Categories
WW2 Italian Tanks

FIAT 3000

Kingdom of Italy (1919-1943)
Medium Tank – ~152 Built

The FIAT 3000, with its two versions, the Modello 1921 (English: Model 1921) and Modello 1930 (English: Model 1930), was an Italian light tank built as an indigenous version of the French Renault FT. Initially referred to as the Carro d’Assalto (English: Assault Tank), it operated with the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) for almost twenty years, making it the backbone of the Italian armored units until the late 1930s and permitting the Italian crews to be familiarized with armored vehicles.

FIAT 3000 Modello 1930 employed in Sicily in 1937 during training. Source: italie1935-45.com

Origin and Development

The first Italian armored vehicles

Before the First World War, the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) already had some experience with armored vehicles, being one of the first armies to employ armored cars in active service. The FIAT Arsenale armored car was deployed during the Italian-Turkish War fought between 1911 and 1912, with great results.

The FIAT Arsenale, the first Italian-built armored car that was employed during the Italian- Turkish War of 1911-12
Source: italiacoloniale.com

After the campaign, the Italian Army started its own development of armored vehicles, but the design process was really slow. By 1914, when the First World War started, the work had resulted in nothing more than paper projects.

Fabbrica Italiana Automobili di Torino or FIAT (English: Italian Automobile Factory of Turin) began the development of a heavy tank in that period . Due to the Italian engineer’s lack of knowledge about tanks or armored fighting vehicles in general, its development was really slow and the first prototype was ready only in 1917. This vehicle was the FIAT 2000.

FIAT 2000 during a demonstration action. This was the first Italian-built tank, of which two were built
Source: oltrelalinea.news

The Italian Renault FTs

With progress on a homegrown Italian tank going slowly, the Regio Esercito asked its neighbor and World War One ally, France, to supply Italy with some tanks. Four Renault FTs were subsequently delivered between March 1917 and May 1918. Two of these were fitted with the Girod turret and two with the Omnibus turret. The two Girod turreted vehicles differed in that one was armed with a 37 mm Puteaux cannon and the other one was armed with a Hotchkiss Modèle 1914 medium machine gun, although this was later replaced by a S.I.A. Modello 1918. The two tanks fitted with Omnibus turrets were both armed with Hotchkiss Modèle 1914 medium machine guns, replaced by the FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914 medium machine guns later.

These four tanks were tested intensively. One was dismantled and analyzed in order to produce an Italian variant under license.

Renault FT armed with an Italian S.I.A. machine gun in training. Source: italie1935-45.com

After the war, in 1919, two of the Renault FTs were sent to Libya, another one was used for training, and the one disassembled by Ansaldo was partially reassembled and converted into a self-propelled gun called Semovente da 105/14. This vehicle was destined for the Batteria Autonoma Carri d’Assalto (English: Autonomous Battery Assault Tank) based in Turin, then it was transferred to Nettuno (near Rome) and took part in a parade at the Stadium in Rome on 2nd April 1919.

Semovente da 105/14 also called Obice da 105 su Carro Tipo Leggero da 6 T. (English: 105 mm howitzer on 6-ton Light Type Tank) was built by modifying an FT tank (Serial number 669947). There were no further developments.
Source: warspot.net

In addition to the 4 Renault FTs, France provided a Schneider CA for training as well, but did not give permission to produce them under license and did not sell others to the Kingdom of Italy. The single vehicle remained in a Regio Esercito training school in Bologna until 1937, after which its fate is unknown.

Schneider CA at Fort Tiburtino (Rome) in the early 1920s. By this point, it had been repainted in gray-green.
Source: gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’esercito italiano

The birth of the FIAT 3000

After the tests of the FTs, the Regio Esercito decided on 2nd August 1918 to produce the tank model under license in Italy. This was entrusted to a consortium formed by Ansaldo, Armstrong Vickers, Breda, FIAT and Terni companies in their plants in the Italian peninsula.

After the end of the First World War, an order for 1,400 Renault FTs, which were to be built under license by Ansaldo of Genoa, was canceled. In April 1919, 100 tanks were ordered from FIAT of Turin. These vehicles were to be built under French license, but had been modified by the Ufficio Carri d’Assalto (English: Assault Tank Office) and by the Commissariato Armi e Munizioni Ansaldo (English: Ansaldo Arms and Ammunition Commissioner). The new model cost 120,000 Lire per vehicle and differed from the French model in terms of armament and engine. The prototype was built in June 1919 and completed by June of the following year. The first tests began in August 1920, but were soon suspended, probably for bureaucratic reasons and due to the end of the war, which slowed down production.

In November 1921, the tests resumed and lasted until 1923, when they were finally successful and the new model was officially adopted as the Carro d’Assalto FIAT 3000 (English: Assault Tank FIAT 3000). The test commission, albeit satisfied with the vehicle, thought that it needed a more powerful armament and requested the installation of a cannon in the turret.

The prototype was very similar to the Renault FT, although its armament differed, consisting of two Italian-built S.I.A. 6.5 mm machine guns, and the Italian-built engine was more powerful and mounted transversely, also having an easier-to-maintain transmission.

The first training of the crews with the new tanks took place in 1923 in the city of Belluno in northern Italy. The serial version differed from the prototype by the absence of the two front access doors copied from the original Renault FT. Shortly after, the vehicle was again modified. The tracks were improved, lengthened a bit and new wheels were adopted.

Between 1928 and 1929, a new model was developed, called FIAT 3000 B, then renamed FIAT 3000 Modello 1930 (English: FIAT 3000 Model 1930). It was equipped with a more powerful engine and a cannon in the turret instead of the two machine guns. This new vehicle was first tested during maneuvers in Val Varaita (Piedmont, Italy) in 1929.

FIAT 3000 (left) and Renault FT, armed with S.I.A. machine gun, for comparison. Fort Tiburtino (Rome), 1927.
Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com
Fiat 3000 model 1921s in the courtyard of the FIAT factory, ready for delivery. Source: italie1935-45.com
FIAT 3000 in the assembly line in Turin.
Source: warspot.net

Names

The vehicle changed its name several times, a fact which also underscores the changing pace of Italian military thought and tacit acceptance that these vehicles were rapidly becoming obsolescent. Initially, the tank was known as the Carro d’Assalto FIAT 3000 (English: Assault Tank FIAT 3000). ‘A’ for the version armed with machine guns or ‘B’ for the version armed with cannon.

In the same period, they were also called Carro d’Assalto FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 and Modello 1930 (English: Assault Tank FIAT 3000 Model 1921 and Model 1930).

After 24th January 1938, the model armed with machine guns was renamed to Carro Armato Modello 1921, shortened to M.21 (English: Tank Model 1921), while the one armed with a cannon was renamed to Carro Armato Modello 1930, shortened to M.30 (English: Tank Model 1930).

Finally, after Italy entered the Second World War, tanks under 7 tonnes were considered ‘light’ tanks and, therefore, the FIAT 3000 became Carro Armato L.5/21 and Carro Armato L.5/30, depending on the Modello. This meant Carro Armato Leggero (English: Light Armored Vehicle) 5 tonnellate (English: 5 tonnes) Modello 1921 (English: Model 1921) and Carro Armato Leggero, 5 (tonnellate) Modello 1930 (English: Light Tank, 5 Tonnes Model 1930).

The FIAT 3000, therefore, is perhaps the only tank in history to occupy each of the three general tank classes, ranging from heavy (assault), to medium, to light during its service.

Design

Hull

The hull was divided into two compartments divided by a bulkhead. The frontal one was the combat compartment and the rear one was the engine compartment. Drivers sat in the front part of the combat compartment and, to their rear, sat the commanders. In the engine compartment were the engine, the radiator, the cooling fan, the fuel tanks, and the bilge pump used to remove the water that entered the vehicle after fording.

In the rear part of the hull was the ‘tail’ built out of iron bars, which angled upwards. It had the purpose of extending the length of the vehicle for the crossing of trenches or ditches, preventing the tank from overturning or getting stuck.

FIAT 3000 armed with Fiat Model 14/35 machine guns.
Source: onthewaymodels.com
Front view of a FIAT 3000 Mod. 1921.
Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com

Turret

The turret was able to rotate 360​​°. The weapons were installed in the front part, while in the rear was an opening that could be closed with two doors. This allowed crews to enter and exit the tank and easy removal of the weapons for maintenance. In the upper part of the turret was the commander’s openable cupola with three slits, meant to allow the commander to inspect the battlefield. On the top of the hatch was a hole that allowed the usage of flags used by the unit commanders to give orders. This was used due to the absence of radio equipment.

Turret armed with S.I.A 1918 machine gun.
Source: regioesercito.it
Interior of the turret armed with a 37 mm Vickers-Terni Mod. 1918 cannon.
Source: carri armati in servizio fra le due guerre

Armament

SIA Modello 1918

The armament was placed in the turret. On the FIAT 3000 Modello 1921, it consisted of two Società Italiana Aviazione Modello 1918 (English: Italian Aviation Company Model 1918) 6.5 mm light machine guns, more simply called SIA Mod. 18. This machine gun was developed by Regio Esercito Colonel Abiel Bethel Revelli (1864 – 1929), one of the most brilliant gun designers in Italy, between 1910 and the mid-1920s.

