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WW2 Italian Tank Prototypes

Ansaldo Carro da 9t

Kingdom of Italy/United Kingdom (1929-1937)
Breakthrough Tank – 1 Built

Great Britain was the first nation to deploy tanks in war. The classic ‘quasi-rhomboid’-shaped tanks were first used on the fields of France in 1916. No history of those vehicles is complete without considering the important role of the Lincolnshire-based firm of William Foster and Co. in their design and construction. Other vehicles from William Foster and Co. in WW1 (1914-1919) included the Medium Mark ‘A’ Whippet tank and the Medium Mark ‘C’ Hornet, but by the end of the war, orders for tanks had dried up. There were too many tanks available and not enough need for them, meaning that much of the skills of this firm were languishing unused or were being diverted towards civilian work. Through the interwar period (1919-1939) and especially into the early 1930s, Great Britain was still considered a world leader in tank design and production, with some highly successful designs and exports from the firm of Vickers in particular. William Foster and Co. had no such orders and were, in fact, out of the tank game almost entirely in this period. That is, until the Kingdom of Italy, a nation rearming after the crushing costs of WW1, was researching various designs with which to build a new tank arm to suit its unique needs. The vehicle designed by William Foster and Co. to meet this Italian requirement owed much to its WW1 forebears, a design for an earlier generation of armored warfare.

The need

Despite designing their own tanks in WW1, most famously the Fiat 2000, Italy had, at the end of the war, simply chosen to adopt a French tank, specifically, the Renault FT. The FT was cheap, simple, and available and compared to the large Fiat 2000, far better suited to the narrow roads and small bridges which characterized the north of Italy. More to the point, it was also going to be easier to transport to Africa to settle Italy’s colonial possessions in North Africa, where a faster tank was needed. as it could simply be carried in the back of a truck whereas the Fiat 2000 could not. The FT, therefore, was the logical choice. It was smaller, lighter, and whilst it did not carry the same firepower as the Fiat’s 65 mm gun and several machine guns, it could actually get its small 37 mm cannon or machine guns where they were needed quickly.

Compared to the 40-tonne, 8-man Fiat 2000, the 7-tonne, 2-man Renault FT was a diminutive vehicle. Lightly armed, carrying either a machine gun or a small cannon, and protected by armor up to 22 mm thick, the FT was a good balance of the need to protect the crew inside from enemy small arms fire and weight. With a top speed of 7 km/h, it was meant to be deployed ahead of the infantry to support their advance, suppress the enemy machine gun positions, etc. It was an ideal compromise for an affordable tank with which Italy could arm itself to overcome many of the problems which had plagued it during WW1.

Built under license in Italy as the Fiat 3000, the Renault FT was, despite minor improvements to the original Renault design, adequate but hardly ideal for the future. It was too slow for anything other than static warfare, too poorly armed to contend with heavily protected positions or enemy tanks, and unable to cope with the needs of a post-war military which, by 1923, now included a revolt in its Libyan possession, where a faster tank was needed.

Given the close political relationship between Italy and Great Britain, as demonstrated by its alliance with them and France in WW1, and given Britain’s pre-eminence in tank technology, it is no surprise that serious consideration was given to examining, buying, and adopting British tanks. There was, of course, a serious catch – very little money.


A 1:10 scale model of the Carro da Armato Ansaldo 9t presented to the Italian Army. Note the pair of large headlamps on the bottom corner of the casemate, at the front. This model may still exist in storage at the Military Museum in Rome.

Post-WW1 Italy was still suffering from a serious financial crisis, as it struggled to manage the costs of the war and reassert control over its former colonies. Any tank they chose, therefore, would have to be either built under license or bought outright.

During this evaluation phase for rearming, which started in 1929, vehicles examined and purchased for testing included the Vickers 6-ton tank (Type B), the Carden-Loyd Mk.V*, and the Carden-Loyd Mk.VI. The Vickers 6-ton tank was valuable in terms of size and potential, but was limited by the twin turrets and machine gun armament. The Mk.V* was inadequate for the needs of the Army, generally lacking firepower and protection, but the Mk.VI was more successful. Small and fast, it could meet the needs for a fast light tank which was easily transportable by truck as well as being maneuverable enough to operate in the Alpine region if needed. That vehicle ended up being license-built in Italy and entered service as the CV29 (Carro Veloce – Fast Tank Model 1929), but even this successful vehicle was no panacea to the needs of the Army. It simply lacked the firepower the Army needed to support infantry in an assault role capable of knocking out enemy positions. Vickers was not offering anything suitable and, at some point, the firm of William Foster’s became involved. It is not known whether they reached out to the Italians offering to design something or if the Italians reached out to them requesting a design, but, however, it came to pass, this firm was back in the tank-design game once more.

The original metal model placed over a ‘trench’ to show the capacity for breaching enemy defenses. Note that the model clearly shows a pair of rear-facing ‘machine gun’ positions, with one on each side of the rear of the casemate.
Source: Ansaldo

Timeline

The precise timeline of these events is difficult to tie down for a variety of reasons, not least of which being the fact that the two countries ended up at war with each other in 1940 and the British firm was not advertising that it had been aiding what had become a member of the Axis. The other reason for this lack of clarity is on the Italian end. This was a secret program and one which, in 1940, would have come from a foreign enemy power. To this must be added the enormous loss of archival material and records which took place during the war in Italy, especially after the armistice of 1943, the deleterious effects of time on human memory and the conflicting dates for the project.

In 1929, the company [Ansaldo] decided to send two engineers to Foster & C. Lincoln, Great Britain, in order to design a new tank without a turret. A metal model 1/10 [scale] was presented in Italy … this tank was designated ‘Carro da Armato Ansaldo 9t’, it was armed with a 65 mm gun in the casemate

The chief draughtsman (designer) for William Foster and Co., William Rigby (one of the key men behind the British T.O.G. designs of WW2), recounted in 1977 (over 40 years later) that:

In 1937, Foster designed and built a tank for Italy and I went out to the Grand Cornice to test it. It was not a development of the old tanks, it was something quite new, two Italians came over to the works and the whole thing was put under my control. It was used in the Abyssinian war. Me and my daughter went out to Venice just before this and I took an order for a 2’ 6” [0.76 m] threshing machine for Italy, they are usually 4’ 6” [1.38 m]. Then the Abyssinian war started and we were told that if we didn’t get out soon we’d not be able to, so we left quick.

The Italian invasion of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia) started in spring 1935, which suggests that, as the project for this vehicle started in 1929, it was still undergoing tests in Italy up to around January to February 1935, at least with Mr. Rigby having some involvement or oversight of the project.

Actual construction or assembly, in whole or part, likely took place at the Ansaldo factory in Italy, with construction finished in 1932. It was called ‘Carro armato da 12 tonnellate mod. 32’ (12-tonne tank model 1932) in a 1933 preliminary manual. Unveiled and accepted for trials under the designation ‘Carro armato, 9t’ (9-tonne tank), trials would begin under the direction of Centro di Studi della Motorizazione (English: Centre for the Study of Motorisation)(C.S.M.) in December 1934.

The William Foster design was dominated by a large frontal casemate for the main gun. Note that the casemate narrows at the front to the same width as the hull in this drawing.
Source: Pignato

Tests

The vehicle had been built and unveiled in 1932. The first tests of this vehicle, designated Carro da 9t M.33 (9-tonne tank Model 1933), were carried out under the supervision of the C.S.M. through December 1934. During trials, however, the vehicle was found to be unsatisfactory. The top speed was just 22.5 km/h, 3 times faster than the Fiat 3000, but still substantially slower than the CV29 and CV33 light tanks, which could manage 40 km/h.

Modifications were therefore demanded in order to increase the speed and improvements were made in the form of a new engine. In order to improve the ride, a new sprung suspension system was fitted as well in 1935. With the new suspension in place, the older side armor plates were modified to make them smaller. This would offset some of the weight gain from the new heavier engine, although it is noteworthy that a partial side armor plate remained running from the section around the front wheel and extended to about halfway back on the tank. It was bolted to the top of the original frame which held the track support rollers.

According to the account of Mr. Rigby, some of this modification work may have been taking place under his supervision or assistance until the Spring of 1935, but this cannot be substantiated from Italian records at this time. Either way, the modification process was slow and it was not until 1935 to 1937 that the work was completed and the vehicle sent back to C.S.M. for a new evaluation. By 1937 then, some 8 years or so had passed from concept to design and testing, and the needs of the Army had rapidly changed during this period. The most obvious difference to the new design from the Carro da 9t was the suspension, but this was not the first or only modification. The first major change to the design was not the tracks nor the suspension, for the old system had still worked. Instead, this change was to the casemate. The original casemate had been narrow and much squarer, forming a tight box in which the men would fight.

When the tank was reworked, the upper front plate was replaced by a new plate, wider at the top, moving from a rectangle to a trapezoid. Two additional sections of armor in a triangular shape were added to the outside of the front of the casemate, so that the sides could remain vertical. These triangles formed an angular connection from the front to the sides. This change substantially widened the fighting space inside the vehicle and produced a more pronounced overhang over the tracks, as well as a wider appearance from the front. The 3 original vertical bolt lines up this upper plate had 7 bolts each. Whilst the number of bolts in each line was the same on the new wider front casemate plate, a fourth vertical column of bolts was added on the front plate, on the far right. This was because the cradle on the inside of the plate which held the gimbal mount for the main gun was bolted in vertical lines. On the original (rectangular) front casemate plate, the right-hand side of this support frame shared bolts through the frame to create the connection with the side casemate plate. When the casemate was widened, the gimbal support frame remained in the same place, but a new row of holes had to be made for where the frame and casemate side plate would attach. The wider fighting compartment, however, ensured that there was now more space in which to operate the main gun. It would also improve the coverage around the front of the vehicle from the machine guns.

The original front aspect of the design, with three vertical columns of bolts. When the rectangular front of the casemate was replaced with a trapezoidal plate, widening the fighting chamber, it necessitated a fourth line of bolts.
Source: Ansaldo with amendments by the author

With the upper front plate of the casemate widened, it also meant replacing the roof plates to fit the new dimensions and also adding in a pair of triangular plates on each side at the front.

In this image, the new wider casemate is clearly visible along with the original closed-in suspension although the wheels already appear to be different from the original blueprint. Note that, whilst only two men are in the image, there is clearly the back of a third seat directly behind the driver’s position.
Source: Ceva and Curami.


Pictured undergoing trials after the casemate had been widened, the original suspension is still in place, showing that amongst the faults of the design was not just fightability, but also mobility.
Source: Pinterest

The Carro da 9t moves along what appears to be a rocky stream bed during off-road trials at Sciarborasca. The new casemate is in place but the original suspension remains.
Source: Ceva and Curami.
Climbing the steep rocky bank onto the road, the Carro da 9t has the widened casemate but retains the old suspension. Note the stowage box fitted within the large mudchute. The photo was probably taken during evaluations at Sciarborasca.
Source: The Tank Museum, Bovington.
Rear view of the Carro da 9t during trials on the beach at Sciarborasca. Note how much the casemate projects over the tracks and that this is clearly the later improved vehicle using the cast-type tracks.
Source: Migia.

