice
Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 105/25 853(i), Gothic line, fall 1944.
Semovente 105/25 in service with the RSI (Social Republic or Salo), Northern Italy, fall 1944.
Illustrations by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Semovente M43 da 105/25 Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.10 x 2.40 x 1.75 m
Total weight, battle ready 15.8 t
Crew 3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader/radio operator)
Propulsion Fiat-SPA 15TB petrol engine with 307 l tanks, 192 hp
Range 180 km
Maximum speed 35 km/h on road; 10/12 km/h on various terrain
Main Armament Cannone da 105/25 with 48 rounds
Secondary armament Breda 38 8 mm machine gun with 864 rounds
Armor 75 mm front, 45 mm sides, 35 mm rear and 15 mm roof and floor
Total production 121 Semoventi used by the Regio Esercito (30), the Wehrmacht (112) and the ENR (1)

Sources

Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano (1940-1945) – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano
I mezzi blindo-corazzati italiani 1923-1943 – Nicola Pignato
I reparti corazzati della Repubblica Sociale Italiana 1943/1945 –
I mezzi corazzati Italiani della Guerra Civile 1943-1945 – Paolo Crippa
T. J. Jentz and W. Regenberg (2008) Panzer Tracts No.19-1 Beute-Panzerkampfwagen
F. Cappellano and P.P. Battistelli (2012) Italian Medium Tanks 1939-45, Osprey Publishing

Categories
WW2 Italian SPGs

Semovente M40, M41 and M42 da 75/18

Nation Flag IconKingdom of Italy, 1941-1955, Self-propelled gun- 288 built (60 M40, 162 M41 and 66 M42)

The Semovente da 75/18 was a family of Italians self-propelled guns based on the chassis of the Italian medium M13/40, M14/41, and M15/42 tanks armed with a 75 mm L.18 Ansaldo cannon in a casemate. It is the most widely produced self-propelled gun in the Kingdom of Italy during the Second World War, capable of fighting against almost all opposing armored vehicles. It was used in various roles by the Regio Esercito (Eng: Royal Italian Army) for infantry support and a tank destroyer. 288 vehicles were produced in total. It was also appreciated by the Wehrmacht, which captured several of them and put them back into service in its armored divisions.

An M40 da 75/18 in Africa 1942. To increase the range of the vehicle, crews carried jerry cans everywhere outside the vehicles. Source: wikipedia.com


Development

In 1938, the Regio Esercito realized that it had no vehicles capable of dealing with the Soviet tanks of the period, such as the BT-5 and the T-26s that were encountered during the Spanish Civil War, and a new self-propelled gun project was started. Its task was to destroy enemy tanks and infantry positions. A prototype was developed on the M.6 chassis (which later became the L6/40) called the Semovente M.6. The initial version was armed with a 47/32 cannon, followed by one with a 75 mm cannon. The 75 mm project was abandoned due to unclear reasons, but the 47 mm version would go on to become the Semovente L40 da 47/32.

In 1939, the Regio Esercito established its first two armored divisions, and the problem of adopting a tank destroyer into service resurfaced. It was desired to use the Cannone da 75/34 Mod. S.F., but Ansaldo’s project of mounting this 75/34 gun on the hull of a L.6 tank failed.

Wooden prototype of the Semovente M.6 with the 75 mm gun. Source: Pignato

With the outbreak of World War Two, the success enjoyed by the German assault cannons derived from the Panzer III and equipped with a 7.5 cm StuK 37 L/24 cannon, the StuG III, became evident. Ansaldo proposed a new project to the Army General Staff, designed by the Colonel of the Servizio Tecnico d’Artiglieria (STA or Technical Service Artillery), Sergio Berlese, in collaboration with Ansaldo technicians. This project involved the use of a 75/18 Mod. 1934 howitzer mounted in a casemate on the hull of the M13/40 medium tank. Later models used a M14/41 or M15/42 hull. Under Berlese’s supervision, a prototype was quickly built by Fiat and delivered for testing in February 1941. After firing tests, the army ordered a first batch of sixty 75/18 self-propelled vehicles to be delivered before the middle of 1941. However, these self-propelled only appeared in North Africa in January 1942.

Design of the Semovente da 75/18

The vehicle was very similar to the medium tank it was based on, with a riveted hull, the crew located in the combat compartment inside the riveted casemate at the front, and a separate engine compartment at the back. There would be some differences based on what medium tank it was based on, either the M13/40, M14/41, or M15/42. The semi-elliptical leaf spring suspension, bogies, and the tracks were the same.

The crew was reduced to three men, however. The driver was at the front on the left side, with the loader behind him. The commander sat on the right side and he also had to aim and shoot the gun besides give orders to the crew. The loader also acted as the radio operator.

Main Armament

The cannon was located in the front of the vehicle, slightly to the right, on a tilting ball support that allowed a notable 38° of traverse, 20° to the right and 18° to the left, and an elevation from -12°to + 22°. The 75/18 was a fairly modern piece of artillery, equipped with a muzzle brake punctured by small blast holes. The ammunition supply consisted of 41 rounds.