Colonel Revelli’s most famous projects were the FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914 medium machine gun, the Villar Perosa Modello 1915 submachine gun, and the SIA Modello 1918. The SIA machine guns were paired and placed on a support in the turret. Between the two machine guns was a slit used for aiming.

The weapons had an elevation of +24° and a depression of -17°. Their support also had an additional limited traverse of 20° to either side within the turret.

S.I.A Mod.1918 machine gun
Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com

FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935

After April 1936, the FIAT 3000 Mod. 21 was rearmed with two FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935 8 mm caliber machine guns instead of the SIA ones. This offered heavier supporting fire and better armor-piercing capabilities. In fact, the 8 x 59 mm Armor Piercing round could penetrate 11 mm of armored steel at 100 m.

FIAT- Revelli Modello 1914/1935
Source: bertapiero.it
Comparison between S.I.A Mod. 1918 and FIAT-Revelli 1914/1935
Feature SIA Mod.1918 FIAT-Revelli 1914/35
Ammunition 6.5 x 52 mm 8 x 59 mm
Penetration of 11 mm of armored steel at 100 m 4 mm 11.5 mm
Rate of fire 500 – 700 rounds/min 600 rounds/min
Muzzle velocity 700 m/s 750 m/s
Maximum range 3,000 m 5,200 m

FIAT Modello 1929 per Aviazione

Some FIAT 3000s were armed after 1937 with two 6.5 mm caliber FIAT Modello 1929 per Aviazione machine guns that were fed by 40-round magazines. Being aircraft machine guns they were deprived of the synchronizer to fire through the propeller.
The weapons had an elevation of +28° and a depression of -18°.

Installation for FIAT 3000 of the FIAT Modello 1929 per Aviazione machine guns
Source: carri armati italiani

Vickers-Terni da 37/40

The FIAT 3000 Modello 1930 was armed with a Cannone Vickers-Terni da 37/40 cannon with a semi-automatic breech. This cannon was developed in 1918, deriving from a Hotchkiss model used in the anti-aircraft role on ships and at airfields. Another Italian tank equipped with this gun was the Carro Armato M11/39 medium tank developed in the late 1930s.

The gun was in the turret, moved to the right with respect to the center axis of the vehicle in order to leave more space for the commander/gunner, who sat on the left.

Aiming was carried out using a sight and two cranks: one for elevation and the other for traverse. The elevation of the gun was +20°, the depression -10°, while the second crank permitted rotation of the turret.

Turret of FIAT 3000 Mod.1930 armed with a 37/40 gun.
Source: carri armati in servizio fra le due guerre

.303 Lewis

In the 1930s, some FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 tanks were rearmed with .303 Lewis medium machine guns that were more reliable than the SIA Modello 1918 and gave the tank a higher rate of fire thanks to the larger 47 or 97-round magazines.

Project of turret armed with two Lewis machine guns.
Source: carri armati in servizio fra le due guerre

Ammunition

The ammunition was kept in racks in the two lateral walls of the combat compartment.

The FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 could carry 96 40-round magazines (3,840 cartridges in all) for the SIA and FIAT 1929 light machine guns and 72 80-round magazines (5,760 rounds) for the FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935 medium machine guns.

The Modello 1930 had racks for a total of 68 37 mm rounds. The 37 mm gun’s armor-piercing ammunition could penetrate 20 mm of armored steel at 1,500 m. The vehicle carried both piercing and semi-piercing shells but it is not known in what quantity

Engine and Suspension

The tank was powered by a 6.236-liter FIAT Tipo 304 for Carro Armato 3000 four-cylinder inline petrol engine. In the Modello 1921, it had a power of 50 hp at 1,500 rpm, while in the Modello 1930, it was boosted to 63 hp at 1,700 rpm.

FIAT 304 engine. Source:warspot.net

The gearbox had three forward and one reverse gears. The fuel tank of the FIAT Modello 1921 had a capacity of 90 liters of fuel, plus 5 liters in the reserve fuel tank, while the Modello 1930 had a capacity of 85 liters plus 4.5 liters in reserve.

The maximum speed of the vehicle was between 21 km/h on road for the Modello 1921 and 22 km/h on road for the Modello 1930. Off-road, the maximum speed was 8-12 km/h. The range was 95 km on the road for the Modello 1921 and 88 km on the road for the Modello 1930.

Drawing of how to use two FIAT 3000s for the emergency replacement of the engine of another FIAT 3000 in case of failure.
Source: : carri armati in servizio fra le due guerre

The running gear included two sprockets located at the rear and two large diameter idler wheels placed at the front. The longitudinal metal spars rested on eight road wheels paired on four bogies. These were connected by terminal pins to leaf springs for suspension. On top of the longitudinal spars, there were five return rollers supported by a stringer that was supported by a vertical spring which kept the track in constant tension. The tracks were composed of 52 links per side.

FIAT 3000 running gear.
Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com

Armor

The hull of the FIAT 3000 was protected by steel armor plating bolted to an internal steel frame structure. The front of the tank was protected by well-angled 16 mm armored plates. The sides and rear of the hull were protected by 8 mm thick armored plates, all vertical. As with the hull, the front of the turret was 16 mm thick, while the remaining sides were 8 mm thick. The turret roof was 8 mm thick, while the hull roof and floor were 6 mm thick.
According to the Italian manuals, the armor provided protection from machine-gun fire and shrapnel; it could withstand the impact of 8 mm APX French and 7.92 mm German armor-piercing shells up to 50 meters.

Crew

The FIAT 3000 had a crew of two: commander, who also operated the armament, and driver. As with the Renault FT which the FIAT 3000 was based on, commanders were overburdened with multiple tasks, limiting how well they could perform.

Longitudinal section of a FIAT 3000 Mod. 21. The two crewmembers can be seen.
Source: carri armati in servizio fra le due guerre

Communications and Radio System

The tanks communicated using colored signal flags, these consisted of two flags, one red and one white placed 15 cm from the outsides of a 65 cm long pole. The flags came out of a special hole placed at the top of the turret.

Only the company or battalion command tanks were equipped with Magneti Marelli RF CR radios. The radio was used for communications between tanks and other armored vehicles. It had a frequency between 27.2 and 33.4 MHz.

FIAT 3000 Modello 1930 with radio antenna during training. Source: italie1935-45.com

The FIAT 3000s equipped with this radio had an unusual antenna on the turret, which allowed it to turn 360°. However, the range of communications was limited to a few kilometers, which allowed communication between vehicles, but was insufficient for collaboration with artillery and infantry, a key component of modern warfare.

Towing Trailers

For transport, the tank could be transported on a trailer designed in 1921 by the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin), adopted in 1923 as the Carrello per Trasporto Carro d’Assalto (English: Flatbed Trailer for the Transport of the Assault Tank). It consisted of a chassis, two support surfaces for tracks, two wheels, and a drawbar. The flatbed trailer weighed 1,200 kg and was towed by a truck, initially a FIAT 18 BLR and then a Lancia RO NM.

FIAT 3000 on its flatbed trailer, towed by a FIAT 18 BLR. Note the Camicia Nera (English: Black Shirt) or Bersagliere on the left with the typical headdress (called “fez”).
Source: alternativefinland.com
FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 on its flatbed trailer, towed by a FIAT 18 BLR. Source:
FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 towed by Lancia RO NM during the final parade in Turin after the 1939 Great Maneuvers in Piedmont
Source: carri armati italiani

Markings

Each tank could be identified by the use of special symbols. This system began in 1925 and consisted of simple geometric shapes, including circles, triangles, and rectangles, that distinguished command tanks from others. The color of the shape designated what platoon the tanks belonged to.

Symbols used from 1925 to 1928 on FIAT 3000s. From 1928 to 1938, the figures were only outlined and no longer filled with color.
Source: zimmerit.com

In 1938, with Circular No. 4,400, the symbols changed permanently. They consisted of differently colored rectangles, indicating the various companies, with various vertical or oblique lines indicating the various platoons. A solid rectangle without lines indicated the command tank.

Symbols introduced in 1938.
Source: Zimmerit.com
FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 at Fort Triburtino (Rome). In this case, the white triangle indicates that the tank is a command tank of the 2nd Platoon
Source: carri armati italiani 1918-1940

Operational Use

The FIAT 3000 remained in service in the Royal Italian Army for about 20 years, from 1923 to 1943. They became the first tanks with which the Italian Army was equipped and allowed officers to learn and develop the doctrine of tank use that would still be used by the Royal Army during World War II.