When the suspension was modified doing away with the large side-armor, gone were the old wheels to a new system consisting of two large bogies. Each bogie had three pairs of larger rubber-tired road wheels (connected into parallel pairs with a gap between the pair), with two main pairs connected into a single suspension shoe and the third pair on a separate arm pivoting from the mount for the other two pairs. Connected to the top of this third wheel pair’s arm was a simple flat half-leaf spring system anchored above the two fixed pairs and both bogies had this third wheel pair facing inwards. The design appeared perhaps more complicated than it was but allowed for the ‘fixed’ wheel pairs to rotate about a common pivot on their mounting shoe, whilst being partially sprung. They were followed by the third wheel pair on the sprung arm for even more capacity. With the two sprung arms facing inwards, it concentrated the springing effect of the suspension over the center line of the tank, providing more stability for the fighting compartment. It appears that the lead roadwheel from the old design of suspension, which had been keeping the track from coming back into the suspension in the gap between the lead roadwheel on the ground and idler wheel, had been discarded, but the wheel at the back doing much the same purpose had been retained.

A good view of the new suspension bogies and tensioner wheel can be seen in the prototype 10-tonne tank being evaluated alongside the Carro da 9t at C.S.M. at the same time. What is not clear is whether the suspension was designed for the 10-tonne tank and then duplicated onto the Carro da 9t or vice versa. Either way, Italy had shifted from fixed rollers to a modern spring bogie system. With the Italian Army slowly modernizing at this time, vehicle names were being changed to reflect a new military concept of operations after 9th May 1936, which categorized vehicles slightly differently.

The old CV series ‘Carro Veloce’ (English: Fast tank) series of light tanks were being reclassified as ‘L’ or ‘Leggero’ (English: Light) tanks by dint of their mass, so the CV3/33 would become the L3/33, etcetera. As the Carro da 9t was still an experimental tank at this time, it is unclear what official nomenclature would have to say on the matter, as its role was clearly one for assault and breakthrough as a ‘Carro di Rottura’. It had been named (perhaps semi-formally) as the M.33. Even if ‘M.33’ was correct and official, this would have been changed when the vehicle underwent a substantial revision for the second trials, which might suggest a second ‘M’ number. For clarity, however, the vehicle which had started as Carro da 9t is more simply considered in terms of ‘early’ (original with narrow casemate and enclosed suspension), ‘intermediate’ (with widened casemate and original suspension), and ‘late’ (modified) forms. This even allows for the fact that the weight and role had changed.

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The difference in shape for the new casemate is apparent in comparing these two photographs with the original at the top, and the new, wider casemate at the bottom.

The weight of the vehicle is also important to note. Giuseppi Rosini, the lead tank designer at Ansaldo, published a paper in 1938 making clear how weight categorization of tanks should be considered. Light tanks would be those 5 tonnes and below, whilst ‘assault tanks’ – those tanks whose role was to break through enemy lines, should be 6 to 8 tonnes in weight, and heavy tanks would have to have at least 40 mm of armor whilst not exceeding 14 – 15 tonnes in weight, all whilst still being as small as possible. The 65 mm gun as fitted to the Carro da 9t was identified as one of the two ideal weapons for a heavily armored vehicle of that weight, along with a 47 mm gun. This would mean that the Carro da 9t occupied an unusual position, being a bit too heavy for the role of a breakthrough tank or ‘Carro di Rottura’ and carrying the armament of a heavy tank, but without the armor needed to be a heavy tank.

The original all-steel track with no rubber pads appears to have been of a pressed and/or welded-type construction. It was characterized by a single hole in the center of each link into which the teeth from the drive sprocket could engage to drive it. When the suspension was reworked, available photographs also show that the track was replaced. Gone was the single hole track link and instead there was a new style of all-steel track link with no rubber pad and which appears to have been cast and which had a pair of sprocket-tooth holes. This would have been necessary to allow a center guide on the link to prevent it from slipping sideways on the new road wheels and also indicates that the drive sprocket was changed from a single ring of teeth to a more modern type with a pair of rings of teeth.

The change in track had a mobility advantage too, as the single horizontal spud on the original track was replaced on the new cast track with an integrated spud, meaning that the track was able to still obtain purchase off-road on soft ground, but also would be less likely to cause damage to a hard or surfaced road, as there was no projecting spud to dig in. Other than these changes, the essential features of the track system remained as before, with it driven by the sprocket at the rear and with the track tensioner at the front on the idler.

Comparison of the original track (left) and improved track (right). Although the improved track is packed with mud it is also clearly a different design.
Source: Composite image.
The Carro da 9t on a more extreme off-road trial at Sciarborasca, where the entire right-hand side has sunk into the water. The new tracks and wider casemate indicate this is the fully updated later version.
Source: The Tank Museum, Bovington
The new form of suspension, track, and casemate is apparent in this photo of the Carro da 9t undergoing tests at the Ansaldo works. The vehicle is climbing a vertical step around 1 m high.
Source: Ansaldo
Carro da 9t post-modification, with the new sprung bogie suspension system and the enlarged casemate.
Source: Pinterest.
The 10-tonne experimental tank seen at C.S.M. during testing alongside the Carro da 9t. It featured the same arrangement of 3-wheel bogies and tensioner wheel. This vehicle underwent further modification and eventually entered service as the M11/39 (11-tonne Medium tank of 1939). With a 37 mm in the casemate and machine guns in the turret, this design solved a lot of the problems of the Carro da 9t.
Source: Pinterest.

The Design

The design of the Carro da 9t was relatively simple, although this belies some important features. The basic shape was a giant steep-fronted wedge with a small vertical nose leading to a large angular glacis. A casemate then surmounted this, forming a large 4-sided and roofed fighting compartment that projected over the track. It was narrow at the front and slowly widened as it went backwards. Whilst the front was the width of the hull, the rear was slightly wider. The back of the tank going from this casemate sloped away all the way to the back, after a small step down from the roof. The sloping section was slightly narrowed right at the top before widening out to the width of the hull. In this space at the back of the casemate would be two weapon mounts. Thanks to the sloping rear, these could combine to provide complete machine gun coverage behind the tank.


Layout showing blue for the mechanical section with the engine green and transmission to final drives pink. The fighting compartment is yellow and primary armament bright blue. Note that on this blueprint there are clearly just 8 roadwheels. Source: Pignato amended by author.

The entire structure was bolted internally, not riveted, to a steel frame, in much the same manner as a WW1 British tank, except that these bolts could be undone as required to remove plates. Two full-length tracks and the suspension lay behind full height side armor plates along both sides. A single Tritton-patent (Sir William Tritton, – Director of William Foster and Co.) mud-chute was present so that the inside of the track run (covered with armor) would not become clogged with mud. The track itself was exposed all of the way around the track run, with no provision at all for a track guard to prevent mud being thrown up onto the top of the tank, although the sides of the casemate did partially overhang the tracks. In this way, parallels can be drawn between this design and the 1916 design for what became the Medium Mark A ‘Whippet’, where an exposed track run clad in armor and with mud clearance chutes ran along the sides of the tank. On the Medium Mark A ‘Whippet’, there was provision for a canvas mudguard to be fitted, suspended from inverted ‘L’ shaped brackets projecting from the front and rear of the tank on each side. No such provision seems to have been made for this design, but mud would later not be able to cover the side of the casemate, as it projected over the track. The wide part of the casemate actually worked as a mudguard in this way. Behind the casemate, however, mud would still be liable to be thrown up over the grilles, into the side of the raised hull rear and exhausts.

Original form of the Carro da 9t with the narrow-fronted casemate, shielded suspension, and plate steel tracks.
Source: Ceva and Curami.

Exhaust from the engine would be vented out of the right and left-hand sides of the rear hull and carried all of the way to the back of the tank, ensuring no fumes could come back into the troop space and interfere with the crew. Atop the casemate was a single large rectangular hatch that slid backward. On the left and right sides of the casemate were large rectangular access hatches. both of which opened forwards and were fitted with ball mounts for machine guns. Finally, on the front face of the casemate was the primary firepower for the design, with a single machine gun ball mount and a large ball mount for a cannon, along with a small rectangular hatch for the driver low down on the front left of the casemate. During the post trials rework, the casemate was expanded and changed shape.

The original frontal aspect of the design presented a narrow aspect to the enemy and was dominated by the large gimbal mounting for the main gun. Note that this view clearly shows that the original casemate narrows at the front to the width of the hull, matching the schematics.
Source: Ansaldo.
The unusual step in the sloping rear deck is readily apparent in this image showing the well angled lines of the original casemate.
Source: Ansaldo.

Engine

The arrangement of the automotive parts is perhaps the most intriguing part of the design. Instead of this being a manufactured (welded, bolted, or riveted) hull with the engine and gearbox then fitted into the vehicle separately, on this design, the whole package came as one. Two steel girders would run longitudinally along the inside length of the hull from the front, where the driver would sit and operate the vehicle by means of a pair of brake levers. The driver had a simple pair of pedals for his feet and a pair of gear levers for controlling engine speed and the transmission. The engine lay directly in line, a short distance behind the driver, once more attached to this frame, and was connected directly to a mechanical transmission and final drives at the back. Again, all of this was attached to this same framework and this meant that, with the necessary parts of the rear upper armor removed, the entire automotive assembly could, in theory, be removed in one piece. In modern terms, this idea is similar to the ‘powerpack’ on an MBT, where the engine and the transmission are removed as a single piece for ease and speed of maintenance. This is nothing new in the 21st century, but was certainly novel thinking in the 1920s and 1930s. This idea would actually crop up once more from the design team at William Foster years later, with their work on the T.O.G. tanks in 1940, but was otherwise outside of the mainstream of tank designs until after WW2.

The engine originally fitted was a V6 provided by Carraro but was found inadequate during testing. Compared to a fast light tank like the CV33 which could manage 40 km/h, this machine would be left behind and improvements to the automotive plant were ordered although once more details of the replacement engine are unclear other than that it was a more powerful diesel engine.


Two views of the automotive framework system for the tank, with the final drives and transmission at the back, engine in the centre, and steering controls at the front. Source: Ansaldo

The offset for the driver’s position on this framework is more apparent when viewed from the front. The space to his right of the driver would be occupied by the ammunition rack for the main gun.
Source: Ansaldo

Suspension

Even though the side plates on the tank preclude seeing much of what lay behind, it is clear from the arrangement of the automotive framework that the drive was delivered to the rear of the tank. The track was supported at the top by 3 return rollers hidden by the side armor plates. The weight of the tank was originally to be carried onto the tracks by 8 small road wheels directly under the body of the tank, with two more behind to support the track when the vehicle sank slightly into soft ground and a further wheel in front of the main set of wheels which also served to keep the track in place. In total, 11 wheels ran along the bottom of the track run and, in keeping with William Foster designs, as the vehicle sank into soft ground, more of the track would come into contact with the ground to improve floatation. The effect of this slight upturn meant that only 8 wheels were bearing the weight on a hard surface and the effect is subtle to see in period photographs, but it also provided the advantage of the vehicle being able to ‘slew’ (turn) more easily.