The gun was the Ansaldo Obice da 75/18 Mod. 1935, a howitzer developed for infantry support in early 1935 and had a low muzzle velocity (about 450 m/s). Although the original gun had a maximum range of 9,500 m, the lower elevation of the self-propelled version reduced the range to 7,000-7,500 m. It proved to be versatile and even deadly against many Allied tanks, such as the lightly-armored British Cruiser tanks, but also the heavier and better protected M3 Grants, M4 Shermans and Mk Vlll Cromwells using HEAT ammunition. With the EP (Effetto Pronto), the first type of HEAT rounds the vehicle could fire, it could penetrate those tanks at distances of about 700 m. The second type of HEAT rounds, called EPS (Effetto Pronto Speciale), could penetrate 120 mm of vertical armor tilted at any distance.

The Semovente da 75/18 also served as mobile artillery, providing indirect fire. These vehicles were very useful for infantry support thanks to their shrapnel, High Explosive (HE) and smoke rounds.

Secondary Armament

For close support and air defense, the crew carried their personal weapons which could be fired through two round pistol ports in the rear of the fighting compartment and by using the large hatch on top of the superstructure. A 6.5 x 52 mm Breda 30 machine gun could be mounted on a support bracket on the right side of the vehicle’s roof, in an anti-aircraft mount, and was generally kept inside the vehicle when not used. In the fighting compartment, a box with ammunition for the machine gun was present under the commander’s seat. The Semovente did not have any smoke extractors for the crew compartment. When engaging enemy targets, the crew needed to keep the upper hatch open in order to ventilate the noxious fumes from firing the gun, which caused many problems if the opposing forces fired artillery or conducted airstrikes on the Semovente’s position. To protect themselves from these circumstances, the crews onboard Semoventes began to wear infantry helmets.

Semovente M40 da 75/18 of the second battery of the DLI group of the “Ariete” Division. Note the Breda 30 machine gun mounted in the anti-aircraft position. Source: flamesofwar.com

Suspension

The suspension was of the semi-elliptical leaf spring type. On each side, there were four bogies paired on two suspension units with eight doubled road wheels in total. This model was obsolete and did not allow the vehicle to reach a high top speed. In addition, it was very vulnerable to enemy fire or mines.

The tank had 26 cm wide tracks with drive sprockets at the front and idlers at the back, with three return rollers on each side.

Close-up of the suspension. Source: zimmerit.com

Interior

The radio onboard the Semovente was a Magneti Marelli RF1CA placed on the left side of the hull, under its standard 1.8 m high antenna. The inverter and four Magneti Marelli 3NF-12-1-24 batteries were on the radio’s right. Further to the right was the driver’s instrument panel.

The ammunition for the cannon was transported in three racks, two on the right (14 and 15 rounds, respectively) and one with 15 rounds on the left, immediately in front of the air filter fan and behind the driver’s seat. The loader used this rack as a seat.

The back of the crew compartment had four cumbersome filters for the air, oil and two for the fuel, the fan, an engine cooling water tank, the batteries for engine ignition, and the transmission shaft. The transmission was of the Fiat 8 F2 type with four forward gears and one reverse gear.

A blueprint of the interior space of the fighting compartment of the M40 da 75/18. On the right side was the Breda 30, the two ammunition racks, the commander’s seat, and machine-gun ammunition. On the left were the radio, the driver’s instrument panel, the other ammunition rack, and the driver’s seat. In the center was the transmission shaft. Source: warthunderforum.com

On the left side, there was a maintenance kit and a fire extinguisher. On the roof, on the left side, there was a fully rotatable periscope and an opening for the cannon’s sight.

An M40 da 75/18 abandoned in the Egyptian desert after the Battle of El Alamein. Some vehicles survived the battle but were abandoned due to mechanical failures or lack of fuel. Note all the makeshift armor mounted on the vehicle in an attempt to increase the protection, including spare track links and sandbags. Source: Military-photo.com

Differences between models

The Semovente M40 da 75/18 model, which weighed 13.1 tonnes, had the original 125 hp Fiat SPA T8 diesel engine from the M13/40 and a frontal superstructure with a maximum armor thickness of 50 mm and 25 mm on the sides. Its maximum speed on road was 33 km/h and the range was 215 km. The more powerful M41 version weighed 13.5 tonnes and had a 145 hp Fiat SPA T15 diesel engine with a road speed of 35 km/h and a range of 210 km. The superstructure’s armor consisted of two 25 mm welded armored plates with a combined thickness of 50 mm. The ammunition racks were the same as on the M40.

A Semovente M40 da 75/18 during a march in the African desert. Source: El Alamein Battle archive

The front of the hull was 50 mm thick, the sides were 25 mm, while the back was 11 mm thick, with 15 mm on the roof and 9 mm on the floor. The original 6.5 mm Breda was replaced in the M41 series by a more powerful 8 x 59 mm Breda 38 with a supply of 864 rounds in two wooden racks, one with 16 magazines on the left side and one with 20 on the right side, above the radio inverter. Another feature that distinguished the M40 from the M41 were the mudguards that covered the entire length of the hull in the M41 models.