First Use

The first FIAT 3000s equipped the Compagnia Autonoma Carri Armati (English: Autonomous Tank Company) based in Rome. In the following years, this unit grew and increased its staff, becoming the Reparto Carri Armati (English: Tank Unit) made up of a command group and two Gruppi Carri Armati (English: Tank Groups), each composed of three squadrons, for a total of 24 tanks for each Reparto. In 1926, the unit became a Centro di Formazione Carri Armati (English: Tank Training Center) composed of the command unit, the logistic unit, the Gruppi d’Istruzione (English: Training Groups), and tank units.

FIAT 3000 in the early 1920s observed by Italian soldiers and officers, probably during some testing
Source: gamepardvideo.com

Pacification of Libya (1920 – 1930)

After the end of the Italo-Turkish War in Libya in 1912, the local Senussi population revolted against Italian rule and occupied all Libyan territory except the coastal cities, which remained in Italian hands.

After the end of World War I, the Kingdom of Italy decided to regain the territory lost since 1914. The so-called Pacification of Libya or Second Italo-Senussi War began in 1922 and ended 10 years later with the Italian occupation of all Libyan regions.

During 1926, the FIAT 3000 received its baptism of fire. A Compagnia Carri (English: Tank Company) was part of the rapid column of Colonel Ronchetti which occupied Giarabub on 7th February 1926.

The two FIAT 3000 Modello 1921s used during the occupation of Giarabub in 1926. The first vehicle is armed with a pair of Lewis machine guns. Source: italie1935-45.com

The Birth of Reggimento Carri Armati

In 1927, the Center was transformed into the Reggimento Carri Armati (English: Tank Regiment), consisting of a command unit and five battalions of two companies each. Each company was equipped with 8 to 16 tanks plus the company commander’s command tank .

In 1931, the new training regulations stated that the FIATs would neutralize the enemy defenses by leveling the material obstacles and the centers of resistance. Machine gun tanks had to fire at enemy personnel and neutralize machine gun nests or anti-tank positions, while cannon tanks had to counter enemy tanks and bunkers. The number of tanks armed with cannon and machine gun per unit is unknown.

Organization of the Reggimento Carri (English: Tank Regiment).
Source: algoreducation.com

The Reorganization into Four Battalions

In 1933, according to the Royal Italian Army General Staff’s Circular N° 1,399 of 7th March 1932 , four FIAT 3000 battalions were foreseen for the mobilization: the II° Battaglione (English: 2nd Battalion) with two companies with seven tanks each, the III° Battaglione, IV° Battaglione, and V° Battaglione (English: 3rd, 4th and 5th Battalions) with three companies with 10 tanks each and four tanks armed with cannon that were kept in reserve. However, the FIAT 3000 was showing its age and was clearly seen by many as effectively obsolete. Italian FIAT 3000s did not participate in the Ethiopian campaign or in the Spanish Civil War.

Although they did not participate in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, two FIAT 3000 Modello 1921s were placed as gate guardians in front of the Imperial Palace in Addis Ababa in 1936. source: italie1935-45.com

The Brigata Corazzata

With the establishment of the Brigata Corazzata (English: Armored Brigades) in 1937, two regiments were born. These were the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment), which commanded the 1st and 2nd Battalions, and the 32° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 32nd st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment), which commanded the 3rd and 4th Battalions.

Six FIAT 3000s, armed with 7.7 mm caliber Lewis medium machine guns, were present at Macallé (in present-day Eritrea) in 1937 for the defense of the airfield in the same city.

FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 armed with two 7.7 mm Lewis machine guns. Source: italie1935-45.com

With the appearance of the new ‘Breakthrough Tank’, the M11/39, in 1939, the FIAT 3000s were relegated to equipping second-line units. Out of 127 vehicles, 90 were still used in the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ and 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete (English: 131st and 132nd Armored Divisions), in the Battaglione Scuola (English: School Battalion) of Bologna and the Compagnia Motorizzata (English: Motorized Company) in Zara in Croatia. In September 1939, it was decided to use 50 FIAT 3000s to compose the Border Tank Companies.

Invasion and Anti-Partisan War in Yugoslavia (1941-1943)

In 1939, the 1ª Compagnia Carrista di Frontiera (English: 1st Border Tank Company) was transferred to Shkoder in Albania, During the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, the unit was aggregated into the III° Battaglione Guardia alla Frontiera (English: 3rd Border Guard Battalion) and transferred between Tarabosh and Bojana to defend anti-tank positions located at Kurt Alai.

The Company repulsed a Yugoslav attack on 11th April, remaining in Kurt Alai until the 15th. Then, it advanced together with other Italian units in Montenegro and then returned to Scutari and remained there with garrison duties.

In July 1941, the unit was deployed in Montenegro in support of the 18ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Messina’ (English: 18th Infantry Division), where it intervened to support the Italian anti-guerrilla actions. On 13th July, it began the transfer to Podgorica together with the II° Battaglione (English: 2nd Battalion) of the Guardia di Finanza (English: Finance Guard). Due to the lack of flatbed trailers needed to transport the eight FIAT 3000s, the unit had to proceed on tracks and reached its destination, covering 70 km in over 18 hours. Immediately afterward, the unit was ordered to proceed towards Cettinge, the then capital of Montenegro, but the order was canceled due to the poor state of the tanks of the company. These remained stationed in Podgorica until the armistice.

The Compagnia Meccanizzata di Zara (English: Mechanized Company of Zadar) had L tanks, Lancia 1ZM armored cars, and some FIAT 3000s was stationed in Zadar, on the Adriatic coast in modern day Croatia. In April 1941, this unit, together with the XI Battaglione Bersaglieri (English: 11th Bersaglieri Battalion), occupied Benkovac, Knin, Šibenik, and Split.

The Italian occupation forces in Yugoslavia were quite surprised by the sudden Partisan uprising. On 13th July 1941, in Montenegro, the Partisans launched an attack on the Italian forces. In order to supress this resistance movement in Montenegro, the Italian 14° Corpo (English: 14th Corps) was mobilized. The Italians could only deploy limited armored support for their operation.

One armored unit, a company of aging FIAT 3000 tanks, was present in the area and quickly deployed. These were likely used against the Partisans starting from 15th July. On 17th July, the Partisans managed to destroy an Italian tank, likely a FIAT 3000. Use of these tanks after this incident is not clear.

Allied Invasion of Sicily (July 1943)

The last use of Italian FIAT 3000s was in July 1943, against the Allied forces during the invasion of Sicily. Two companies, consisting of 9 tanks each, had been assigned to the 6° Armata (English: 6th Army). The 1ª Compagnia (English: 1st Company) was stationed in Scordia, while the 2ª Compagnia (English: 2nd Company) was in Licata.

The 1a Compagnia was used by the XII Corpo d’Armata (English: 13th Corps) to create machine gun nests, burying the tanks, for the 207a Divisione Costiera (English: 207th Coastal Division)

The 2a Compagnia, under the command of Reserve Captain Angelotti Francesco, was part of the Gruppo Mobile H (English: Mobile Group “H”) assigned to XVI Corpo d’Armata (English: 16th Corps). The mobile group was stationed in Caltagirone and had to defend the San Pietro airfield. On 10th July 1943, the unit was used to eliminate the paratroopers of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment around the airfield. The tanks, due to their extreme slowness, were transported near to the airfield on the trucks of the 23° Autogruppo (English: 23rd Transport Group). At 12:35 am, the US 3rd Paratrooper Battalion, commanded by First Lieutenant Peter J. Eaton, clashed with an Italian infantry column supported by some FIAT 3000s. The Americans forced the enemy unit to retreat, eliminating a FIAT 3000 with the fire of two 47/32 Italian guns that had been previously captured.

At 7:30 pm, the commander of the San Pietro airfield declared that 50 paratroopers were captured in the fighting near the airfield thanks to the support of two FIAT 3000.

On 12th July, the 9th Italian Rifle Company, supported by a machine gun squad and two FIAT 3000s, were transferred to Ficuzza. There, they clashed with American paratroopers until 5 pm, capturing 4 and killing 6. On 13th July, in order to defend the airfield from the attack of the 180th US Infantry Regiment, the commander of Mobile Group H, Lieutenant Colonel Luigi Cixi, ordered the FIAT 3000s to position themselves on the perimeter of the airfield. The American attack started at 10 pm. The Italian units resisted for an hour but then had to retreat and the 2a Compagnia lost 5 FIAT tanks.

Six of the nine FIAT 3000s had been lost, but the fate of the remaining three is unknown, and they were probably abandoned or destroyed by enemy fire.

The Italians there were essentially trying to repulse an invasion involving modern tanks, such as Shermans, with a tank barely different from those used on the battlefields of WW1 a generation earlier. It did not go well.

FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 of the 2ª Compagnia captured by the US soldiers at Licata airfield, Sicily, in 1943. Source: italie1935-45.com

Fanteria Carrista di Frontiera

The Guardia alla Frontiera or GaF (English: Border Guards), the unit responsible for the defense of the Italian borders, was equipped with armored vehicles to counter the action of any enemy ‘Alpine’ tanks. Their counterpart was the French ‘Armee Des Alpes’ (English: Army of the Alps), which had some units equipped with Renault FTs. The Italian companies were formed on 31st January 1940.