Blue shows the ground contact length when on a hard surface and Red indicates sections that come in contact with the ground as the vehicle sinks into a soft surface.
Source: Pignato and amended by Author

Sadly, the details of any springing system are unclear due to the side plates. With the large void of the mud chute above them, there was no space for vertical springs. Indeed, the arrangement on the original design would appear to indicate that there was no suspension at all other than any cushioning effect from the wheels and track. It is not even clear if the wheels were simple rollers or if they were fitted with some kind of rubber tyre. Either way a fixed system would make sense, given that the Medium Mark A ‘Whippet’ was made in a very similar way with the wheels fixed into Timken bearings. Finally, at the front of the suspension was a British style track tensioner screw – again – in the same manner as that used on the Whippet.

Side view of the front-engined Medium Mark A ‘Whippet’, also from William Foster and Co. The means of track tensioner, fighting casemate, and mud chutes are all distinctive features shared with the initial Carro da 9t design.
Source: IWM

A close examination of the available photographs for the vehicle during development show that the original suspension appears to have been changed from that initial 8 + 2 fixed wheel system to a spring-based system with 9 or possibly 10 wheels all positioned slightly behind a fixing point on the side armor suggesting the side armor point is the end of a pivot for an arm on which the wheels were mounted. That, in turn, suggests the springing system employed was a vertical coiled spring and with tensioning wheels between these suspension road wheels and the idler and sprocket.

Seen in side view, the relatively low profile of the design is apparent, along with the distinctive side armor plates over the suspension. The large mudchute is interrupted only by the large stowage box roughly centrally on the length of the tank.
Source: Ansaldo

With the engine and casemates edited out, the similarities of design on the track systems are readily apparent for the British Medium Mark A Whippet (top) and the Carro da 9t (bottom).Note the position of the wheels in the bottom image in relation to the mounting points ahead of them on the side armour.
Source: Composite image
Scheme taken from Sir William Tritton’s patent of 1919 for improved armor within a suspension system for a tank. Pink is the top and bottom of a track run, whilst blue is the side of the hull. Green is the angled plate within the run which provides additional armor protection to the hull side and also serves to move mud falling from the top tracks out and away from the tank.
Source: Adapted from British Patent GB126671
Front ¾ view of the Carro da 9t shows to good effect the side armor plating over the suspension. In this image, the mudchute has been removed, as has the side stowage box. This view clearly shows that there is no vertical spring system installed in the space behind the angled plate. Note that this is clearly the reworked casemate, as distinguished by it being wider, overhanging the new tracks, and characterized by the addition of triangular sections on each front corner. Also note the early production CV3/33 to the left of the shot.
Source: Ansaldo

Crew

At least two crew were needed for the tank, with one man necessary to do all of the driving from his seated position low down in the front left of the tank. His vision was limited to just straight ahead, either through the rectangular hatch or, in combat, with the hatch closed, through a single vision slit in the hatch. No vision slits were provided in the sides of the casemate for the driver, so, for additional information, he would have been dependent upon the commander or other crew members. A single wide vision slit transected the driver’s rectangular hatch in the front so he could see out whilst under fire and a second, smaller slit was provided in the front above the machine gun mount. Additional vision slits were provided in the rest of the casemate above the other ball mounts with the exception of the main gun. A second crew member was the operator for the main gun on the right hand side of the cab. In order to keep the breech clear, for his own safety, or to load, he may have simply had to stand to the left of the gun, approximately in the centre-line of the casemate.

The main gun mount featured a large sighting optic to the left which could be fixed to move with the main gun within the ball mounting. It is likely that there would have been a third crew member who would have been tasked with operating the front machine gun which was likely removable, so it could be used in one of the other mountings as needed. Whether this crewmember or the one with the main gun would be the vehicle commander is unclear, but given the very low visibility for the man on the left, with just three small vision slits, it seems more likely that the main gun operator, with the large moveable optic, was a better choice, even if operating the gun and commanding was not an optimal combination of roles.

The ammunition rack, located on the front right, alongside the driver, was below and forward of the gun breech, which would have made reloading by the commander awkward. It is likely that the second man would act as a loader when not busy with the machine guns or, when static, these would simply be passed to the gunner by the driver.

Contemporary artist’s side view inside the Carro di 9t. It clearly shows the original form of small wheel suspension, but also just two crewmembers, with one wearing a very non-standard and rather Buck Rogers’ style tankie helmet, similar to some helmet experiments being carried out for the Italian Army at the time. Also of note is that this drawing clearly shows just 7 road wheels.
Source: Miglia

The commander had no specific optical devices on the roof to assist in observing his surroundings but would have been able to see sideways through the vision slits in the machine gun ball mounts, as well as forward using the telescope on the main gun or by eye through the vision slits. If needed, although hazardous in combat, he would also have been able to observe the enemy out of the roof hatch, although this would also mean he would be unable to operate any of the tank’s weapons at the time. The only available photograph of the tank with a crew also only shows two men, so this appears to confirm the tank had only a crew of two.

Armament

Firepower was an important consideration for this tank design, as it would need to not only tackle defensive positions for its breakthrough role, but also enemy infantry. The infantry-killing part of the armament was managed by means of five machine gun ball mounts, with one placed on the upper left side of the casemate, another two in each of the side doors, and two in the rear of the superstructure. No machine gun was mounted on the roof, as was common at the time on Italian tanks. Lacking a turret, the tank also had to rely on the pair of ball mounts in the rear of the casemate, or pull a machine gun from the front or side mount and deploy it out of the roof hatch by hand to cover the rear.

As the sides of the casemate were actually sloping forward slightly, the ball mounts there could deliver limited fire at perhaps as much as 45 degrees to the front as well as across both sides, at the price of a little coverage to the rear.

Looking into the tank with the original casemate, as seen through the left-hand side access hatch. This provides a clear view of the breech of the main gun, as well as the fighting space. For just two men, this would have been relatively spacious. Note that the telescope is clearly not fixed to the main gun and can be moved independently in the vertical axis. This photo also clearly shows the method of manufacture was mixed bolting and riveting, with the main armor sections bolted together onto a metal frame and the lower hull all riveted. Rivets are also used for smaller features within the bolted panels.
Source: Ansaldo

An ammunition rack for the main gun was provided in the front right of the hull, alongside the driver. It was angled upwards toward the inside to facilitate the shells being retrieved and used by the operator. With a capacity of 35 rounds, the rack was also notable in that it was a metal shielded rack to protect the shells from spall from the armor, but is not fitted with protective doors over the back of the shell casings. Looking inside the original casemate, it is clear as to why it was widened. There was simply insufficient side space available for either the main gun to be rotated to the left, where operation of the breech would be impinged by the sidewall, and for the machine gun on the front left being turned to the right. Space under the crew seating in the back of the casemate would allow for crates of additional ammunition to be carried. Historian Fulvio Miglia places the total ammunition capacity at 80 rounds for the main gun, along with 3,000 rounds of machine gun ammunition although is likely a guestimation based on the dedicated rack and storage space.

Photographed through the sliding roof hatch down into the fighting compartment, the driver’s seat can be seen down on the left-hand side. The breech of the 65 mm gun, with its telescopic sight, dominates the compartment. Next to it is the forward-facing machine gun in its own mount. Two seats appear to be visible at the very bottom left and right of the photo, meaning another two crew in the fighting chamber. Note that this photo shows that the expansion of the casemate was not done in order to fit a third man, as this is the original casemate shape.
Source: Ansaldo
Plans for the 65 mm mounting in the Carro da 9t dated 1930, clearly written as “Carro d’Assalto”. The small size of the weapon is readily evident, as is the rear protrusion into the fighting chamber, showing it could be mounted and operated with a man behind it. The sighting optic to the left of the gun is not shown in this image.
Source: Miglia
The main gun in its large hemispherical gimbal mounting as shown on a test rig. The outer part of the ball can rotate left or right and, inside this, is the second smaller dome fixed to the gun and mounted to the outer portion by horizontal trunnions, allowing for vertical movement.
Source: Miglia
Seeing inside the casemate via the right-hand access door shows a rather spacious, albeit spartan interior dominated by the periscope and breach for the main gun.
Source: Miglia

The 65 mm gun to be fitted was not, as might have been expected, the 65 mm L/17 Turin Arsenal M.1910/M.1913 mountain gun which had been fitted to the Fiat 2000 a generation earlier, and which was still in service with the Italian Army. In 1926, that gun had been removed from its role as an infantry support gun and passed to the mountain troops due to its compact size and weight. Despite its age, it was still an effective weapon for throwing a high explosive shell out to 6.5 km. That gun remained in service even through WW2 but, at 17 calibers (1.15 m) long, this was not the gun fitted in the Carro da 9t. The surviving drawings for the gun show the weapon to be substantially shorter than 17 calibers. Measuring pixels off the drawing, it is approximately 7 (measured as 6.8) calibers from muzzle to breech. The drawing also shows only a single type of ammunition as a solid shot, which would have been of little use against a fortified position, where an explosive shell was needed.

Pixel counting gives approximate dimensions for the gun. A very short-barrelled 65 mm piece.
Source: Miglia as amended by the author

On the 65 mm L/17 gun, the high explosive shell was supplemented by two types of shaped charge shells, all of which were useful against armored or protected targets, but also an armor-piercing shot as well. That 4.23 kg shell was limited to an effective range of just 500 m and these shells were fired at between 320 and 355 m/s. With a shorter barrel, it could be expected that this 65 mm gun would have an even lower velocity. This would make no difference to the effect of a high explosive shell other than flight time to the target, but would impact the effectiveness of any use of the solid AP shell for anti-armor work. Assuming 65 mm shells from the 65 mm mountain gun, which were plentiful in Italian Army supplies through the period, were compatible with this one, then ammunition options would include high explosive (HE), shrapnel, canister, armor-piercing (AP), and ‘Effetto Pronto’ (rapid effect) shaped charge shells.

The gun is, however, a confusing issue. Whilst the model and indeed the plans both show this very short-barrelled 65 mm gun (~7 calibers), the gun as fitted on the constructed vehicle is clearly longer than this.

The model (top left) and the Ansaldo blueprint (top right) do not match the actual gun fitted (bottom).
Source: Composite image

The 65 mm Model 13 mountain gun was 17 calibers long and was available, but this is also clearly too long to be the gun that was mounted in the casemate. This leaves open the question of exactly what the gun was. It might be suggested that the gun was a cut-down version of the M.13, but the breech of that cannon does not match either the available drawing or photographs. The gun as fitted is assumed to be between 7 and 13 calibers long and estimated as an L10 caliber gun.