On 8th May 1943, the Semovente M42 da 75/18, derived from the M15/42 hull, was delivered to units. A new base for the Italian self-propelled guns, weighing 15 tonnes with improved protection of 35 mm of armor on the hull and sides and 20 mm on the rear. The frontal superstructure armor changed to a single 50 mm plate. It also had smoke grenade launchers transported in a box in the rear of the hull. The M42 was a little longer (5.06 m compared to the 4.92 m of the M40 and M41) because the engine compartment needed to accommodate the new more powerful engine, a Fiat SPA T15B (‘B’ stands for Benzina – Petrol) with 190 hp and its accompanying fuel tanks with a capacity of 307 liters (including 40 liters of the reserve). It also had improved fire fighting equipment due to the increased flammability of the petrol fuel. It had a consumption of 1.5 l/km, the maximum road speed was 39 km/h and the range was decreased to 200 km. The number of rounds carried was 44 in the usual three racks and 1,104 rounds (46 magazines) for the Breda 38 machine gun.

Production and deliveries

The production of the Semovente da 75/18 took place in the same factories that produced, in parallel, the M13/40 and the subsequent M14/41 and M15/42. The model evolved accordingly, both in terms of weight, power, speed, autonomy and protection.

Production was programmed to finish at the end of 1943, when it was planned to be replaced with more powerful models. These were at that time at the prototype phase, including the better armed Semovente M42M da 75/34 and the better armored and armed Semovente M43 da 75/46 and M43 da 105/25.
The Semovente da 75/18 was seen by the Italian High Command as a temporary vehicle before the P26/40 heavy tank could enter service and replace the M13/40 and M14/41 tanks and the self-propelled vehicles derived from their hulls. The 8th September 1943 Armistice stopped the Royal Army’s plans in their tracks.

Self-propelled guns built with the 75/18 howitzer were produced from early 1941 to late 1944. These consisted of 60 M40 da 75/18 on the M13/40 hull, 162 M41 da 75/18 on the M14/41 hull and 66 M42 da 75/18 on the M15/42 hull. These numbers could have been higher, but Allied bombings of the Fiat and Ansaldo factories and worker’s strikes hindered production.

Another M40 in the African desert, notice the two frontal 25 mm armored plates. Source: worldwarphotos.com

During the first desert combat operations in Egypt in 1942, it was observed that the self-propelled guns did not have an adequate quantity of ammunition on board. Thus, out of necessity, they were always assisted by supply vehicles. AS.37 Autocarro Sahariano were used for the transport of ammunition while, for recovery and towing, the larger Lancia 3Ro was used, capable of transporting one Semovente da 75/18 in the Mod. Bianchi trailer.

The Semovente da 75/18 in action

Regio Esercito

Tactically, the Semovente da 75/18s were delivered to the Armored Divisions primarily as divisional mobile artillery. However, the divisions also used them as tank destroyers as their tanks were not capable of destroying the better armored British tanks, such as the Matilda and Valentine, and also the US tanks in service with the British Army such as the M3 Lee and M4 Sherman.

The divisional structure consisted of two artillery groups for each armored division, composed of 2 batteries of four Semovente da 75/18s each, four command tanks for each artillery group and two more Semoventi and a Command tank in reserve, a total of 18 tanks and 9 command tanks. The production run of the M40 version consisted of 60 vehicles that were divided into 6 groups from DLI to DLVI in Roman numbers (551st to 556th)

The first two batteries delivered were IV and VI, part of the DLI group on April 30, 1941. After the crew training, the two batteries went to equip the 132ª Divisione Corazzata “Ariete” (Eng: 132nd Armored Division) on May 14, 1942, also the DLII went to equip the “Ariete”. DLIV formed on May 15, 1942, and went to arm the 131ª Divisione Corazzata “Centauro” (Eng: 131st Armored Division). DLV and DLVI, also formed on 16 May, went to the 133ª Divisione Corazzata “Littorio” (Eng: 133rd Armored Division).

DLI, DLII, DLIV, and DLVI came to the forefront on January 18, 1942, and saw use during the African Campaign but were all destroyed at El Alamein. The fate of DLV is not known, although it is presumed that it was used as a reserve in order to replace the destroyed self-propelled vehicles used in the other armored divisions.

Because of the subpar quality armor produced by Ansaldo, the crews put sandbags and spare tracks to improve protection from Allied guns. Additionally, petrol cans were often fixed to the sides of these vehicles to increase the operational range. On the M42 version, some racks were mounted directly from the factory. The water tanks were marked with white-colored crosses in order to distinguish them from the petrol ones.

When large Semovente M40 formations were sighted, British tank crews preferred to request Hawker Hurricane Mk IID (with two 40 mm anti-tank guns) strikes instead of directly engaging them. 35 self-propelled guns of DLIV and DLVI fought admirably at the Second Battle of El Alamein. On this occasion, they were all loaded with about one hundred rounds each. They fought near Hills 33 and 34, but only two Semovente M40s survived.

12 M40s of the DLI and DLII fought during the night between 4th and 5th November 1942 together with the entire “Ariete” Division, which had a total of 27 tanks. The division had until then remained in the rear. It now covered the retreat of the entire Italian-German Army, not far from Bir El Abd, in an attempt to stem the enemy armored brigades which were now on the attack. They claimed to have destroyed about 30 enemy tanks, including M4 Shermans, M3 Grants, and Crusaders. The last radio message of the “Ariete” was transmitted at 15:30 on November 5th by commander Francesco Arena:

“Carri nemici fatta irruzione sud Divisione Ariete. Con ciò Ariete accerchiata. Trovasi circa 5 chilometri nordovest Bir el Abd. Carri Ariete combattono”.
“Enemy tanks broke through south of the Ariete Division. Because of that Ariete is surrounded, located five kilometers north-west of Bir-el-Abd. Ariete tanks are still fighting”.