These were organized into a command squad and three tank platoons with a total of 4 officers, 5 NCOs, 36 tank crewmembers, 10 tanks, two heavy trucks, two flatbed trailers, a light truck, and two two-seater motorcycles.

Five Compagnie Carristi di Frontiera (English: Border Tank Companies) were created. There is some information available about the 1ª Compagnia Carri (English: 1st Tank Company).

In June 1942, the company became part of the III° Battaglione Carri L (English: 3rd Light Tank Battalion) of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) assigned to the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’.

The 2ª Compagnia Carri (English: 2nd Tank Company) was located in Borgo San Dalmazzo at the beginning of 1940, assigned to the II° Corpo (English: 2nd Corps). There, it operated during the campaign of the Western Alps (June 1940) against France. After the campaign, it was transferred to the eastern border with Yugoslavia, where it was assigned to the XXII° Guardia alla Frontiera Sector assigned to the 13ª Divisione Fanteria ‘Re’ (English: 13th Infantry Division).

The 3ª Compagnia Carri (English: 3rd Tank Company) was created in Caserta in March 1940 and placed under the command of Lieutenant Pasquale Mele. It was destined for the Italian islands in the Aegean. The unit consisted of a Command Platoon (with a FIAT 3000 command tank, a FIAT 3000 Modello 1930 armed with a 37/40 cannon, a repair and recovery team), the 1° Plotone Carri L (English: 1st Light Tank Platoon) with FIAT 3000 Modello 1930s in Calitea, the 2° Plotone Carri L with FIAT 3000 Modello 1930s in Chioccola, and 3° Plotone Misto Carri (English: 3rd Mixed Tank Platoon) with FIAT 3000 Modello 1921s and FIAT 3000 Modello 1930s. The Command Platoon consisted of four officers, 3 NCOs, and 25 tank crewmembers.

The unit was then equipped with a staff car, two motorcycles, and a flatbed trailer. To transport the tanks, five light and two heavy trucks belonging to the 50° Autoreparto Misto dell’Egeo (English: 50th Mixed Motorized Unit of the Aegean Sea) were made available to the company.

In July 1942, Lieutenant Mele was replaced by Lieutenant Giovanni Furetti. The unit (also called the 1st Tank Company L5) had 10 to 12 operational FIAT 3000s. Over time, some of the old FIAT 3000s, due to the lack of spare parts, became unusable.

FIAT 3000 of the 1st Frontier Tank Company in Durres (Albania) in 1940.
Source: italie1935-45.com

The 4ª Compagnia Carri (English: 4th Tank Company) was located in the Cesana Torinese area at the beginning of 1940, assigned to the VII° GaF sector of the IV° Corpo (English: 4th Corps). After Italy entered the war on 10th June 1940, the first action of the Royal Army was the campaign of the Alps against French forces, which lasted from 21st to 25th June. During this campaign, some FIAT 3000 Modello 1921s of the company supported the action of a Carabinieri platoon against French troops during the occupation of Mont Genèvre. After the campaign in the Alps, the 4th Company was transferred to the Yugoslav border and placed under the control of the XXII° GaF sector, assigned to the 13ª Divisione fanteria ‘Re’.

The last company was the 5ª Compagnia Carri (English: 5th Tank Company). At the beginning of 1940, it was located in Ventimiglia, assigned to the I° Guardia alla Frontiera Sector. No actions of this unit are known during the campaign of the Alps. It was then transferred to the border with Yugoslavia, becoming first a part of the 15ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Bergamo’ (English: 15th Infantry Division) and then, on 5th September 1940, it was assigned to the XXVII° GaF Sector, reporting directly to the V° Corpo (English: 5th Corps).

FIAT 3000 of the 4th Border Tank Company after the occupation of Montgenevre in June 1940. Source: italie1935-45.com

Dissolution

With the end of hostilities with Yugoslavia, the three companies placed in the Italian Peninsula (2nd, 4th, and 5th Companies) were dissolved. The FIAT 3000s still operational were divided into two companies of nine tanks located in Sicily, with the XII° Corpo and XIV° Corpo (English: 12th and 14th Corps). Both were lost during operations in Sicily in July 1943.

Replacement

The 25th May 1925 report of the Ufficio Comando Reparto Carri Armati (English: Tank Department Headquarters Office) highlighted the main defects of the FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 and also the design of a new tank that was to replace it, called Tipo 2 (English: Type 2). The design of this new vehicle had already been shown to the Army Chief of Staff on 12th January 1925. The design called for a larger vehicle than the FIAT 3000, armed with a rapid-fire 37 mm cannon, with 270 rounds, and a FIAT 1924 machine gun, with 4,500 rounds, in the turret. Armor was also increased, raised to 20 mm in areas most susceptible to enemy hits. The gasoline engine had to have an output of at least 75 hp.

In the end, this project was never developed, partly because studies had begun on the modification of the FIAT 3000 armed with a 37 mm Vickers-Terni cannon, which entered service in 1930.

Comparison of FIAT 3000 Model 1921, in gray, and Type 2 tank, in white.
Source: gli autoveicoli da combattimento

In 1929, as the FIAT 3000 was now an obsolete tank, Ansaldo decided to design a new turretless carro d’assalto (English: assault tank). Two draftsmen were sent to Foster & C in Lincoln, Great Britain, who under the guidance of Project Office Chief W. Rigby created a drawing that was later used in Italy for the construction of a 1:10 model. One example was built by Ansaldo in 1932 and named Carro Armato Ansaldo da 9 T. (English: 9-ton Ansaldo Tank), was armed with a 65 mm cannon and three 6.5 mm machine guns. The engine was an Ansaldo 6-cylinder with a power output of 80-88 hp that allowed a top speed of 22.5 km/h on roads.

The tank was tested at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (CSM) (English: Center for Motor Vehicle Studies) in December 1934 and then displayed for propaganda purposes at the 1935 Fiera Campionaria di Milano (English: Milan Trade Fair). After that, the vehicle was modified again, the suspension was changed, and, perhaps, the engine was changed, adopting that of the FIAT 634N truck. It was tested again at CSM. only for the project to be abandoned in 1937.

Carro Armato Ansaldo da 9T. at Ansaldo in Genoa, note the C.V. 33 prototype to its left.
Source: mamot.fr

In 1936, the carri d’assalto (English: assault tanks) changed their name to carri di rottura (English: breakthrough tanks). In 1937, still without a replacement for the FIAT 3000, the carro di rottura 8T (English: 8T breakthrough tank) (also called 10T from the weight of the vehicle) was born. The vehicle had a 110 hp SPA 8T diesel engine, was armed with two machine guns in the turret and a 37 mm Vickers-Terni cannon in the casemate. The vehicle could reach a maximum road speed of 33 km/h and had a range of 120 km. It was later modified, installing new Breda Model 1938 machine guns in a new rounded turret and was presented to Mussolini on 12th May 1938 during his visit to Genoa.

Carro di Rottura 8T during a test at Ansaldo
Source: forum.warthunder.com

The new tank later took the name M11/39. The first of 100 serial production tanks left the Ansaldo factory in July 1939 The M11/39, which finally offered a replacement for the FIAT 3000, saw use in North Africa and Italian East Africa (24 units) while only one platoon was left in Italy. This vehicle was the basis for the subsequent M13, M14, and M15 tanks.

M11/39 of the 32nd Tank Regiment during the Great Maneuvers of 1939 in Piedmont
Source: italie1935-45

Export

Although it was more advanced than the Renault FT from which it derived in a number of ways, the FIAT 3000 was not as successful in the export market. The reason for this is partly because it became obsolete very quickly and had low production numbers compared to the Renault FT, which was available in much larger numbers from earlier on.

About twenty FIAT 3000s were sold or transferred to other countries. The vehicles purchased were used for testing but did not meet the requirements of the army for which the vehicle was intended.

Albania

Two Modello 1921s were sold to Albania in the late 1920s; these two tanks were among the earliest produced. They were both later recovered during the 1939 Italian occupation of Albania and redeployed by the Italian troops in the Balkans.

Albanian FIAT 3000 Mod. 1921 captured by the Italians in 1939.
Source: italie1935-45.com

Argentina

A FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 was delivered to Argentina, armed with a FIAT Modello 1924 medium machine gun. The tank was paraded in Buenos Aires during Argentina’s national holiday on 25th May 1924.

Argentine FIAT 3000 during the national holiday on 25th May 1924.
Source: italie1935-45.com

Denmark

Denmark bought a FIAT 3000 in June 1928 for testing. It was rearmed with two Madsen machine guns. The army did not know how to use it and mechanical problems occurred, so much so that it was used as a target during exercises

Danish FIAT 3000.
Source: armyvehicles.dk

Ethiopia

Three tanks were donated to Ethiopia, a FIAT Modello 1921 in 1927 and two Modello 1930s in the early 1930s. They were later recovered in 1936, with the invasion of Ethiopia.