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

Interior photographs of the Carro da 9t prior to it being rebuilt with a wider casemate appear to show a Fiat-Revelli Model 1926 machine gun. A 6.5 mm caliber weapon, the gun was fed from a 20 round box-type magazine from the left-hand side. On a ground mount, the machine gun came with an unusual crutch-shaped stock, but this was unnecessary in the fixed ball mount, so was not fitted.

These views of the machine fitted in the casemate prior to the rebuild show what appears to be a Fiat Model 1926 6.5 mm machine gun.
Source: Composite image
Seen during Italian trials, the tank has the driver’s vision flap wide open and the right-hand side door also appears unfastened, presumably to help with ventilation.
Source: Pinterest
Two Italian ‘Carristi’ (English: ‘tankies’) with the Carro di 9t during trials in Italy. Note that the vehicle is still fitted with the full side plates over the 9-wheel suspension.
The use of the side-entry hatch would still be a feature of Italian medium tanks through the war.

Armor

Exact specifications for the Carro da 9t armor are not known but, between photographic evidence, logic, and the protection requirements, estimates can be made. The Medium Mark A Whippet had armor up to 14 mm thick – sufficient to keep out bullets from rifles and machine guns, but not cannon fire. Rosini, in his 1938 paper, notes that at least 40 mm was needed to provide protection from 20 mm cannon fire and the 10-tonne to 11-tonne M11/39 settled on 30 mm for the front and 14.5 mm for the hull sides. Clearly, 40 mm could not be achieved on even the front of the Carro da 9t and given its weight of 9 tonnes. The 3-tonne CV3 series of light tank had 14 mm on the front, going down to 8 mm on the sides. The Carro da 9t would clearly need to have at least that level to be viable. It is logical that the sides of the Carro da 9t at least roughly matched the M11, at around 14 mm, as less than this would render the vehicle vulnerable to fire from the flanks.

The thickness of the side casemate armor is apparent in this image.
Source: Ansaldo

The Lessons from Spain

The original project had been for little more than a new powerful tank to refight much of the experiences of WW1, but times and weapons had changed dramatically in the years since 1919. Italy had gone into the Spanish Civil War with outdated equipment. One of the key lessons from the Italian involvement in that war was the need for a tank to have a turret. The Italian CV3 series light tanks (derived from the CV29) had been used and found to be outclassed by the Soviet-supplied T-26, a tank ironically derived from the Vickers 6-ton, which had been rejected by Italy in the early 1930s.

During this time, other developments for tank design had taken root in Italy with the 1935 requirement for a tank capable of operating in the mountainous north of the country, weighing just 8 to 9 tonnes. In this sense, the Carro da 9t can be seen as less desirable as a design to be pursued for mass production.

Pictured during testing, the Carro da 9t shows the side armor skirts have been removed, exposing the modified suspension. The vehicle on the left is the 10t experimental vehicle which would become the M11/39 and was emblematic of Italy’s struggle to move from casemated tanks to ones with the primary weapon in the turret.
Source: Pignato

By the end of the 1930s, the Carro da 9t formed part of the lessons being adopted by Ansaldo for how to arm tanks. Putting all of the firepower in a casemate was problematic in terms of where firepower could be delivered, but it did produce a low-profile tank.

The two armament mounts of the Carro da 9t, as drawn in 1938, showing the influence of this vehicle was still being felt even if this method of weapons mounting was considered obsolete.
Source: Rosini

A final chance?

The Carro da 9t did not go anywhere in Italy. By the time it was finished, tested, trialed, and modified, a better option was available in the form of the 10-tonne/M11/39 project. Still carrying a cannon in the hull (albeit a 37 mm and not a 65 mm or 47 mm piece) and with a turret for all-around machine gun coverage on a smaller profile vehicle with better suspension, it was better in almost every way than the Carro da 9t. What had started as a design in 1929 for a tank of the 1920s was, by the mid-1930s, a dead end. By the time the Italians had finished testing it, it was little more than a testbed from which to draw lessons in vehicle design and weapons, so it is perhaps surprising that this was not the end of the road for the design.

In 1940, Sir Albert Stern, best known as chairman of the Special Vehicle Development Committee (S.V.D.C.), who worked closely with Sir William Tritton and William Rigby, offered this design to the British Tank Board. Quite why this design was even mentioned is unclear in the context of conversations outside the recorded minutes of the meeting. The design in no way met any of the criteria for a tank the Board wanted, so it can only be speculated that it was simply as a concept for how a bigger gun could be put onto a smaller vehicle as some kind of casemated mounting. Either way, the idea was not entertained, and using this design was not mentioned again.

Conclusion

If the goal at the end of the 1920s had been for a small light tank capable of penetrating enemy lines, then the design from William Foster and Co. was hopeless for that. Heavier than the Renault FT it was to replace, it had barely more armor and was, in effect, still a WW1 era design. The vehicle was never going to square the circle of conflicting needs for a light breakthrough tank. The development and testing took so long that events outside Italy simply rendered it obsolete before it was finished. Italy was going to need a turreted tank with a good gun, but what it was left with after the failure of this project was little more than the starting point for another obsolescent tank, the M11/39. The failure to invest in the interwar period and the lack of industrial capacity to make up that shortfall in the years running up to WW2 meant that Italy entered the war with a stock of outdated vehicles and struggled continuously to get a modern vehicle to the men who needed it. In an era of military cutbacks in vehicle design and development, lessons from this era and what happened to Italy should serve as a reminder for what happens when you fail to invest or prepare.

The Ansaldo Carro da 9t seen from the side. Illustration by Pavel “Carpaticus” Alexe

Specifications Carro da 9t
Crew: at least 2, but probably 3 (driver, primary gunner/commander, machine gunner)
Dimensions: 4.9 m long, 1.8 m wide, 2 m high.
Ground clearance: 0.37 m
Weight: 9 tonnes
Armament: 65 mm, 2 machine guns (6.5 mm Fiat-Revelli Model 1926)
Ammunition: 80 rounds (65 mm), 3,000 rounds (machine gun)
Engine: Unidentified diesel engines.

Sources:

British Patent GB126671, Improvements in and relating to armor plating. Filed 2nd February 1917, granted 22nd May 1919.
Cappellano, F., Battistelli, P. (2012). Italian Light Tanks. Osprey Publishing, UK
Cappellano, F., Battistelli, P. (2012). Italian Medium Tanks. Osprey Publishing, UK
Curami, L., & Ceva, A. (1994). La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano. Arte Della Stampa, Italy.
Finazzer, E., Riccio, R. (2015). Italian Artillery of WW2. MMP Books, UK
Kosar, F. (1974). Light Fieldguns. Ian Allen Publishing, UK
Lane, M. (1997). The Story of the Wellington Foundry, Lincoln. Privately Published, UK
Miglia, F. (1978). Il Carro di Rottura da 8 ton.
Pignato, N., Cappellano, F. (2002). Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano. Ufficio Storico delle SME, Italy
Pignato, N. (2005). I mezzi blindo-corazzati italiani 1923-1943. Albertelli, Italy
Pignato, N. (2001). Italian Medium Tanks in action. Squadron/Signal Publications, USA
Pullen, R. (2003). The Landships of Lincoln. Tucann Design and Print, UK
Rosini, G. (1938). L’Armamento dei Carri Armati. Reprinted (2021). FWD Publishing, USA
Stern, A. (circa 1940). Notes of presentations to Tank Board circa 1940.
TM 9-1985-6 and TO 39B-1A-8 ‘Italian and French Explosive Ordnance’ US Military March 1953
William Foster Co. Ltd. archival papers (various)

Categories
WW2 Italian Tank Prototypes

CV3/33 Pre-Series

Kingdom Of Italy (1932-1933)
Light Tank – 4 Built

Following the successful tests of the Ansaldo Prototype Light tank in 1930 and 1931, the new suspension system, replacing the original rigid-wheel type, had shown itself to be robust and the tank had fulfilled the needs for armor and mobility. The Regio Esercito (Italian Army) would be getting these new light tanks to replace the CV29’s which had only ever been a temporary solution to the lack of a fast tank. First, though, a small number of this tank had to be made for acceptance trials. These new tanks would involve small changes from the 1931 Light Tank Prototype and, by the end of 1933, it was accepted into production as the Carro Armato Veloce Ansaldo (Ansaldo Fast Tank) of 3 tonnes, or ‘CV3’ for short. It is also often referred to as the CV33, not because it weighs 33 tonnes, but for the year of adoption. For ease of understanding the complex evolution of this vehicle which underwent numerous changes through its life, it is also sometimes classified as being the ‘CV3/33’ (Carro Veloce 3 tonne, 1933 Model) as a convenient way of distinguishing it from later models.

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

Trials and Development

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

Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype (left) compared to the Pre-Series CV3/33 vehicle (right) showing the changes to the front of the tank. Source: Ceva and Curami, and Pignato respectively

Layout Changes

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

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

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

Pre-series CV3/33 without its armament fitted during trials in Lazio in 1933. Source: Tallillo and Guglielmi

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

Ansaldo CV3/33 Pre-Series production vehicle. The framework on the back is a tripod for the machine gun. Source: Falessi and Pafi

Mobility and Suspension

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

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

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

Conclusion

The 1932 ordered pre-series CV3 vehicles were a critical step in the development of the CV3, as they marked the conclusion of prototype trials and the final outlay of the engine bay, with the exception of the air vents which had to be moved following trials. The development process had gone fairly quickly for a tank, taking just 3 years from CV29 to the construction of the pre-series CV3/33. Trials in July 1933 had shown a few minor problems, such as the new headlamps being fouled or damaged by undergrowth, and the large vulnerable side vents in the casemate, but the design was successful and was formally adopted as Italy’s new light tank known as the Carro Armato Veloce Ansaldo. With the changes for the first production, the Series I CV3 approved, an initial order for 240 examples was ordered.