Some sources speak of three Semovente M40s still in action on the Fuka Road on November 6th and of the last radio message claiming “Three self-propelled guns remain, we strike back”. However, most sources speak of the total destruction of the Ariete Division in the night between November 4th and 5th with no survivors. The two surviving self-propelled guns of DLVI were lost during the defense of Fort Ridotta Capuzzo on November 9th against the Australian Army.

A map showing the position of the Italian units during the Second Battle of El Alamein. Source: AFV NEWS Volume 5 No. 6

From 6 December 1941 to May 1943, a total of 162 Semoventi were ordered on the new chassis of the M14/41 tank called Semovente M41 da 75/18. Other groups were created but only three were sent to Africa, DLVII, DLIX, and DLIII. The last two were lost due to British air attacks that sunk the ships carrying the units and were brought back to strength with additional vehicles sent in the weeks after. In October 1942, the batteries were reorganized. Three groups of 6 vehicles and a command tank divided into nine squads. Each battery now consisted of 18 Semoventi M41s and three command tanks.

At the beginning of 1943, the men and the very few armored and logistic vehicles of the surviving ‘Ariete’ and ‘Littorio’ divisions, together with the infantry of the 5° Reggimento Bersaglieri (Eng: 5th Bersaglieri Regiment) and several Semoventi of the 31° Reggimento Carri (Eng: 31st Tank Regiment) arrived in Africa from Greece, forming the ‘Centauro’ Division. Ironically, this division of the Royal Army, formed from veterans and survivors of the British onslaught, was the only one to record successes against the US Army in the rest of the African Campaign.

In January 1943, the division participated in a clash at Ousseltia, where it forced the participating Free French forces to withdraw and captured some vehicles and cannons. The ‘Centauro’ Division became part of the 5. Panzerarmee on February 23, 1943. In the Battle of Kasserine Pass, the units of the ‘Centauro’ division attacked American units armed with Sherman tanks, forcing them to retreat and captured abandoned military material. On February 23, a massive British airstrike forced the Italian-German troops to retreat and Kasserine Pass returned to American control. The ‘Centauro’ Division had very few vehicles remaining, with only thirty combat vehicles in service on March 10, 1943. These consisted of two Semoventi M41 da 75/18s, eighteen M14/40 medium tanks, and ten AB41 armored cars that went to create the Raggruppamento Corazzato ‘Piscitelli’ (Eng: Armored Grouping).

Ten days later, the Division was deployed to Gafsa and was attacked by the US Army ll Corps. The ‘Centauro’ resisted for 12 days, until March 21, when it was replaced by the 21. Panzer-Division. On 7 April 1943, the division was moved to El Guettar but, due to a lack of men and vehicles, it was merged with the 10. Panzer-Division under Italian command. The Raggruppamento Corazzato “Piscitelli” continued to fight with seventeen M14/41 tanks of the XIV battalion, ten Semoventi M41 da 75/18s of the DLVII Group and fourteen German tanks of the 21. and 15. Panzer Divisions, facing about two hundred British armored vehicles. In a clash that lasted about two hours, the Semoventi M41 da 75/18 participated in pushing back the British armored division, claiming the destruction of twenty-eight tanks with the loss of only four Italian vehicles. As of 10 April, the “Piscitelli” had only eleven M14/41 tanks, twelve Semoventi M41 da 75/18s and forty AB41s armored cars in its inventory.

The ‘Centauro’ Division was no longer mentioned in documents after April 7, 1943. On April 22, the command of the 1st German Army, part of the Afrika Heeresgruppe, decided to bring together all the surviving Italian vehicles in the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lodi’ or R.E.Co (Eng: Armored Scouting Group) which received several armored vehicles and cargo vehicles including a pair of M41 da 75/18 found in some other unit and several captured British, French and American vehicles.

Their last victorious action in North Africa was in the defense of Capo Bon, before the unit was moved to Bizerte, where five M14/41 tanks, four German Panzerkampfwagen Tiger, and six Semoventi M41 da 75/18s remained operational on 8 May 1943. The R.E.Co continued to fight, but the Allied assaults caused serious losses to the Italian-German units and, on 11 May, after having fought northwest of Boufichia, the last armored vehicle of the R.E.Co. was destroyed in battle against Allied tanks, a few days before the surrender of the Axis forces in North Africa.

A Semovente M41 da 75/18 and another Semovente in the African desert during a march to the front. Source: Flickr.com

The self-propelled guns present in Sicily during the Allied landing in July 1943 were employed by armored units operating on the peninsula: the 135ª Divisione Corazzata “Ariete II” (Eng: 135nd Armored Division) employed 94 M41 da 75/18s (10 in the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato and 84 in the Reggimenti Corazzati). Other self-propelled guns were employed by the Reggimento Motorizzato Corazzato (Eng: Armored Motorized Regiment) stationed in Sardinia which did not see combat during the Second World War, the XII Gruppo Anticarro (Eng: 12th Anti-Tank Group) of the Divisione di Fanteria “Sassari” (Eng: Infantry Division) and six squadrons belonging to the Reggimento “Lancieri di Vittorio Emanuele II”.