Two FIAT 3000s, unarmed, captured by the Italians in front of the Imperial Palace in Addis Ababa in 1936. Source: italie1935-45.com

Greece

According to N. Pignato, Greece bought a FIAT 3000. Sadly, there is no other information available on the Greek Fiat 3000.

Hungary

In 1931, Hungary bought five FIAT 3000 from Italy. These tanks formed a Könnyűharckocsi század (English: Tank Company) composed of two platoons, together with German-origin LK II tanks.

The last two disarmed surviving Hungarian FIAT 3000B tanks. Late 1942.
Source: MAGYAR WARRIORS The History of the Royal Hungarian Armed Forces, 1919–1945 Volume I

Japan

The Japanese bought a FIAT 3000 for testing. This tank participated in the Sino-Japanese War, being used for training in Tianjin in 1935.

Fiat 3000 used by the Japanese for training in Tianjin (China) in 1935.
Source: firearmcentral.fandom.com

Latvia

Latvia bought six FIAT tanks, two Modello 1930 and four Modello 1921, which equipped two platoons of the 1st Tank Company, located in Riga, part of the Autotank Regiment. At least two of these were armed with French 37 mm Puteaux SA 18 guns while the others had MG 08 machine guns. Their fate is unknown, but they were probably sold to Hungary or scrapped in the mid-1930s.

Latvian FIAT 3000s armed with French SA 18 cannons, in training in 1928. Source: italie1935-45.com

Spain

Spain bought a FIAT 3000 in October 1924 for the Artillery section of the Ministry of War to test. It was registered with the plate ‘ATM 984’ and assigned to the Escuela Central de Tiro (English: Central Firing School). The tank survived until the Spanish Civil War, but nothing is known of its service.

The Spanish FIAT 3000 with pro-government Republican sympathizers during the early stages of the Spanish Civil War. Part of the plaque can be seen. The tank is unarmed. Source: http://www.sbhac.net/Republica/Imagenes/Lectores/LuisAntonioRuiz/LARuiz.htm

U.S.S.R

In 1927, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) bought three FIATs, numbers 107, 108, and 109. These arrived in Moscow in March 1928.

The vehicles arrived in Russia unarmed and were then equipped with Hotchkiss 37 mm guns. A Modello 1921 was bought by the Polish Communist Party and donated to the USSR. This vehicle, named ‘Feliks Dzerzhinskiy’, took part in the parade in Moscow’s Red Square on 7th November 1928. Two tanks were sent to the Armored Commander Courses Academy in 1929.

Soviet FIAT 3000 armed with a 37 mm gun. Source: italie1935-45.com

Versions

FIAT 3000 Nebbiogeno

Over the years, other versions were tested, such as the smoke screen generator tested in 1925 during a major training exercise that involved many Italian units. It was equipped with two cylindrical tanks containing sulfuric acid, into which the exhaust gasses generated by the engine were conveyed. The sulfuric acid and the CO2 from the engine reacted, forming a dense white smoke screen.

Later, during Chemical Army Day in Rome (1935), some FIAT 3000 Modello 1921s were modified with two smoke screen diffusers placed in the rear part of the hull.

Neither variant was ever built in series.

FIAT 3000 Nebbiogeno with sulfuric acid tanks on the sides.
Source: IL SERVIZIO CHIMICO MILITARE 1923-1945

Flamethrower FIAT 3000

The flamethrower version of the vehicle was studied in 1932 by Major Rodolfo Foronato and Captain Enrico Riccardi, of the Reggimento Carri Armati di Bologna (English: Tank Regiment of Bologna). A FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 was modified because, as the study of the two officers showed, the modification did not involve transformations of the hull or armament (usable independently from the flamethrower) of the FIAT. A tank for the flammable liquid was placed behind the engine compartment, instead of the iron tail. From the turret, a long barrel protruded from which the flammable liquid was sprayed at high-pressure.

The flammable liquid tank had a capacity of 270 liters while the flamethrower had an average autonomy of 6 hours and a range of 100 m.

FIAT 3000 Modello 1921 flamethrower (left) with the liquid tank on the rear. Source: italie1935-45.com

FIAT 4000

The FIAT 4000 was designed in the late 1920s for the transport of medium-caliber artillery, but remained at the design stage. The vehicle would have weighed 3 tonnes and would have used the same engine as the FIAT 3000

FIAT 4000 project
Source: Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

Conclusions

At its inception, the FIAT 3000 was a good vehicle, appreciated for its climbing skills, the particularly powerful engine, which allowed it a high speed for the time, and a respectable armor. Precisely, this convinced the Italian military leaders to study a version armed with a cannon, not realizing that, at the end of the 1920s, it was already an obsolete vehicle.

In the 1930s and 1940s, its obsolescence made itself felt in the few clashes it took part in and the few remaining vehicles were used in the second line or as trainers until 1943.

Thanks

A big thank to Arturo Giusti and Marko Pantelic for the support and help with sources

Fiat 3000 modele 1921
FIAT 3000 Model 1921, serie I, Abyssinia, 1935.
Fiat 3000 modele 1921
FIAT 3000 Model 21 serie I, Italy, 3rd Battalion of the 1st Armored Division, 1924.
Fiat 3000 modele 1921 radio
FIAT L5/21 serie II with radio, Corsica, March 1941.
Fiat 3000 modele 1930
FIAT L5/30, Italy, Calabria, January 1939.

Specifications FIAT Modello 1921 (Modello 1930)

Dimensions 4.17 (4.29) x 1.64 (1.70) x 2.19 (2.20) m
Weight 5.5 (5.9) tonnes
Crew 2 (commander and driver)
Engine FIAT 304 petrol 50 hp (63 hp)
Maximum road speed 21 (22) km/h
Autonomy 95 (88) km
Armament 2 x 6.5 mm SIA Modello 1918 or 2 x 8 mm FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935 (1x Cannone Vickers-Terni da 37/40 Modello 1918)
Armor Hull: 16 mm front, sides and rear. 8 mm roof and tail. 6 mm floor.
Turret: 16 mm front and sides. 8 mm roof.
Production 100 Modello 1921 and 52 Modello 1930

Sources

Categories
WW2 Italian Tanks

Carro Armato Leggero L6/40

Kingdom of Italy (1941-1943)
Light Reconnaissance Tank – 432 Built

The Carro Armato Leggero L6/40 was a light reconnaissance tank used by the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) from May 1941 until the Armistice with the Allied forces in September 1943.

It was the only turret-equipped light tank of the Italian Army and was used on all fronts with mediocre results. Its obsoleteness already when it entered service was not its only inadequacy. The L6/40 was developed as a light reconnaissance vehicle to be used on the mountainous roads of northern Italy, and instead, it was used, at least in North Africa, as a vehicle to support Italian infantry attacks across the wide desert spaces.

A Carro Armato L6/40 in the Eastern Front. Source: pinterest.com

History of the Project

During the First World War, the Italian Royal Army fought the Austro-Hungarian Empire on Italy’s north-eastern border. This territory is mountainous and brought the trench fighting typical of that conflict to heights of over 2,000 meters.

Following the experience of mountain combat, between the 1920s and 1930s, the Regio Esercito and the two companies involved in the production of tanks, Ansaldo and Fabbrica Italiana Automobili di Torino or FIAT (English: Italian Automobile Company of Turin), each requested or designed only armored vehicles suitable for mountain combat. The L3 series of 3 tonnes light tanks, the L6/40 itself, and the M11/39 medium tank were small and lightweight vehicles suitable for this environment.

The L3/33 prototype during tests. In this photo, the narrow streets on which it was to operate, according to the High Command of the Royal Army, are clearly visible. Source: fondazioneansaldo.it

To give an idea, the Royal Army was so obsessed with combat in the high mountains that even the AB40 medium armored car was developed with similar characteristics. It had to be able to easily pass through the narrow and steep mountain roads and to pass over the characteristic wooden bridges, which could hold little weight.

The 3 tonnes light tanks and the medium tank were equipped with armament positioned in the casemate, not because the Italian industry was not able to produce and build rotating turrets, but because in the mountains, when operating on narrow dirt roads or in narrow high mountain villages, it was physically impossible to be outflanked by the enemy. Therefore, the main armament was necessary only to the front, and not having a turret saved weight.

Four Ansaldo and FIAT interwar tank projects. From left to right: L3/33 light tank, Carro Cannone Modello 1936 (L6/40 predecessor), the Carro di Rottura da 10t (M11/39 prototype), and the Carro Armato Ansaldo da 9t self-propelled gun. All these vehicles were developed for high mountain fighting. Source: reddit.com – @warspot

The L6/40 followed these mountain combat specifications, with a maximum width of 1.8 meters which allowed it to travel on all the mountain roads and mule trails that other vehicles would have a hard time passing through. Its weight was also very low, 6.84 tonnes battle-ready with crew on board. This made it possible to cross small bridges on mountain roads and to pass easily even on soft terrain.