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

One of the Pre-Series CV3 vehicles being used circa 1942 for driver training as indicated by the markings on the front and side ‘SCUOLA GUIDA’ (Driving School). The armament has been removed and the vehicle is showing the positions of the related headlamps and toolbox as adopted for the Series I production vehicles. Source: Private collection
A pre-series CV33 in red primer colors.
Illustration of the CV3 preseries showing the peculiar under-track toolbox. Illustration by Adrielcz, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Pre-Series CV3/33 Light Tank specifications

Dimensions 3.15 m long, 1.4 m wide, 1.287 m high
Total weight, battle ready 3.1 tonnes
Crew 2 (Commander/Machine Gunner, Driver)
Propulsion 2.745 litre 43 hp Fiat CV3-005 4-cylinder petrol
Speed est. 40 km/h road, 14 km/h off-road
Armament Single Fiat Model 1914 air-cooled 6.5mm Machine Gun (tipo aviazione)
Armor 8-14 mm
Total production 1 built
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Sources

Italie1939-45.com
Pignato, N, Cappellano, F. (2002). Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento Dell’Esercito Italiano V.2. Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito
Curami, L., Ceva, A. (1994). La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano. Arte Della Stampa

Categories
WW2 Italian Tank Prototypes

Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype 1931

Kingdom of Italy (1929-1930)
Light Tank – 1 Built

Following tests in 1930 with a new and improved light tank to replace the interim CV29, changes had to be made to the vehicle to improve mobility. Ansaldo had made the prototype in 1930 copying the general arrangement of the CV29, which was, in turn, a copy of the Carden Loyd Mark VI light tank. The 1930 vehicle had improved armor by virtue of a proper roof plate and better suspension than the CV29, but it was still not acceptable. The armament was light, just a single Fiat Model 1914 water-cooled 6.5 mm machine-gun, and whilst that would be changed later, the priority was to achieve better mobility by focusing on the suspension system.

The 1930 Light Tank Prototype was modified and from the few available photographs and records on the project, the evolution from CV29 to CV3 Series vehicles can be traced directly through this 1930 vehicle modified into the 1931 model.

Ansaldo 1931 Light Tank Prototype

Trial and Development

With the lessons from the trials of the CV29 and the 1930 Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype available, the evolution of the CV3 had moved significantly in just a couple of years. The 1930 trials of the Light Tank had been promising, and new trials were ordered for 1931. Giuseppe Rossini, the engineering brains behind the designs at Ansaldo, took this knowledge and experience and replaced the suspension on the 1930 vehicle. It is not clear whether the suspension was changed from the 1930 vehicle to the 1931 vehicle first and then was copied over onto the Ansaldo Light Tractor (for hauling field guns) or vice versa, or indeed if it was done simultaneously, but regardless, the old suspension was gone and a new, improved system fitted.

Layout

As this 1931 vehicle was simply the 1930 vehicle with modifications, it retained the all-welded upper bodywork with bolting and riveting kept to the lower sections. The armament remained weak however, as it retained the same single Fiat model 1914 6.5 mm water-cooled machine-gun mounted behind a large, curved mounting on the front left. This would still be operated by the commander/gunner with the driver sitting on the front right. Movement for the machine-gun was acceptable as it was able to move 20 degrees in each direction horizontally and could be elevated between -12 and +18 degrees, thus permitting a wide field of fire. An estimated 3,800 rounds could have been carried, but as it was a prototype, this is not definitive and is merely an estimate based on the loadout of the CV3/33 when it was eventually finished.

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility and Suspension

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

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

The power source for the vehicle is not known for certain, although it is possible, albeit unlikely, that it was still using the same 2.9-litre Ford Model T petrol engine as was being used in the CV29. That engine produced just 20-22 hp for a vehicle over a tonne lighter. Performance for the 1931 Prototype is not known but had it been using this Ford engine it would have been totally unsatisfactory mobility wise, meaning it is far more likely to have had the same Fiat CV3-type 4 cylinder petrol engine as was later adopted for the production vehicles. That 2.745-litre engine received various improvements and modifications to improve the power output. As the production engine in the formally adopted CV3/33 delivered 43 hp, it is a reasonable assumption to place the engine output for the 1930 prototype at or about 43hp. In this case, this would have enabled to the tank to manage about 40km/h on a road and about 14 km/h off-road.

Conclusion

The 1931 Prototype with the improved suspension was still not perfect but was superior to its earlier (1930) form and significantly better in every regard than the CV29 which had been made as an interim tank whilst this new tank was developed. The Fiat model 1914 water-cooled 6.5 mm machine-gun was still not ideal, but that was to be a relatively simple thing to change. The design for the new tank had been set. Able to be transported by truck and capable of good mobility even in mountainous terrain, it was all that had been asked for and, save for the use of a turret, was an ideal light tank. The new suspension was still not perfect but had been sufficiently improved over the rigid 1930 system to form the basis for a new production tank for the army.

The design was thus selected for mass production with a few minor changes and standardized as the Carro Veloce 33 (CV33). This vehicle, throughout a life of modifications and variants, would be Italy’s most widely produced armored vehicle of WW2.



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

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.17 x 1.4 x 1.28 meters
Total weight, battle ready 3.2 tonnes
Crew 2 (driver, commander/machine-gunner)
Propulsion 40-43hp Fiat CV3 petrol
Top speed 40km/h road, 14 km/h off-road
Armament: x1 Fiat Model 1914 Water-Cooled 6.5 mm Machine-Gun
Armor 8 – 14 mm
Total Production 1

Sources

Italie1939-45.com
Pignato, N, Cappellano, F. (2002). Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento Dell’Esercito Italiano V.2. Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito
Curami, L., Ceva, A. (1994). La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano. Arte Della Stampa


Categories
WW2 Italian Tank Prototypes

‘Rossini’ CV3 Light Tank Prototype

Kingdom Of Italy (~1935)
Light Tank – 1 Built

Giuseppe Rossini was the engineering brains behind the Ansaldo Carro Veloce (Ansaldo Fast Tank) projects. In 1930 and 1931, he had created a prototype based loosely on the general arrangement of the CV29, which, in turn, was copied from the Carden Loyd Mark VI Light Tanks purchased from Great Britain in 1929. Throughout 1930 and 1931, that design had been refined and tested, which resulted in the 2-1-1-2 bogie suspension system seen on production CV3 series vehicles from the model of 1933 to the model of 1935.

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

Hull

This new vehicle was using the same welded steel hull, with armor ranging from 8mm to 14mm, as in the CV3/33 Series I Light Tank (the Series I being distinguished by the air intake for the engine being located centrally at the back of the casemate, flanked by two rectangular hatches which could be opened from inside). Based on the use of this hull (which was discontinued in 1934 when production switched to the Series II vehicles), this would appear to date the design between 1932 and 1934. It is possible, however, that Rossini was simply experimenting with an older body that had been discontinued after this date. By 1935, production had switched from welding the casemate to a bolted structure, so the estimated likely date range is kept at 1932 to 1935 for this reason. The rest of the casemate retained the features of the CV3/33 Series I production tank, with the same flush-fitting mudguards and casemate mounted headlamps.

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

Suspension

Other than the obvious addition of a turret, the most significant change to the vehicle was the new suspension system. The normal CV3/33 used the standard 2-1-1-2 suspension consisting of bogies connected and held together by a stiff outer steel bar. The movement of the wheels was thus limited, which reduced off-road performance. A new type of coiled spring suspension was tested at around this time on a Series I Production CV3/33 and showed that the wheels had a wider range of movement than the bogies which were held rigidly in place by a horizontal bar.

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


‘Rossini’s’ CV3 prototype showing the effectiveness of the new suspension system. Source: Ansaldo

Turret and Armament

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

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

Side view of the modified CV3 showing the turret and new 4-wheel suspension system. Source: Ansaldo

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

The roof of the turret was formed from a single steel hatch opening backward, but when closed, actually sloped forwards slightly. The exact armament is not clear. Rossini demonstrated his vehicle fitted with just a single machine gun of an unknown type, possibly the Fiat M26 or M28 (experimental) 6.5 mm machine guns, although whether a different machine gun was planned is unknown as the 6.5 mm Fiat Model 1914 (tipo aviazione) was already known to be insufficient. With added space inside the tank, it is also likely that there was sufficient room in which to store more ammunition in addition to the 2,320 rounds carried in the Series II vehicle. Photographic evidence shows one extremely useful feature of the design, which was that the machine gun could actually be withdrawn by the commander/gunner and, with the turret roof open, mounted pointing upwards as a defence against low flying aircraft. None of the CV3 vehicles had, to this point, any capacity for protection against aircraft whatsoever, and a single 8 mm anti-aircraft machine gun was as much as most Italian tanks in WW2 had a few years later, so the flexibility of the firepower on offer was excellent.

Questions arise as to why the fitting of a 20 mm cannon, such as the 20 mm Breda (20/65 Breda M35), was not attempted, although it is possible that it was considered. Without the original paperwork for the development, designer’s notes, or blueprints though, it can only be speculated. Should such a weapon have been considered however, it would have been a significant increase in firepower, providing just what the Italian troops fighting with Franco’s Nationalists had really needed in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). During that war, the Italian machine gun armed tanks were mostly ineffective against the Soviet-supplied T-26 tanks of the Spanish Republic. Ironically, the Italian Breda 20 mm cannon, being the ideal weapon against the T-26, was mounted on another light tank during that war, the German Panzer I, and on an Italian CV3 Series vehicle for exactly this purpose.


Illustration of the Rossini CV3 light tank prototype. Illustrated by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.


Conclusion

Very little is known about this development. At a time when the CV3/33 Series II was either starting production or in production, this design was a significant improvement over that tank in all areas from enhanced mobility on and off-road, better visibility, to improved firepower. Even retaining the same CV3-005 43 hp petrol engine of the Series I and II vehicles, this tank would have had comparable performance in terms of speed, combined with beneficial features, such as greater cross-country ability, better visibility and more flexibility in terms of firepower.

Modified CV3 showing the elevated position of the main armament for use as an anti-aircraft gun. Source: Ansaldo
It was to come to nothing, however. The potential of this vehicle was never realized, as the development of the CV3 continued into 1935 and other schemes for a light, turreted tank began. Those plans would improve on the Series I’s suspension as well, but never again was the CV3 series vehicle to have this big-wheel suspension system fitted.

Sources

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

‘Rossini’ CV3 Light Tank Prototype specifications

Dimensions 3.167 x 1.4 x ~1.7 m
Total weight, battle ready ~3.4 tonnes
Crew 2 (Commander/Machine Gunner, Driver)
Propulsion 2.745 litre 43hp Fiat CV3-005 4-cylinder petrol
Speed est. 40 km/h road, 14 km/h off-road
Armament Single machine gun (Fiat M26 or M28) 6.5 mm
Armor 8-14 mm
Total production 1 built
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index
Categories
WW2 Italian Tank Prototypes

Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype 1930 ‘Carro Armato Veloce Ansaldo’

Kingdom of Italy (1929-1930)
Light Tank – 1 Built

In the mid 1920’s, it had been apparent to the Italian military that their existing fleet of armored vehicles, consisting mainly of tanks like the Fiat 3000, was effectively obsolete. Various programs were undertaken to upgrade, improve, and replace their armored vehicles, although budgets were very tight. The nation was still reeling from the appalling loss of life and financial ruin which had followed World War One.
Armor would have to be small, light, and portable. The main areas for military operations were going to be the colonies in Africa, where armor had to travel long distances, and in the mountains of northern Italy. A new tank needed to be faster than the existing Fiat 3000, transportable in the back of a standard army truck, and capable of carrying machine guns for infantry support.
Looking for modern tanks to replace their obsolete fleet, in 1929, Italian General Ugo Cavellero examined British-built Carden-Loyd Mark V* and VI light tanks, a number of which had been purchased and sent to Italy for testing. Great Britain was seen as being at the forefront of tank technology by the Italians, and so, had a great influence upon their thinking regarding armored vehicles. The CV29, as the Carden-Loyd Mark VI light tank would eventually be known under Italian service, became the general template from which an Italian vehicle would follow. This Italian designed vehicle would follow the approximate dimensions and layout of the CV29, but would improve on the design in terms of protection and firepower. It was to become the most widely produced Italian vehicle in service in World War 2, and was subject to numerous upgrades and modifications. That vehicle was the CV3 Light Tank.