After the Armistice on September 8, the “Ariete II” was engaged in fighting against the Germans during the defense of Rome in the days after the armistice. There were also engagements in the city of Cesano, and on the Via Ostiense leading to Rome.

At Porta San Paolo, one of the entrances to the city of Rome, at the dawn of September 10, the Italian soldiers of the 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna”, the I Squadrone (Eng: 1st Squadron) of the Reggimento ‘Genova Cavalleria’, some units of the Divisione di Fanteria ‘Sassari’, Paratroopers of the X° Reggimento Arditi Paracadutisti (Eng: 10th Paratroopers Regiment) and lots of civilians (including the future president of the Italian Republic, Sandro Pertini) fought bravely against the German Paratroopers who wanted to enter the city. During mid-morning, eleven Semoventi M41 and M42 da 75/18s of the 4° Reggimento Carri Armati (Eng: 4th Tank Regiment) of the 8ª Brigata Bersaglieri (8th Bersaglieri Brigade) commanded by the Second Lieutenant Vincenzo Fioritto came in support of the Italian troops, fighting furiously against the German vehicles of the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division (Eng: 2nd Paratrooper Division). Fioritto was wounded in one arm by a grenade explosion, but refusing medical treatment, he urged the soldiers to continue fighting. He died shortly after. The soldiers under his command continued to fight the German soldiers until 17.00 (even though the surrender of the city was signed at 16.00) when, together with the other Italian fighters, they withdrew, joining the partisans and destroying some of their vehicles and abandoning the others which would fall into German hands.

Semovente M42 da 75/18 of the 4° Reggimento Carri Armati destroyed near Porta San Paolo on September 10, 1943. Source: Wikipedia.it

The captured self-propelled guns of the 4° Reggimento Carri Armati went to equip the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division together with other vehicles captured in Rome, such as some Camionette AS.42s, some AB.41 armored cars, and other vehicles. All the vehicles available in the Italian territory occupied by the Germans and the DLVIII group vehicles assigned to the 11ª Divisione di Fanteria “Brennero” (the only group not assigned in Italy or Libya armed with the self-propelled gun) which was captured in Albania were pressed into service with German Armored Divisions. In some cases, the vehicles were repainted and given German coats of arms and other markings.

Another M42 da 75/18 at Porta San Paolo on September 10, 1943. Behind are some AB.41 armored cars of the 8° Reggimento “Lancieri di Montebello”. Source: milesforumcommunity.net

Esercito e Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana

Some vehicles captured by the Germans were then given to some units of the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR, (Eng: Republican National Army) of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (Eng: Italian Social Republic), Mussolini’s collaborationist army which was created in October 1943, after the Armistice, and fought alongside the Germans.

The Gruppo Corazzato “San Giusto” (Eng: Armored Group “St. Justus”) received three M42 da 75/18s for the medium tank squadron, together with a Semovente M42M da 75/34 and four medium tanks of different versions. The Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani or RAP (Eng: Anti-Partisan Group) had two M42 da 75/18s and the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” (Eng: Armored Group “Lioness”) had two command tanks on M42 hulls, used to coordinate the operations of 35 M13/40, M14/40 and M15/42 medium tanks.

Italian partisans

During the strike that began on April 18, 1945 (which led to the Turin insurrection on April 25), about 12,300 workers from FIAT’s Mirafiori Turin factory occupied it by erecting barricades, digging trenches, placing machine guns and blocking entrances.

The first days of protest were calm but, on the morning of April 24, news of an impending Fascist attack arrived. The workers began to repair three armored vehicles which were in the factory to be repaired. After a few hours, they managed to find the materials and start the recovery of two M15/42s and an M42 da 75/18. At 18:00 the same day, the fascists attacked the factory with three tanks and a dozen armored cars, while the repairs on the vehicles were still underway. The workers fought tenaciously, but the tanks and an armored car (unknown models, the FIAT archives describe the enemy tanks only as “heavy”) penetrated the main courtyard of the factory, but a rain of Molotov cocktails and hand grenades made the enemy forces fall back, leaving behind a burning tank and at least three armored cars.

At 21:00, the Fascists, supported by some German soldiers, attempted a new attack, but the workers had finished building their tanks. These were supplied with ammunition and fuel. However, they were not fully repaired, missing many components. They came out of the factory at full speed, opening fire against the enemies. The Fascist and German troops withdrew, and the worker’s tanks destroyed some armored cars and a tank that tried to stop them.

They were used to defend the Porta Nuova train station of Turin from German sabotage. Other information about their service is not available, but it is known that they were paraded in Turin to celebrate the liberation of the city by the Italian partisans.
The vehicles had hammer and sickles painted on them in red to avoid friendly fire and the inscription ‘CLN’ or Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (Eng: National Liberation Committee), the committee that organized the partisan units scattered throughout central and northern Italy.