During the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, the High Command of the Italian Royal Army was not impressed with the performance of the L3 series light tanks, which were poorly armored and armed.

The Italian Regio Esercito issued a request for a new turret-equipped light tank armed with a cannon. FIAT of Turin and Ansaldo of Genoa started a joint project for the new tank utilizing the chassis of the L3/35, the latest evolution of the L3 tank series.

In November 1935, they unveiled the Carro d’Assalto Modello 1936 (English: Assault Tank Model 1936) with the same chassis and engine compartment as the L3/35 3 tonnes tank, but with new torsion bar suspension, a modified superstructure, and a one-man turret with a 37 mm gun.

The Carro d’Assalto Modello 1936 during tests at the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione in Rome. 12th November 1935. Source: Centro Tecnico della Motorizzazione

After tests at the Ansaldo testing ground, the prototype was sent to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione or CSM (English: Center of Motorization Studies) in Rome. The CSM was the Italian department which was responsible for examining new vehicles for the Regio Esercito.

During these tests, the Carro d’Assalto Modello 1936 prototype performed with mixed results. The new suspension functioned very well, surprising the Italian generals, but the vehicle’s center of gravity during off-road driving and firing was a problem. Because of these unsatisfactory performances, the Regio Esercito asked for a new design.

In April 1936, the same two companies presented the Carro Cannone Modello 1936 (English: Cannon Tank Model 1936), a totally different modification of the L3/35. It had a 37 mm gun on the left side of the superstructure with limited traverse and a rotating turret armed with a couple of machine guns.

The Carro Cannone Modello 1936. Source: worldwarphotos.infos

The Carro Cannone Modello 1936 was not what the Army had requested. Ansaldo and FIAT had only tried to develop a support vehicle for L3 battalions, but with limited success. The vehicle was also tested without the turret, but was not accepted in service because it did not meet the Regio Esercito’s requirements.

The same Carro Cannone Modello 1936 without the turret in Nepi, near Viterbo, Lazio Region, during the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione tests. Source: italie1935-45.com

History of the Prototype

After the failure of the last prototype, FIAT and Ansaldo decided to start a new project, a totally new tank with torsion bars and a rotating turret. According to engineer Vittorio Valletta, who worked with the two companies, the project was born at the request of an unspecified foreign nation, but this can not be confirmed. It was financed by both companies’ own funds.

Development only began in late 1937 due to bureaucratic problems. Authorization for the project had been requested on 19th November 1937 and was only issued by the Ministero della Guerra (English: War Department) on 13th December 1937. This was because it was a private FIAT and Ansaldo project and not an Italian Army request. It was probably FIAT that paid the costs for most of the development. Part of the production and the whole assembly of the vehicle were centered in the SPA plant, a subsidiary of FIAT in Turin, according to Document Number 8 signed by the two companies.

The prototype, armed with two machine guns in the turret, was baptized M6 (M for Medio – Medium), then L6 (L for Leggero – Light) when Circular n°1400 of 13th June 1940 increased the category limit for medium tanks from 5 tonnes to 8 tonnes. On 1st December 1938, the Regio Esercito had issued a request (Circular Number 3446) for a new “medium” tank called M7 with a weight of 7 tonnes, a maximum speed of 35 km/h, an operational range of 12 hours, and an armament composed of a 20 mm automatic cannon with a coaxial machine gun or a couple of machine guns in a 360° traverse turret.

FIAT and Ansaldo did not hesitate and offered their M6 to the Regio Esercito High Command. However, it met only some of the M7 requests. For example, the M6 (and then the L6) had a range of only 5 hours instead of 12 hours.

The FIAT and Ansaldo prototype was presented to the highest authorities of the Army General Staff at Villa Glori on 26th October 1939.

The FIAT-Ansaldo M6 during tests. It had a Imperiale camouflage scheme often mistakenly called “Spaghetti” camouflage. Source: facebook.com

The Italian High Command was not impressed with the M6. On the same day, General Cosma Manera of the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione, however, showed interest in the vehicle, proposing to accept it into service on the condition that the armament be changed to a 20 mm automatic cannon mounted in the turret. In the eyes of Gen. Manera, this solution, in addition to increasing the tank’s anti-armor performance, would also make it capable of engaging aircraft.

Same prototype during tests. Behind it, an L3/35 3 tonnes light tank is probably doing the same tests for comparison. San Polo dei Cavalieri, date unknown. Source: italie1935-45.com

Shortly afterward, Ansaldo presented a new prototype of the M6. The new M6 tank was proposed with two different armament combinations in the same taller single-seat turret:

A Cannone da 37/26 with a 8 mm coaxial machine gun
A Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 automatic cannon also accompanied by an 8 mm machine gun

In spite of Gen. Manera’s wishes, the second option did not have high enough gun elevation to allow the main gun to engage aerial targets, not to mention the fact that, with the poor visibility the commander had from the turret, it was nearly impossible to spot a rapidly approaching aerial target.

The M6 prototype fresh off the assembly line, ready to be tested. Note the absence of the episcope support. Source: fondazioneansaldo.it

Despite the failure of this requirement, the prototype armed with the 20 mm automatic cannon was tested by the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione between 1939 and 1940. During one of these rough terrain tests, it caught fire after the tank overturned at San Polo dei Cavalieri, 50 km from Rome, due to the high center of gravity caused by poor arrangement of the gasoline tanks in the engine compartment.

Two images of the M6 prototype in San Polo dei Cavalieri after the incident. Sources: facebook.com

After being recovered and having undergone the necessary modifications, the M6 prototype participated in new tests. The prototype was accepted in April 1940 as the Carro Armato L6/40, short for Carro Armato Leggero da 6 tonnellate Modello 1940 (English: 6 tonnes Light Tank Model 1940). It was then renamed Carro Armato L6 (Model – weight) and, from 14th August 1942, with Circular Number 14,350, the name was changed to Carro Armato L40 (Model – year of acceptance). Today, a common designation is L6/40, as is commonly given in video games such as War Thunder and World of Tanks.

One of the first L6/40s produced with Imperiale camouflage at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant of Sestri Ponente, near Genoa. The slogan was “Credere, Obbedire e Combattere” (English: Believe, Obey and Fight), one of the most popular fascist mottos during the Fascist era. Sources: italie1935-45.com
Colorization by Johannes Dorn

Production

The first production model differed from the prototype armed with the 20 mm automatic cannon by the installation of the jack on the right front fender and a steel bar and shovel support on the left front fender. The only toolbox, located on the left rear fender on the prototype, was replaced by two smaller toolboxes, leaving room for a spare wheel support on the left rear fender. The fuel tank caps were also moved. They were isolated from the engine compartment in order to lessen the risk of fire in case of overturning. On production examples, the gun shield was slightly modified and the turret roof was tilted forward slightly to accommodate the new gun shield.

The final shape of the L6/40 with the Imperiale camouflage at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant of Sestri Ponente. Sources: italie1935-45.com

The armored plates were forged by Terni Società per l’Industria e l’Elettricità (English: Terni Company for Industry and Electricity). The engines were designed by FIAT and produced by its subsidiary Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA (English: Piedmontese Automobiles Company) in Turin. San Giorgio of Sestri Ponente near Genoa produced all the optical devices of the tanks. Magneti Marelli of Corbetta, near Milan, produced the radio system, batteries, and engine starter. Breda of Brescia produced the automatic cannons and machine guns, while the final assembly was carried out in Turin by the SPA plant of Corso Ferrucci.

On 26th November 1939, Gen. Alberto Pariani wrote to Gen. Manara, informing him that, during Benito Mussolini’s visit to the Ansaldo-Fossati factory in Sestri Ponente, the assembly lines of some vehicles, such as the M13/40 and the L6/40, at that time still called M6, were ready and they only had to sign the production contract with the companies.

Apart from the prototypes, the L6/40s were only produced in Turin, so it is unclear what Pariani was referring to. During Mussolini’s visit to Sestri Ponente, FIAT technicians informed the dictator and the Italian general that the assembly line for the L6 was ready and Pariani confused the place in which they would be produced.

In the letter, Gen. Pariani urged to decide which armament would be chosen, as FIAT-Ansaldo had not yet received news of which model the Regio Esercito wanted, the 20 mm or the 37 mm gun.

On 18th March 1940, the Regio Esercito ordered 583 M6, 241 M13/40, and 176 AB armored cars. This order was formalized and signed by the Direzione Generale della Motorizzazione (English: General Directorate of Motor Vehicles). This was even before the approval of the M6 for Regio Esercito service.

In the contract, a production of 480 M6 per year was mentioned. This was a difficult goal to reach, in fact, even before the war. In September 1939, a FIAT-SPA analysis reported that, at maximum capacity, their plants could produce 20 armored cars, 20 light tanks (30 maximum), and 15 medium tanks per month. This was just an estimation, and Ansaldo’s production was not considered. Nevertheless, 480 tanks a year goal was never achieved, reaching only 83% of the per-year planned production, even with SPA converting the Corso Ferruccio’s plant to only for L6 light tank production.