Original Carden Loyd Mark VI light tank with Vickers machine gun. The tripod is stowed on the front of the machine on the left-hand side. This vehicle in Italian service was known as the CV29. Source: Beamish collection

Trial and Development

The CV29s had been subjected to trials in 1929 and then further trials over the next three years covering its ability to cross obstacles or to cover long distances in the desert, with a final evaluation carried out in Italian Somaliland in 1933. The tests were not particularly impressive, but in the absence of an alternative light tank, 100 CV29’s were tentatively scheduled for production following the purchase of a license for that number. The idea was to keep the CV29 in service whilst the Italians developed their own vehicle. As it happened, only 25 CV29s were ordered and they were used mainly for training. The lessons from the trials of the CV29 were then to be incorporated into this improved vehicle designed by the famous Ansaldo engineer, Giuseppe Rossini.
This 1930 prototype is sometimes referred to as the ‘CV29 Second Version’ and also as the ‘CV28’, although this seems more to do with the fact that the 1930 prototype had no official name than to any connection to an actual CV29 other than that already mentioned. In 1928, the hunt for a new tank had begun without a clear name for what it was going to be called, and by 1931, the hunt was officially known as ‘Carro armato da accompagnamento per la Fanteria’ (Infantry Tank). Just a year later though, official documentation clarified the name of the vehicle to ‘Carro Armato Veloce Ansaldo’ (Ansaldo Fast Tank). Because of the changing names for the project overlapping the development of several vehicles within it, it is easier for the sake of clarity to retain ‘1930 Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype’ as the designation.

Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype of 1930 showing its ability to cross a trench. Source: Ceva and Curami

Mobility and Suspension

The replacement had been developed from the original wooden design shown in 1929, which had four wheels on each side and a single machine gun mounted high up in the front. By 1930, that early wooden model had been turned into a metal prototype by the firm of Ansaldo with a much shallower angled front but the same front drive/rear engine layout.


Illustration of the Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype 1930 ‘Carro Armato Veloce Ansaldo’ by Jarosław Janas, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Layout

The new shape body was the first appearance of the characteristic casemate which is a trademark of the CV3 series. Armament though, was still feeble, with just a single Fiat model 1914 6.5mm water-cooled machine-gun mounted behind a large curved mounting on the front left for the commander/gunner and the driver sitting on the front right. Movement for the machine-gun was excellent permitting a wide field of fire as it was able to move 20 degrees in each direction horizontally and could be elevated between -12 and +18 degrees. An estimated 3,800 rounds could have been carried, but as it was a prototype, this was not definitive, and this estimate is based on the loadout of the CV3/33 when it was eventually finished.
The engine was at the back and the transmission at the front with the drive shaft running between the two men. The body of the vehicle was mostly welded armor between 8 and 14mm thick with some bolts used to attach sections together. Notably, the vertical front plate on the nose of the vehicle was bolted together as were the two vertical reinforcing pieces. On the glacis, above this nose, was a single wide hatch used for accessing and also for cooling the transmission.

The internal layout of either the 1930 or 1931 version of the prototype tank. The interior layout has the commander/gunner on the left and the driver on the right. The chequer plate floor gives an idea of the attention to detail which went into the design. Source: Pignato
On the casemate itself was a wide rectangular hatch on the front right for the driver, in addition to a large rectangular hatch on the right of the driver for vision. Another two square hatches were provided in the back of the casemate directly behind the driver and gunner respectively. The roof was a single large metal panel attached by two simple hinges at the back of the casemate, being large and awkward to open and close.
At the rear, the engine bay had a flat roof and ventilation for the engine was provided by means of large louvered grilles on each side of the engine compartment. On the roof of the engine compartment, there were more ventilation louvers. One unusual feature is the addition of ventilation grooves into the cover for the muffler on the exhaust from each side, presumably there to help keep the exhaust cool or assist in air flow.

Ansaldo prototype during testing in 1930. Source: Ansaldo

Conclusion

Many of the features of this 1930 prototype would be carried over into an improved version, such as the general layout and shape, but the suspension had still been shown to need improvement, and the use of the water-cooled Fiat model 1914 machine-gun was cumbersome. An improved, less cumbersome machine gun would later be used, but the immediate need was improved mobility. This required changes to the suspension.
Nevertheless, the 1930 Light Tank prototype was an effective little vehicle, and in tests, it showed a lot of promise. Enough promise that further trials were ordered for 1931. It was small enough to fit in a truck and agile enough to traverse the terrain Italy was expecting to have to fight over in the 1930’s. It had mobility and could support infantry attacks with the machine gun. Although it was not ideal, it marked the first homegrown tank since the production of the CV29. Development of the 1930 Prototype would continue perfecting elements of the design to create a capable and flexible armored platform. Before it could be ready for production there was still work to do. This 1930 Prototype was changed by the end of 1930 to a new vehicle incorporating improvements.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.17 x 1.4 x 1.28 meters
Total weight, battle ready 3.2 tonnes
Crew 2 (driver, commander/machine-gunner)
Propulsion 40-43hp Fiat CV3 petrol
Top speed 40km/h road, 14 km/h off-road
Armament: x1 Fiat Model 1914 Water-Cooled 6.5mm Machine-Gun
Armor 8 – 14 mm
Total Production 1

Sources

Italie1939-45.com
Pignato, N, Cappellano, F. (2002). Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento Dell’Esercito Italiano V.2. Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito
Curami, L., Ceva, A. (1994). La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano. Arte Della Stampa

Categories
WW2 Italian Tank Prototypes

Italian Panther

Kingdom of Italy (1942-1943)
Heavy Tank – None Built

Having been somewhat opportunistic in joining in the war on the side of Germany against her First World War allies, Britain and France, Italy had come into a new long conflict ill-prepared. Hoping for a quick victory and share of the spoils, Italy found herself at war while its army was still not fully modernized. Their stock of tanks was outdated and ill-suited for the coming war. The primary tank for Italy was the diminutive CV3 series vehicle.
On top of this ill-timed entry, Italy had major problems with tank production. The army (Regio Esercito, RE) had little money with which to develop such vehicles, as the majority of government money for the military went to the Italian Navy. What tanks they did possess were intended for use in colonial wars in Africa or for fighting in the mountainous Italian north, much along the lines of the fighting in WW1. Consequently, Italy had little experience with large, heavy tanks. Fighting in mountains required small tanks, narrow enough for mountain tracks, light enough to cross small wooden or stone bridges, or even capable of being recovered with rudimentary tools by troops. For this, light tanks like the CV3 series or the L6 were ideal.

Italian CV3 (left) next to a wooden mockup of the Panther tank to same scale (right)
In North Africa, the quick victory which had awaited Italy in 1940 over the numerically inferior British forces had not transpired. Despite the numerical advantages they possessed over the British forces in those early months of WW2, the Italian command squandered their opportunity to attack when their enemy was weak and instead took very little offensive action, allowing the British to build up their forces. When the war in North Africa did start in earnest, the Italian armor was outclassed by the faster and more maneuverable British Cruiser tanks and the armor of the British A.12 Matilda II. The response from Italy was slow and came too late. This was the Italian’s own desert cruiser; the ‘Sahariano’. A well-designed machine with well-angled armor, good maneuverability, and decent firepower, but it was too late for the North African war in which it was needed. After losing North Africa to the Allies, work was eventually stopped on that project and the focus was moved to protecting mainland Italy and Sicily.

Hunting for a Heavy Tank

By April 1942, the Ansaldo company had already begun construction of a self-propelled gun mounting the 149/40 cannon with the intention of mounting it on a vehicle based on the P40 hull. At the same time, a study was started on the use of a 105mm howitzer on the hull of a heavy tank. This latter project was abandoned in favor of using the hull of the M15/42 medium tank which was already in production. The 149/40 self-propelled gun project ended up using the M15/42 chassis as well, with the engine originally planned for the Sahariano instead, which does at least demonstrate a good level of interchangeability between the engines in Italian hulls. It did not though, solve the problem of the complete lack of a production heavy, or for that matter effective medium tank on a par with a contemporary enemy or allied vehicle.

Crisis

Italy in 1942 was in a bad state of affairs. The war was not going well for them and back home Italian industry was in a crisis of production. Despite having the spare industrial capacity and large stockpiles (in 1943, after the Germans audited Italian stocks they found 3 years worth of steel supply had been hoarded) of material the Italians were still requesting materials from Germany. They could not meet the demands from the Regio Esercito for their own tanks, engines, or guns. The Italians had had formal authorization from the Germans to produce the Panzer III in Italy since the 5th of August 1941 and a license for production of the Panzer IV in 1942. Even the Skoda T.21 which at one point had been considered wasn’t going to be produced despite being seen as favorable, simply because production would have had to include companies like Alfa, Reggiane, OTO, and Lancia. The duopoly that existed between Fiat and Ansaldo wasn’t going to be broken easily. So, none of these perfectly acceptable vehicles would ever enter production in Italy and at that time the first P40 was still not complete and ready for examination as there were significant problems with the original petrol engine.
The P40 was a well thought out design in its own right but it appears that the actual orders for it were delayed because the Italian High Command (Commando Supremo) had favored local production of the Panzer IV instead. A lead engineer at Ansaldo remarked in December 1943 that, despite opening a new production plant to increase capacity, the manufacture of tanks for the Italian army was taking too long and in his opinion, this shortfall should be addressed by the purchase of large numbers of Panzer IV tanks instead. This presumably was an idea to take the pressure off production to allow the plants to convert to new production lines but it did not take place. Regardless though, while the P26/40 (P40) heavy tank, (which was supposed to have already been in service by 1942) was still in development hell, the Germans were already putting the Pz.Kpfw. V Panther into production. With more armor and a bigger gun, the Panther was clearly a far more impressive tank on paper.