The M42 da 75/18 repaired during the strike, photo taken before the great partisan parade in Turin. Source: fotostock.com

An M42 da 75/18 self-propelled gun was used by the 7ª Divisione Partigiana Autonoma “Monferrato” (Eng: 7th Autonomous Partisan Division) which arrived in Turin on April 25, 1943, from the north. This vehicle can be distinguished by the markings “W LA MONFERRATO” and “W STALIN” on the hull and the nickname of the division commander, “Ali”, who one night captured a tank of the ‘Leonessa’ Division without the RSI forces noticing it. However, this was probably a myth created by the partisans.

On April 27, 1945, the 7ª Divisione attacked and conquered the local government area of Turin with the support of the M42 da 75/18. The Semovente is shown in more than one picture in the center of Turin together with an L3/35 captured by the RAP or the “Leonessa” Division.

An interesting detail is that the division was “autonomous”, i.e. it was not linked to any political group, unlike the Garibaldi Partisan Brigades which were mostly composed of Communists and the Matteotti Partisan Brigades which were mostly composed of Socialists. This means that the members of the division most likely painted “W STALIN” on the transmission cover just to avoid friendly fire.

The Semovente M42 da 75/18 of the 7ª Divisione Partigiana Autonoma “Monferrato” in a street in Turin after 27th April. Source: Resistenza.it

There are no other known details of usage of the Semovente da 75/18 in Milan, Genoa, and other cities of northern Italy which were freed from the Nazi-Fascist oppression in the days between April 24 and 30. In Milan, only an M43 da 75/46 and some Italian armored cars were employed by the partisans and by the Fascists and German, while Genoa only saw the use of a couple of L3/35s.

Germany

In the aftermath of the Italian surrender in September 1943, the Germans began Operation Achse (Axis) which envisaged disarming all Italian divisions in Italy and the occupied territories. The Operation began on September 8 and ended on September 19, 1943, and led to the capture of over 800,000 Italian soldiers and the capture of thousands of vehicles and military equipment. According to Thomas Jentz and Werner Regenberg in their book Panzer Tracts No. 19-2, the Germans had captured 123 vehicles on October 1, 1943, which they renamed Beute-Sturmgeschütz mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i) sometimes mentioning the M41 or M42 or mentioning the chassis of the average tank from which they were derived: M14/41 or M15/42, for example, Beute-Sturmgeschütz M15/42 mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i). On October 5, production was restarted and a further 55 M42 vehicles were produced until 1945. The Germans, however, modified them slightly, adding another spare wheel on the back of the vehicle and welding four large teeth to the frontal wheel to avoid the track slipping. Another modification that was not made on all vehicles was the replacement of the Breda Mod. 1938 (and its ammunition) with a German MG34 or MG42.

A German captured Semovente M42 da 75/18 with a German MG belt and four additional teeth welded on the wheel to avoid the track slipping. Source: beutepanzer.ru

They were employed by 16 German divisions in Italy and the Balkans: 18 were supplied to the XI. Fliegerkorps under the command of the Luftwaffe, 25 were supplied to 15. Panzergrenadier-Division. 48 divided into groups of 6 went to arm 8 Infanterie-Divisionen: 65. Infanterie-Division, 71. Infanterie-Division, 94. Infanterie-Division, 162. ‘Turkistan’ Infanterie-Division, 305. Infanterie-Division, 334. Infanterie-Division, 356. Infanterie-Division, 362.Infanterie-Division together with other Italian self-propelled guns mostly M42M from 75/34 and L40 from 47/32.

Beute-Sturmgeschütz M15/42 mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i) from the Panzerjäger Abteilung 171 (part of the 71. Infanterie-Division) abandoned in Ausonia near Frosinone, Italy, May 1944. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Another six went to the 44. Reichs-Grenadier-Division “Hoch und Deutschmeister” and to the 5. Gebirgs-Division and five others to the Panzer-Ausbildungs-Abteilung Süd which was founded in Verona, Northern Italy, in October 1943.

Beute-Sturmgeschütz mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i) abandoned during the battles for the Gustav Line. Note that on the three-tone camouflage painted in the factory before the armistice of 1943, the coat of arms of the 71. Infanterie-Division was painted on the left and the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 171 one on the right. Above the coats of arms, it can be seen that the plate of the Royal Italian Army was covered with a layer of grey paint. On the fender, you can also see a German-made jack and on the right side of the superstructure the name of the vehicle, ‘Margarete 3’. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Others were employed in unknown numbers by a Jäger-Division, 3 assault brigades, and a company of the 12. Division Panzer SS ‘Hitlerjugend’. The remaining vehicles were kept in reserve and used to replace the losses suffered by the divisions that used them.

Beute-Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i) abandoned in an Italian road near a destroyed British M4 Sherman. Source: beutepanzer.ru

After the war

After the war, a total of 62 Semovente survived, consisting of 50 M41 da 75/18s and 12 M42 da 75/18s that were reused by the Esercito Italiano (Eng: Italian Army) from 1946 to November 1955. They began to be withdrawn in 1953 when the newer and more powerful M47 Patton arrived from the United States. In 1955, they were completely withdrawn from service but remained in reserve until 1965 when they were scrapped. 21 of them were repaired by the Turin arsenal between 1945 and 1950. All the vehicles were repainted in NATO green and received more powerful N.19 radio equipment of Canadian production.