The first deliveries did not take place until 22nd May 1941, three months later than planned. At the end of June 1941, the order was modified by the Ispettorato Superiore dei Servizi Tecnici (English: Superior Inspectorate of Technical Services). Of the 583 L6 ordered, 300 chassis would become Semoventi L40 da 47/32 light support self-propelled guns on the same L6 chassis, while the total number of L6/40 would be reduced to 283, maintaining the previous order of 583 L6-derived vehicles. After other orders, 414 L40s were built by the SPA plant in Turin.

One of the first produced L6/40s, license plate ‘Regio Esercito 3825’, in standard yellow sand monochrome camouflage at the SPA plant of Corso Ferrucci, Turin. Source: facebook.com – @Curzio Cobetti

An analysis was carried out by the Ministry of War, which reported the number of L6 tanks needed by the Royal Army was about 240 units. However, the Chief of Staff of the Royal Italian Army, General Mario Roatta, who was totally unimpressed by the vehicle, had sent FIAT a counter-order on 30th May 1941 reducing the total to only 100 L6/40s.

Despite Gen. Roatta’s counter-order, production continued and, on 18th May 1943, another order was made to formalize the continuation of production. A total of 444 L40s were set for production. FIAT and the Regio Esercito decided that production would be stopped on 1st December 1943.

By the end of 1942, about 400 L6/40 had been produced, though not all delivered, while in May 1943, there were 42 L6s left to produce to complete the order. Before the Armistice, 416 had been produced for the Regio Esercito. Another 17 L6s were produced under German occupation from November 1943 to late 1944, for a total of 432 L6/40 light tanks produced.

The first batch of L6/40s, ready to be delivered to the Regio Esercito, waiting in the depot of the SPA plant of Turin. Source: italie1935-45.com

There were many causes for these delays. The SPA plant of Turin had more than 5,000 workers employed in the production of trucks, armored cars, tractors, and tanks for the Army. On 18th and 20th November 1942, the plant was the target of Allied bombers, which dropped incendiary and high-explosive bombs which caused heavy damage on the SPA factory. This delayed the delivery of vehicles for the last two months of 1942 and for the first months of 1943. The same situation occurred during heavy bombardments on 13th and 17th August 1943.

Alongside the bombings, the factory was paralyzed by workers’ strikes which occurred in March and August 1943 against bad working conditions and lowered wages.

FIAT-SPA poster showing a SPA worker finishing an L6/40. Source: facebook.com @Roberto Malaspina

In late 1942 and early 1943, the Regio Esercito began evaluating which vehicles to prioritize for production and which to give less attention to. The High Command of the Regio Esercito, well aware of the importance of the medium reconnaissance armored cars of the ‘AB’ series, prioritized the production of the AB41 at the expense of the L6/40 reconnaissance light tanks. This led to a drastic decrease in the production of this type of light tank, hence only 2 vehicles produced in 5 months.

An L6/40 fresh off the assembly line during testing at the proving ground of the SPA plant of Turin, with a small crowd of proud workers watching the tests. After production, all vehicles had to undergo quality testing. If they passed, they were ready for delivery. Source: facebook.com – @Curzio Cobetti

When the L6/40s came out from the assembly line, there were not enough San Giorgio optics and Magneti Marelli radios for them, because these were delivered in priority to the AB41s. This left the SPA plant’s depots full of vehicles waiting to be completed. In some cases, L6/40s were delivered to units for training without armament. This was mounted at the last moment, before embarking for North Africa or another front, due to the lack of automatic-cannons, also used by the AB41s.

A Carro Armato L6/40 crossing a small river during crew training at the Scuola di Cavalleria (English: Cavalry School) of Pinerolo. It does not yet have the main gun mounted and also seems to be missing the radio antenna. Source: italie1935-45.com

YearFirst Registration Number of the batchLast Registration Number of the batchTotal5,5025,5086

Carro Armato L6/40 production
1941 3,808 3,814 6
3,842 3,847 5
3,819 3,855 36
3,856 3,881 25
1942 3,881 4,040 209
5,121 5,189* 68
5,203 5,239 36
5,453 5,470 17
1943 5,481 5,489 8
Italian total production 415
1943-44 German Production 17
Total 415 + 17 432
Note * L6 Registration Number 5,165 was taken and modified into a prototype. It is not to be considered in the total number

Another problem with the L6/40 was the transport of these light tanks. They were too heavy to be transported on trailers developed by Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino or ARET (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin) in the 1920s. The ARET trailers were used to carry the light tanks of the L3 series and older FIAT 3000s.

The L6/40 had another problem. With a combat ready weight of 6.84 tonnes it was too heavy to be loaded on medium trucks of the Italian Army, which usually had a 3 tonne payload capacity. In order to transport them, the soldiers need to use the cargo bays of heavy duty trucks with 5 to 6 tonnes of maximum payload or on the two-axle Rimorchi Unificati da 15T trailers (English: 15 tonnes Unified Trailers) produced by Breda and Officine Viberti in few numbers and assigned with priority to Italian units equipped with medium tanks. In fact, on 11th March 1942, the Royal Army High Command issued a circular, in which it ordered some units equipped with L6/40s to deliver their 15 tonnes payload trailers to other units equipped with medium tanks.

An L6/40 of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ in Cascina Colla, small village in the province of Alessandria, probably during training. The vehicle was not yet equipped with its main armament due the lack of automatic cannons produced by Breda. Behind it is visible a 15 tonne payload two axle trailer developed by Officine Viberti to carry medium tanks. Source: Archivio Temperino

After a request for a new 6 tonne payload trailer, two companies started to develop it: Officine Viberti of Turin and Adige Rimorchi. The two trailers were equipped with four wheels fixed to a single axle. The Viberti trailer, which started to be tested in March 1942, had two jacks and a tilted rear section, allowing the loading and unloading of the L6 without ramps, while the Adige trailer also had a similar system. The trailer had two tiltable platforms fixed on it. When the L6/40 was to be loaded on board, the platforms were tilted and, with the help of the truck’s winch, the platforms were repositioned to the marching position.

The Officine Viberti trailer for L6/40 light tanks. The absence of ramps and four tires are clearly visible. The truck was a Lancia 3Ro, license plate ‘Regio Esercito 32582’, while the L6/40’s license plate was ‘Regio Esercito 4029’. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

The Italian Royal Army never really solved the problem with the L6 trailers. On 16th August 1943, the Royal Army High Command, in one of its documents, mentions that the trailer issue for the L6 light tanks was still being addressed.

The Ditta Adige L6/40 trailer in marching position. The travel lock that blocked the L6 on the trailer during transport is clearly visible. The vehicle that towed the trailer was a FIAT-SPA TM40 medium tractor. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano
Another Adige trailer. In this case, seen during the loading operation. The iron cable of the truck’s winch and the tilted platform are visible. The vehicle that towed the trailer was a Breda 41 heavy prime mover. Source: facebook.com – @Curzio Cobetti

Design

Turret

The L6/40 turret was developed by Ansaldo and assembled by SPA for the L6/40 light tank and also used on the AB41 medium armored car. The one-man turret had an octagonal shape with two hatches: one for the vehicle’s commander/gunner on the roof and the second one on the back of the turret, used to remove the main armament during maintenance operations. On the sides, the turret had two slits on the sides for commanders to check the battlefield and use the personal weapons, even if doing so in the turret’s cramped space was not practical.

On the roof, next to the hatch, there was a San Giorgio periscope with a 30° field of view, which allowed the commander a partial view of the battlefield because it was impossible, due to the limited space, to rotate it 360°.

The turret and gun shield scheme. Unlike the production models, this turret had no support for the episcope. Source: italie1935-45.com

The commander’s position did not have a turret basket and commanders were seated on a foldable seat. Commanders operated the cannon and the machine gun through the use of pedals. There were no electric generators in the turret, so the pedals were connected to the grips of the guns by means of flexible cables. These cables were of the ‘Bowden’ type, the same as on bike brakes and were used to to transmit the pulling force of the pedal to the triggers.

The L6/40 prototype’s turret. Although missing racks, radios, and other equipment, this was essentially the same as on the production versions. Source: fondazioneansaldo.com

Armor

The front plates of the superstructure were 30 mm thick, while those of the gun shield and driver’s port were 40 mm thick. The front plates of the transmission cover and the side plates were 15 mm thick, as was the rear. The engine deck was 6 mm thick and the floor had 10 mm armor plates.

The armor was produced with low-quality steel because of supply issues with ballistic steel, which were exacerbated from 1939 onward. The Italian industry was not able to supply very large quantities because the higher quality steel was sometimes reserved for the Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy). This was further worsened because of the embargoes imposed on Italy in 1935-1936 due to the invasion of Ethiopia and those that started in 1939, which did not allow the Italian industry access to enough high-quality raw materials.