An Offer Rejected then Accepted

The Italians were still wedded to their own anemic tank construction program and perhaps as an attempt to spur development, on the 6th December 1942 General (Generalmajor), Ernst Von Horstig contacted General Ugo Cavallero. General Von Horstig (1893-1969) was the head of the German Economic Office at the German Embassy in Rome (since November 1941), and the head of the Italian Army Office (HWA) (from the 1st March 1942). General Ugo Cavallero (1880-1943), was the Chief of the Italian Defence Staff.
Out of the blue, General Horstig offered General Cavellero the possibility of construction of the German Panther tank in Italy. At 0945 hours that day, Gen. Cavellero formally turned down the offer from Gen. Horstig on the basis that he thought the ‘equivalent’ (the P40 was far from equivalent to the Panther but Gen. Cavellero seems to have considered it as such) Italian P40 tank was enough. The P40 was still classed as a heavy tank ( ‘P’ being ‘Pesante’ for the ‘heavy’ tank) despite only weighing 26 tonnes and Gen. Cavellero had believed this vehicle to already be in a “programme of construction” only to find out from General Pietro Ago an hour later that “in reality the P40 does not exist” because it was not in production at all. This was a stunning lapse in oversight by the Italian Chief of Staff. Whatever the reason for the oversight was, the plan now would be to obtain Maybach engines as used in the Panzer IV for the P40 program to spur that project into life.

Left to right: General Pietro Ago (1872-1966), General Ugo Cavellero (1880-1943), General Luigi Efisio Marras (1888-1981). Photos: composite image compiled from biographies at it.wikipedia.org
Faced now with the reality that Italy wasn’t producing any ‘heavy’ tanks at all, it seems that Gen. Cavellero then rescinded his previous rejection of Gen. Horstig’s offer and agreed to some production although the nature of the deal remains unclear.
Negotiations were made regarding this contract for production at the Ministry of War between the 13th and 24th of February and the idea of constructing the Panther in Italy would have solved some large problems for Italy. It would almost certainly have resulted in abandoning the M15/42 tank design, which was still in production, admitting the failure of the P40 project (it was late), and abandoning other plans to focus on a single more capable platform. This new vehicle would likely have to be capable of fulfilling the medium and heavy tank duties the army wanted as well as having the flexibility to be used for the Semovente conversion to fulfill support, artillery and tank destroyer duties. The Germans would end up doing exactly this, using the Panther tank as a basis for numerous types of vehicles.
What is known is that, following the phone call between Generals Cavellero and Horstig, Gen. Cavellero went on to state that if they (Italy) were given certain (unspecified) equipment and a Panther tank to work from that it would significantly speed up Panther tank production. This was agreed to by Gen. Von Horstig, who invited Gen. Cavallero to Berlin to discuss the matter.
The Germans, however, expected production of the Panther to begin just one year after receipt of the drawings in Italy. Plans which would take three months to prepare in Italian. Combined together this would mean an expectation of starting Panther production in Italy by the Ansaldo-Fiat consortium no earlier than March 1944. On the plus side, unlike the licence for production of the Panzer IV, there would be no licence fee due.
Hitler had ordered, a month earlier, in January 1943, that Panther production was to take place in Italy without any licence fee payable. The firm of Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (MAN) was also (per the directive) to supply not one, but four complete Panther tanks to Italy. As it happened though, MAN was unable to comply due to their own manufacturing problems. A further directive from Hitler came on the 16th February 1943 on the subject as to whether Italy should build the Panther or Panther II tank. However, Italy did not seem to have had expressed an interest in the Panther II although the Italians were generally in agreement with the German proposals. From the Italian end though it was clear that due to a complete change in manufacturing that production of Panthers ‘from scratch’ could not start in Italy before 1945.
Likely as a result of trying to speed up the production of the Panther and to examine the tooling needed, an exchange of technical experts was agreed to by General Luigi Marras (Italian Military Attache in Berlin). Two engineers from each country would jointly examine the Italian P40 and the German Panther, the small problem being that the P40 wasn’t actually finished.
Allied bombing of Italian industry, including engine factories, had helped to grind Italian tank production to a near standstill. Gen. Cavellero subsequently contacted Gen. Von Horstig about the sale of Maybach engines for the P40 and more about the Panther. In order to expedite tests, a request was made for a 12 cylinder Maybach HL-120 TRM V12 296hp petrol engine supplied from Germany to be installed in the P40. Around this time too (early 1943), license production of the Maybach engine was approved in Italy. Following examination of the P40 fitted with the German engine the tank was approved, although it was noted that improvements would be needed to the armor.
For the Panther though, a tentative (and optimistic) production schedule was organized that in the first 18 months of production the Italians were to produce 50 tanks a month. Half of that production was to be supplied back to Germany (presumably in lieu of the payment of the waved license fee), leaving Italy with 25 per month for their own use. On the 22nd February 1943, the testing of the Maybach in the P40 probably still had not happened. The Germans were offering to supply major components of Panther tanks directly to Italy working on the contingency that if Italian industry could not start production until 1945, Panther tanks would have been supplied directly from Germany without guns, sheet metal work and probably other fittings such as radios.
If this option was to be selected, then Germany would supply just 10 nearly complete Panther tanks to Italy per month starting in December 1943 and let the Italians finish the vehicles there. The fact that the Germans would make this contingency would suggest that they expected it to take a long time to get Italian production up to speed.
The historian Jonathan Steinberg recounts that the problems with production really lay not in actual manufacturing but gross corruption within the Italian regime. Either way though, a second Ansaldo plant being built at Pozzuoli could have been ready by the middle of 1943 for Panther production, presumably with the tooling required.
Construction of this plant, however, would have necessitated taking off the short-term pressure from the factory production lines which were producing Italian vehicles, and instead purchasing Panzer IV’s, as had been suggested. As this was not done, the plant for local Panther production was delayed and therefore so was the Italian Panther.
It is confusing that so much effort was made to get the Panther into production considering the Army High Command preferred the Panzer IV, which was much closer to the tank requirements for a new medium tank for Italy. Presumably, the failure of their own heavy tank program to provide a suitable design forced the decision to select the Panther to fill both roles.
In hindsight, this was a poor choice, as a production license was already in place for the Panzer IV and could have been started by Spring 1943 with an estimated 130 tanks producible each month, compared to just 50 Panthers per month. Regarding Panzer IV production the first five months would have been solely for Italy after which half of the tanks would have been supplied to Germany which in comparison would mean that one year of Panzer IV production would have theoretically produced 1,560 Panzer IV’s (1,105 for Italy and 455 for Germany) compared to just 600 Panthers (300 each for Italy and Germany). Italy could, therefore, under ideal circumstances have had over three times the number of Panzer IV’s compared to Panthers. Given the state of Italian manufacturing, Allied bombing, and corruption, such figures are extremely optimistic but nonetheless, Panzer IV production was better suited to Italian capabilities than the Panther.
As an added confusion to the production of the Panther tank in Italy they would also have to produce the special Pmx series rail cars for moving the tanks, just yet another complication their industry was not going to be able to manage. Even so, a license for their production was also arranged.

Italian panther
Illustration by David Bocquelet – Artist impression of the Italian panther

How Different Would an Italian Panther be From a German One?

Assuming the Panther entered production in Italy, then certainly the radios would have been changed and so would the machine guns. It is logical to assume that the Breda 7.7mm machine gun would have been adopted for the hull and coaxial mounts, as well as another on the Italian anti-aircraft mount. The historian Walter Spielberger confirms that, as part of the February 1943 negotiations at the Ministry of War (which took place between the 13th and 24th February), it was agreed that the German team would be responsible for optics and electrical equipment. It is not known if this refers to simple optical devices like periscopes which could simply have been substituted in Italy or for the telescopic sights to ballistically match the guns.
A question still remains if German-built Panthers supplied to Italy would have included engines. Bearing in mind contracts had already been exchanged for Maybach engine production in Italy it is logical to assume that some or all of the engines would also be manufactured in Italy and be Maybachs.

Designers model line up of P26/40 (left), P43 (centre), and Panther (right) showing the size and suspension differences to good effect.
There is no mention at all in the licensing discussion about the production of the guns so the working assumption is that the Italians would fit a gun which they had on hand, likely to have been a 75mm gun like on the P40 given the inability of the industry to supply other guns in the quantity required. Fitting any guns other than the German 7.5cm or something very closely balanced to it would have necessitated additional changes to the mounting in the turret – work that would have only slowed down production.
The complexity of the entire Panther deal was further deepened by the separate licenses for the Maybach engine production and the desire to use the Maybach in the P40 design which was a direct competitor to the Panther for production contracts. With production problems especially with tank engines in short supply the option to use the German engines in the P40 program was a very desirable option. It is possible that the license was only given to Italy with the hope or intention that it be used to make Maybach HL-230 engines for Panther tanks rather than for the P40. Possibly to avoid this problem, Fiat SPA produced their Model 344 700 hp engine, which was essentially a straight copy of the HL-230 rather than a license-built version. The preceding model, the Model 343, was an exact duplicate and license-built a copy of the Maybach HL-120 (for the German Panzer IV and Italian P40 program). With the HL-120 licensed for production back in early 1943 for the P40 but with a limitation on a license for the HL-230 limiting it to use in Panther tanks it is possible that the goal was simply to produce the copy of the more powerful engine without having to build the German tank.

Comparisons between the German Panther and the Italian P26 and P43 designs showing how much more compact the Italian designs were to their German rival albeit at a price of less armor and firepower.
Licences to produce Maybach engines had been provided from Germany to Italy in early 1943 and there could have been issues relating to payments leading to this renaming confusion but information is lacking in this area. The confusion over licenses is additionally complicated by Field Marshal Kesselring. When he returned to Rome on the 8th  June 1943, he was clear that his instruction, coming directly from Hitler, was that whatever Italy wanted, they just had to ask for, whether it was tanks, troops, or self-propelled guns with no discussion over licensing or reciprocal manufacturing agreements.

Conclusion

Regardless though of existing plans, September 1943 turned everything upside down and Italy became split in half politically with a cobelligerent force fighting with the allies on one side and other troops continuing to fight on the side of the Axis under German control. The Germans after the September 1943 capitulation took over control of northern Italy including the armaments manufacturing plants. The Italians were no longer in charge of their own manufacturing after that point and ideas of producing the Panther in Italy seems to have been forgotten about, although some sources state that component parts were manufactured. It may have been a moot point anyway as a different design was ready at the time to replace the P26 which had barely begun to roll out of the factories. Just two months after the capitulation the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen reported by November 1943, that “The firm of Ansaldo-Fossati in Genoa planned to produce a Heavy Tank Model 1943 armed with a Kanone 90/42, weighing 35 tons with 80mm frontal and 60 mm side armor (imitating the Panther). The engine and wooden model are not yet available.” That replacement tank was never built but the existence of this planned project perhaps gives an idea as to why the Italians had tried to get the engine for the Panther and not the Panther itself – they had something better planned.
The story of the Italian Panther then is a drawn out and complicated one.
A combination of Italian bureaucracy and the industrial oligarchies of Breda, Fiat, and Ansaldo, had managed to ensure that relatively little in terms of license production of engines or tanks had been achieved since the summer of 1940.
Negotiations over Italian production of various tanks had taken place between June 1941 and April 1943 with licenses agreed on 5th August 1941 (Panzer III), in 1942 (Panzer IV), and in 1943 for the Panzer V Panther. None of these plans ever came to fruition and no finished vehicles were actually produced though.
The Italians had at least gotten as far as being able to produce the HL-120 and HL-230 engines for their own heavy tank projects through which while slow was at least still in development. The final note on the matter is that just prior to the capitulation in September 1943, “several PzKpfw V Panther tanks were… to be purchased from Germany, while a P43 tank armed with a 90mm gun was under development”
Had Italy ever fielded the Panther it would have been expected to fulfill their needs until at least 1947-8 if the war had continued. It was likely the better long-term choice than the Panzer IV production in such a ‘what-if’ scenario, even though the Panzer IV made more sense numerically and logistically as well as being far better suited to the abilities of Italian industry at the time. As it turned out though, the Italians never got to put a Panther tank into combat and the only such vehicles seeing action in Italy were German vehicles or one of the 37 Panther turrets installed as fixed defenses.