M41 of the 28ª Divisione fanteria “Aosta” in Rome during a parade, 1948. Source: modellismosalento.it
A Semovente M42 da 75/18 used after the war by the Esercito Italiano with two new radio antenna supports. It was later shown during a military exhibition restored with a desert camouflage. Wikipedia.it

Problems with the Semovente da 75/18

The Semovente da 75/18 self-propelled guns suffered from a series of problems during their time in service. Firstly, the small quantity of ammunition carried, only 44 rounds, which required the close support of vulnerable supply vehicles. The range and power of the cannon were lacking compared to the Allied self-propelled guns, such as the Priest or the Sexton, or the German Wespe, limiting its effectiveness during indirect support missions. Thirdly, they did not have a coaxial machine gun, leaving them vulnerable to infantry attacks. Fourthly, the obsolete riveted hull was weaker and heavier than a welded one. Finally, the suspension did not allow for great speed.

Semovente M40 da 75/18 with the Breda 30 machine gun in the anti-aircraft position. Photo taken in the spring of 1942 during the advance on Tobruk. Source: ComandoSupremo.com

Variants

M40, M41 and M42 Command Vehicles

The M40 command version was an M13/40 tank with the turret removed and the turret whole covered by four hatches. It was equipped with the usual Magneti Marelli RF1CA and a Magneti Marelli RF2CA radio with two inverters and eight Magneti Marelli 3NF-12-1-24 batteries. The dual 8×59 mm Breda 38 machine guns in the hull were retained, along with 1,560 rounds in five racks. A signal gun with 45 rounds was kept inside the vehicle. Each battery had eight Semovente self-propelled guns and two command tanks.

Command tank on the M40 hull used by the Italian Royal Army in Africa. Source: modellismopiù.it

This version was succeeded by the M41 command tank on the hull of the M41/41. It was armed with a 13.2×96 mm Breda Mod. 1931 heavy naval machine gun with 37 magazines. One Breda 38 machine gun with 504 rounds was mounted in an anti-aircraft position. The radio equipment remained unchanged.

The last version, the M42 command vehicle on the M15/42 hull, was meant for aerial communication and therefore equipped with the standard RF1CA station and the RF3M radio. This had a greater signal range than the RF2CA radio device. The ammunition stowage for the main machine gun remained unchanged, but the ammunition for the Breda Mod. 1931 machine gun was reduced to 20 magazines.

Semovente M40 da 75/32 and M42 75/34

Another self-propelled gun version was the M40 da 75/32, a prototype Semovente armed with a 75/32 Mod. 1937 gun with better anti-tank performance mounted on the M40 hull. This version remained a prototype and was replaced by an improved version on the M42 hull with a 75/34 cannon Mod. S.F. which needed less work to adapt for the confined space of the SPG’s hull. The longer barrel of the 75/34, along with the more powerful ammunition, increased the anti-tank performance.

M40 da 75/32 prototype with the short 75/18 barrel. Source: picclick.it

The Semovente da 75/18 on the M40, M41 and M42 hulls did show that a self-propelled gun with better armament, armor and more ammunition on board was needed. This led to the design of a new Semovente M43 hull, 10 cm lower and 20 cm wider than the M42 with the frontal armor plate 75 mm thick and with more internal space for ammunition.

One of the first M42M da 75/34 produced at the Ansaldo factory. Source: pinterest.com

Semovente M43 da 105/25

Another design, the Semovente M43 da 105/25, using the new hull, fired rounds that were more powerful than the 75 mm of the 75/18 with its 105 mm gun, but could only carry 48 shells. The German StuH 42, armed with a similar cannon, carried only 36 rounds.

One M43 da 105/25 in the Ansaldo factory with ‘continental’ camouflage. Source: pinterest.com

Even the Semovente M43 da 75/46 transported 42 rounds, but its rounds were significantly longer than those of the 75/18 howitzer. The Semovente M43 da 75/34 produced in very few numbers carried 65 rounds. They were very similar in size to the rounds of the German 7.5 cm KwK 40 tank cannon mounted on the German Panzer IV.

The M43 da 75/46 with ‘continental’ camouflage. Source: modellismopiù.it

Surviving vehicles

Out of the 288 vehicles produced, 18 Semoventi da 75/18 vehicles have survived to this day.

There are two M40 75/18s, one at the ‘Musée des Blindés’ in Saumur and the second, damaged, shown at the ‘El Alamein War Museum’ in El Alamein, Egypt.

The M40 da 75/18 at the Musée des Blindés. Source: Tank-Hunter.com

11 Semoventi da 75/18 survived, 7 used as monuments in barracks in several Italian cities such as Lecce, Rome, Maniago and Vercelli. The other four are exhibited in museums, the first at the ‘U.S. Army Ordnance Training and Heritage Center’ in Fort Lee, Virginia, United States while the others are exhibited in Italy, one at the ‘Museo della OTO-Melara’ in La Spezia, ‘Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare’ in Cecchignola near Rome and the last M41 is exhibited at the ‘Museo di Guerra per la Pace Diego de Henriquez’ in Trieste.

The M41 da 75/18 shown as a monument in the Caserma “Scalise” in Vercelli. Obviously the barrel is dummy. Source: pietredellamemoria.it

Even 4 M42 75/18s survived the war, one of them became a monument at the “Babini” Barracks of Bellinzago Novarese, headquarters of the 4th Tank Regiment. One is on display at the ‘Museo dell’Aviazione’ in Rimini while the last two are on display in monuments against the war at Lonate Pozzolo and Bergamo.

An M42 da 75/18 repainted in the usual ‘continental’ camouflage used from mid-1943 exhibited at the Museo dell’Aviazione in Rimini. Source: pinterest.com

Only one example of a Command Semovente survived. It is an M41 on display at the ‘Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare’ in Cecchignola.

The Carro Comando M41 frontal view. Source: genovaest.com

Only two vehicles are still in running conditions. These are two 75/18 M41s that have been restored, one is the one at the ‘Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare’ and the second is the one at the ‘Museo della OTO-Melara’. The first, however, is equipped with the Canadian radio system mounted on the vehicles used after the Second World War by the Italian Army, the second, having been restored in the same factory that 60 years before had built it, was repaired and repainted in 2008.

The M41 da 75/18 restored by the OTO-Melara factory with an unusual two tone camouflage. Source: ferreamole.it
The M41 da 75/18 at the Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare in Cecchignola, notice the new radio antennas. Source: pinterest.com

Conclusion

The Semoventi da 75/18 were initially developed as infantry support vehicles and to support the tanks but, having proved to be able tank destroyers, they became indispensable to fight against enemy armored vehicles.

But their production failed to supply sufficient vehicles to the Italian Army. The transformation of the medium tank hulls into Semoventi could only start in 1942 with deliveries in 1943 when the African campaign was practically lost and Italy was heading towards serious internal political problems.

Nonetheless, the variants of the Semovente da 75/18 served until the end of the war with the various parties fighting in Italy and even after the war, well into the early Cold War, although their utility at the time was doubtful at best. They provided valuable infantry support and some anti-tank capabilities to the Italian Royal Army at a time when it was in dire need of competent armored vehicles.

Carro Comando from the 557th Gruppo Assalto, Sicily, January 1943. The vehicle was later sent to Tunisia, participating in the last stand of the Italo-German forces in Africa.
A comparison between an M42 da 75/18 on the left and the M43 da 105/25 prototype on the right. Notice the sloped armor without tow hooks of the M43 and the absence of the radio antenna. Source: OTO production archives in Genoa
A group of italian soldiers along with an M41 da 75/18 of the Vincenzo Fioritto group block the road against some German soldiers. Source: corriere della sera
Semovente M40 da 75/18, Vth gun group (unit commander insignia), “Ariete” Armored Division, Bir Hakeim, May 1942. It was the first unit to see combat.
Semovente M40 da 75/18, 2nd battery, 1st group, from the Ariete Division, El Alamein, June 1942.
Semovente M41 da 75/18, Littorio division, Sicily, August 1943.
Semovente M41 da 75/18 from the 4° Reggimento Carri Armati, Rome, September 1943.
Beute-Sturmgeschütz mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i) from the 2nd Fallschirmjäger Division, Rome, October 1943.
Semovente 75/18 M42, unknown unit, place unknown, February 1943.
Beute-Sturmgeschütz mit 7.5 KwK L/18 (850)(i). All illustrations by David Bocquelet

Semovente da 75/18 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) M40 and M41: 4.92 x 2.20 x 1.85 m
M42: 5.06 x 2.20 x 1.85 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready M40: 13,1 tons
M41: 13,5 tons
M42: 15 tons
Crew 3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader/radioman)
Propulsion M40: Fiat-SPA 8T V8 diesel, water-cooled, 125 hp with 145 liters diesel tank
M41: Fiat SPA 15T V8 diesel, water-cooled 150hp with 145 liters diesel tank
M42: Fiat SPA T15B V8 petrol water-cooled 190hp with 307 liters gasoline tank
Speed M40: 33 km/h
M41: 35 km/h
M42: 39 km/h
Range M40: 215 km
M41: 210 km
M42: 200 km or 380 km with 6 20-liter jerry cans
Armament M40: Cannone da 75/18 Mod. 1934, 44 rounds and one Breda 30 (unknown number of rounds)
M41: Cannone da 75/18 Mod. 1934, 44 rounds and a 8×59 mm Breda 38 with 864 rounds
M42: Cannone da 75/18 Mod. 1934, from 44 rounds and a 8×59 mm Breda 38 with 1104 rounds
Armor M40: 25+25 mm front 25 mm sides, 11 mm rear, 15 mm roof, and 9 mm floor
M41: 25+25 mm front, 25 mm sides, 15 mm rear, 15 mm roof, and 9 mm floor
M42: 50 mm front, 35 mm sides, 20 mm rear, 15 mm roof, and 9 mm floor
Total Production M40: 60
M41: 162
M42: 66

Sources

Nicola Pignato – Semovente da 75/18.
Nicola Pignato – I mezzi blindo-corazzati italiani 1923-1943.
Nicola Pignato, Filippo Cappellano – Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, vol. II (1940-1945).
Antares – La divisione Littorio ad El Alamein.
Fiat Turin Archive
Filippo Cappellano, Nicola Pignato – Il semovente italiano da 75/18
Thomas Jentz, Werner Regenberg – Panzer Tracts No. 19-2: Beute-Panzerkampfwagen