Mussolini inspecting a brand new Panzer turret defensive bunker somewhere in Northern Italy. The concrete is still held in place by shuttering which would then be removed and backfilled with dirt

Panther specifications

Dimensions (L-w-h) 6.87/8.66 x3.27 x2.99 m (22.54/28.41 x10.73 x9.81 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 44.8 tons max. (98,767 lbs)
Armament Main: 75 mm (2.95 in) KwK 42 L/70, 79 rounds
Sec: 2x 7.9 mm (0.31 in) MG 34, 5100 rounds
Armor Sloped, from 15 to 120 mm (0.59-4.72 in)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, gunner, loader, radioman/machine gunner)
Propulsion V12 Maybach HL230 P2 gasoline, 690 hp (515 kW)
Transmission ZF AK 7-200 7-forward/1-reverse gearbox
Suspensions Double torsion bars and interleaved wheels
Speed (late model) 48 km/h (29 mph)
Operational range 250 km (160 mi)
Vehicles Disquised 10
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Links, Resources & Further Reading

I Panther del Regio Esercito: L’Affare che non si fece digilander.libero.it
Panzer Tracts 19-2
Beute-Kraftfahrzeuge und -Panzer der deutschen Wehrmacht, Walter Spielberger
Panzer V Panther – Walter Spielberger
Veicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano dal 1939 al 1945
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’esercito italiano, volume 2, Nicola Pignato
Italian Armoured Vehicles of WW2, Nicola Pignato
Minute, 8th June 43, item 165, Minutes of Conferences, Comando Supremo, IT 26.
US Army in WWII; Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy by Garland and Smith
Maybach Engines www.fahrzeuge-der-wehrmacht.de
Italian Medium Tanks by Cappellano and Battistelli
Veicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano dal 1939 al 1945, by Cesare Falessi and Benedetto Pafi
German Defences in Italy in World War II, Neil Short, Osprey Publishing fortress #45, 2006
PANTHER TANKS FOR THE ROYAL ARMY, Nicola Del Bono
HISTORY militate 1994 n6, The Chimera of the RE: Welcome Wagon P40 Bruno and Andrea Curami
Osprey – Italian Armored Vehicles of World War Two
Peter Chamberlain, Chris Ellis, Tanks of the World 1915-1945
OKH (Chef der Heeresrustung und Befehlshaber des Ersatzheeres) Wa. Pruf. 6.Bb.Nr.5/43 gKdos vom. 8 Januar 1943)
All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust 1941-43, Jonathan Steinberg
Guide to Foreign Military Studies 1945-54, Historical Division, USAER, 1954
www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de
A Military History of Italy, Ciro Paoletti
Quellen und Forschungen aud italianischen Bibliotheken und Archiven Bd.71, 1991 – Zwischen Bundnis und Ausbeutung: Der deutsche Zugriff auf das norditalianische Wirtschaftpotential 1943-1945*, Maximiliane Rieder

Categories
WW2 Italian Tank Prototypes

Fiat 3000 Tipo II

Kingdom of Italy (1925)
Light Tank – None Built

Tipo I

The Italians copied the successful French Renault FT tank in the form of the Fiat 3000 right at the end of World War I and produced a large number of those vehicles. They were marginally better than the Renault FT forebear but, just like the Renault, suffered from some significant flaws. The interior was too cramped for the crew, the engine was underpowered, the armor was insufficient, the armament was too light, and the vehicle was effectively outdated when compared to the developments of armor in other countries.
Schematic for the Fiat 3000 Tipo II. Source: Pignato
Schematic for the Fiat 3000 Tipo II. Source: Pignato
Comparison between the size and shape of the Fiat 3000 Tipo I to the Fiat 3000 Tipo II
Comparison between the size and shape of the Fiat 3000 Tipo I to the Fiat 3000 Tipo II, dated the 24th May 1925. Source: Pignato
Many of the complaints about the Fiat 3000 seem to have come from the office of Colonel Maltese. They may have been influenced by decisions from more senior officers to replace the (then) machine gun armed Fiat 3000’s in service with something more useful. A medium or even heavy tank armed only with machine guns was not ideal. The Italians had already gained experience with a 37mm armed tank when they acquired a Renault fitted with a French 37mm gun in 1918. Why it took so long to appreciate the deficiency of being armed solely with machine guns is not clear.
Recommendations for the development of the new vehicle were that the company in charge should work more closely with the military so that the military criteria could be more closely matched by industry. As the military wanted a 37mm armed tank, the industry would have to provide it. It would ideally come in a new improved tank rather than just a retrofit of the existing Fiat 3000 as that 37mm gun-armed tank was already available in the form of the near identical Renault FT. Copying the 37mm armament would have been simple as to not require a whole new tank program.

Tipo II – Initial Specification Laid

A summary of the specifications this new tank would have to meet was presented on the 12th January 1925. It was to be significantly heavier than the Fiat 3000 Tipo I, at about 8500kg (with a limit set at 9000kg), compared to the previous tank at just 5300kg. The reasons for the weight increase were simple. This tank would have improved offensive and defensive capabilities and be more maneuverable than the previous vehicle. The crew was not specified but the old 2 man crew arrangement with a very overloaded commander, having to load, aim, fire and command the tank had been an obvious problem. Adding a third crew member in this larger vehicle is very likely for the command and control advantages it offered.
The new improved tank proposal was ready by May 1925 and very closely resembled the overall shape of the Fiat 3000/Renault FT and is even described as a “Renault Type Tank”. Fully tracked with a larger fully rotatable turret and an effective cannon, the new tank, named ‘Fiat 3000 Tipo II’ (Type 2) represented a genuine improvement over the Fiat 3000 ‘Tipo I’.

Armament

The Fiat 3000 Tipo II was to improve on both the firepower and ammunition capacity of the Fiat 3000 Tipo I. The single SIA machine gun with 3640 rounds of the Tipo I would be replaced with a 37mm cannon with 270 rounds and a Fiat M.1924 machine gun with 4500 rounds. A larger gun could have been fitted along with a new machine gun (improved from the Fiat M.1924) relatively easily but instead, the focus was on the newly made 37mm rapid-fire tank gun. This missed opportunity for a significant improvement in tank armament happened before the project had even been fully explored.
An addition to the offensive power of the tank was the rather unconventional ‘spurs’ projecting from the front and rear of the vehicle. Despite looking like mounting points for some kind of trench crossing tail these were instead felt to provide some additional advantage in combat against enemy tanks and defences although quite what that might be was not expounded upon. The ideal 37mm gun would eventually be found but only after the Tipo II project was already over. It was a 40 caliber long gun and was eventually retrofitted into some of the existing Fiat 3000’s.

Illustration of the FIAT 3000 Tipo II by Amazing Ace
Illustration of the FIAT 3000 Tipo II by Tank Encyclopedia’s own Amazing Ace

Protection and Convenience

The armor on the Fiat 3000 Tipo I had not been sufficient. The Tipo II would increase the armor by 25% in some areas, to no less than 20mm in all exposed areas and use specially treated steel to obtain some marginal protection against smaller calibre cannon fire and artillery shells. The roof of the turret and presumably the hull roof would be 10mm thick and, like the rest of the armor, of good quality armor steel. The large octagonal turret would also have the benefit of a 68cm x 52cm wide double-doored hatch in the back to assist with entry and exit as well as ventilation. The fumes from the gun were to be removed by means of fans, also an improvement over the Tipo I. An additional bonus was the requirement for electric lighting.
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Comparison between profiles and armor of the Fiat 3000 Tipo I and Fiat 3000 Tipo II showing the improved armor thickness and profile of this vehicle, dated the 24th of May 1925 Source: Pignato

Mobility

No particular engine was specified, but the Tipo II was to be faster and have a longer range than the Fiat 3000 Tipo I and it was decided that it should ideally be a four-cylinder petrol engine producing at least 75hp, although it is not clear what engine this would be. The vehicle would be steered by means of levers and epicyclics. The Tipo I could ford streams up to 1m deep whereas the Tipo II was to be able to ford 1.4m deep. A small change like this makes a large difference for a tank in terms of mobility and usefulness and as the role was one of assault and support it would have to be able to cross obstacles better than the tank it was supposed to replace. To this end, the trench crossing ability of the Tipo I, which was just 1.4m (without tail), would also be increased to 1.9m. This is the same as the Tipo I with a tail and the design of the Tipo II is such as it would easily permit the same type of tail used if required which would further extend the trench crossing ability to over 2m.

Conclusions

The idea for the Fiat 3000 Tipo II was well conceived in terms of replacing the first model Fiat 3000. Improving the tanks fighting capability from just having light armor and a machine gun with improved protection, on a faster tank, and armed with a 37mm rapid firing tank gun. It is not clear why this tank was not adopted but resources were limited and, while this model offered improvements, maybe these were insufficient to warrant serial production of a new tank.
As it happened, the Fiat 3000 ended up being upgraded with a new 37mm cannon. Trials were carried out with the short (L.27) 37mm gun and then high-velocity 37mm gun by 1927. This was probably another reason to discontinue this Tipo II tank idea. The Tipo I could be cheaply upgraded to carry the same armament at the price of the other advantages the Tipo II offered. It simply didn’t have a significant edge so as to render the Tipo I obsolete. No Tipo II vehicles were ever made and the project was soon forgotten about.

Specifications

Total weight, battle ready 8500 – 9000 kg (9.36 – 9.92 tons)
Propulsion superior to 50hp, four-cylinder engine of at least 75hp desired
Maximum speed (road) 14.2 mph (24 km/h)
Armament rapid-fire 37mm gun and rapid-fire machine gun specified
Armor 10 – 20 mm (0.39 – 0.78 inches)

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Italy 1935-1945.com
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Nicola Pignato & Filippo Cappellano
La meccanizzazione dell’Esercito fino al 1943, L.Ceva, A.Curami