The armor of the L6/40s often cracked after being hit (but not penetrated) by enemy shells, even small-caliber ones, such as the Ordnance QF 2 Pounder 40 mm rounds or even the .55 Boys (14.3 mm) of the Boys Anti-Tank rifle. The armor plates were all bolted, a solution that made the vehicle dangerous because, in some cases, when a shell hit the armor, the bolts flew out at very high speed, potentially injuring the crew members. The bolts were, however, the best that the Italian assembly lines could offer, as welding would have slowed down the production rate. The bolts also had the advantage of keeping the vehicle simpler to manufacture than a vehicle with welded armor and offered the possibility of replacing damaged armor plates with new ones very quickly even in poorly equipped field workshops.

Hull and Interior

At the front side was the transmission cover, with a large inspection hatch that could be opened by the driver through an internal lever. This would often be kept open to cool the brakes during travel, particularly in North Africa. A shovel and crowbar were placed on the right fender, while a rounded jack support was on the left.

There were two adjustable headlights mounted on the superstructure’ sides for night driving. The driver was positioned on the right and had a hatch that could be opened by a lever mounted on the right and, on top, a 190 x 36 mm episcope that had a horizontal 30º field of view, a vertical 8º field of view, and had a vertical traverse of -1° to +18°. Some spare episcopes were carried in a small box on the rear wall of the superstructure.

L6/40 longitudinale section. Source: reddit.com – u/stalker_vanguard

On the left, the driver had the gear lever and the handbrake, while the dashboard was placed on the right. Under the driver’s seat, there were the two 12V batteries produced by Magneti Marelli, which were used to start the engine and to power the vehicle’s electrical systems.

In the middle of the fighting compartment was the transmission shaft that connected the engine to the transmission. Due to the small amount of space inside, the vehicle was not equipped with an intercom system.

A rectangular tank with the engine’s cooling water was at the rear of the fighting compartment. In the middle was a fire extinguisher. On the sides, there were two air intakes to permit air intake when all the hatches were closed. On the bulkhead, above the transmission shaft, there were two openable inspection doors for the engine compartment.

Driver’s position on the L6/40, with the dashboard on the right. Source: italie1935-45.com
Central part of the fighting compartment. The commander/gunner pedals are clearly visible in the center. In this photo, one can observe 28 20 mm clip racks (numbers 4) and a small locker (left) for some machine gun magazine racks. On the bottom side, the transmission shaft is visible. Source: italie1935-45.com
The rear section of the interior of the fighting compartment. Two machine gun magazine racks are visible, alongside the last 20 mm clips rack (number 6). In the photo, the openable inspection doors are also visible, together with the spare iposcopes box (number 2) and the cooling water tank (behind the iposcope box). Source: italie1935-45.com

The engine and crew compartments were separated by an armored bulkhead, which reduced the risk of fire spreading to the crew compartment. The engine was located in the middle of the rear compartment, with one 82.5 liter fuel tank on either side. Behind the engine were the radiator and the lubrication oil tank.

The engine deck had two large doors with two grilles for engine cooling and, behind, two air intakes for the radiator. It was not uncommon for the crew to travel with the two hatches open during North African operations in order to better ventilate the engine due to the high temperatures.

Engine deck and armored bulkhead of the L6/40 light tank. Source: Italeri, Carro Armato L6/40 Photographic Reference Manual

The muffler was on the rear parts of the mudguards, on the right. On the first vehicles produced, this was not equipped with an asbestos cover. The cover dissipated the heat and was protected by an iron plate to avoid damage. The rear of the engine compartment had a round-shape removable plate fixed with bolts and used for engine maintenance. A support for the pickaxe and the license plate with red brake light were on the left side.

Engine and Suspension

The L6/40 light tank’s engine was the FIAT-SPA Tipo 18VT gasoline, 4-cylinder in-line, liquid-cooled engine with a maximum power of 68 hp at 2,500 rpm. It had a volume of 4,053 cm³. The same engine was used on the Semovente L40 da 47/32, with which it shared many parts of the chassis and powerpack. This engine was also an enhanced version of the one used on the FIAT-SPA 38R, SPA Dovunque 35, and FIAT-SPA TL37 military cargo trucks, the 55 hp FIAT-SPA 18T.

FIAT-SPA Tipo 18VT engine, right side. Source: Carro Armato FIAT-Ansaldo Modello L6 ed L6 Semovente – Norme d’Uso e Manutenzione 2ª Edizione

The engine could be started either electrically or manually using a handle that had to be inserted at the rear. The Zenith Tipo 42 TTVP carburetor was the same one used on the AB series of medium armored cars and allowed ignition even when cold. Another great feature of this carburetor was that it ensured a regulated flow of fuel even on slopes of 45°.

Engine’s fuel scheme. Source: Carro Armato FIAT-Ansaldo Modello L6 ed L6 Semovente – Norme d’Uso e Manutenzione 2ª Edizione

The engine used three different types of oil, depending on the temperatures in which the vehicle operated. In Africa, where the outside temperature exceeded 30°, ‘ultra-thick’ oil was used. In Europe, where the temperatures were between 10° and 30°, ‘thick’ oil was used, while in winter, when the temperature fell below 10°, ‘semi-thick’ oil was used. The instruction manual recommended adding oil in the 8-liter oil tank every 100 hours of service or every 2,000 km. The cooling water tank had a capacity of 18-liters.

The Carro Armato L6/40 engine parts. Source: Carro Armato L6/40 Photographic Reference Manual

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

At least a vehicle, license plate ‘Regio Esercito 4029’, was tested with factory-built supports for 20 liter cans. A maximum of five cans for a total of 100 liters of fuel could be transported by the L6, three on the left superstructure side and one above each rear fender tool box. These cans extended the maximum range of the vehicle to about 320 km.

The transmission had a single dry plate clutch. The gearbox had 4 forward and 1 reverse gears with speed reducer.

The brakes and driving levers connected to the gearbox. Source: Carro Armato FIAT-Ansaldo Modello L6 ed L6 Semovente – Norme d’Uso e Manutenzione 2ª Edizione

The running gear consisted of a 16-tooth front sprocket, four paired road wheels, three upper rollers, and one rear idler wheel on each side. The swing arms were fixed to the sides of the chassis and were attached to torsion bars. The L6 and L40 were the first Royal Army vehicles entering service with torsion bars.

The frontal suspension bogie was probably equipped with pneumatic shock absorbers.

The tracks were derived from those of the L3 series light tanks and were composed of 88 260 mm wide track links on each side.

The L6/40’s engine suffered from starting at low temperatures, something especially noted by crews deployed in the Soviet Union. The Società Piemontese Automobili tried to solve the problem by developing a pre-warming system that connected to a maximum of 4 L6 tanks warming the engine compartment before the vehicle were due to move.

A mock-up of the pre-warming system that could be connected to a maximum of 4 L6/40s or Semoventi L40 da 47/32. Source: facebook.com @Curzio Cobetti

Radio Equipment

The radio station of the L6/40 was a Magneti Marelli RF1CA-TR7 transceiver with an operating frequency range between 27 to 33.4 MHz. It was powered by an AL-1 Dynamotor supplying 9-10 Watts mounted on the front of the superstructure, on the driver’s left. It was connected to the 12V batteries produced by Magneti Marelli.

The radio had two ranges, Vicino (Eng: near), with a maximum range of 5 km, and Lontano (Eng: Far), with a maximum range of 12 km.

The L6/40 radio equipment scheme. Source: italie1935-45.com

The radio had a weight of 13 kg and was placed on the left side of the superstructure. It was operated by the overburdened commander. On the radio’s right was a fire extinguisher produced by Telum and filled with carbon tetrachloride.

The lowerable antenna was placed on the right roof side and was lowerable 90° backwards with a crank operated by the driver. When lowered, it diminished the maximum depression of the main gun to a maximum of -9°.

Main Armament

The Carro Armato L6/40 was armed with a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 gas-operated air cooled automatic cannon developed by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche of Brescia.

This was first presented in 1932 and, after a series of comparative tests with autocannons produced by Lübbe, Madsen, and Scotti. It was officially adopted by the Regio Esercito in 1935 as a dual use automatic cannon. It was a great anti-aircraft and anti-tank gun and, in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, some German-produced Panzer Is were modified to accommodate this gun in their small turret to fight the Soviet light tanks deployed by the Republicans.

A Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 during an anti-aircraft action in Greece. Winter 1941. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

From 1936 onward, the gun was produced in a vehicle mount variant and was installed in L6/40 light reconnaissance tanks and AB41 and AB43 medium armored cars.

It was produced in the Breda plants in Brescia and Rome and by the Terni gun factory, with a maximum average monthly production of 160 autocannons. More than 3,000 were used by the Regio Esercito in all the war theaters. Hundreds were captured and reused in North Africa by Commonwealth troops, which greatly appreciated their characteristics.

After the armistice of 8th September 1943, a total of over 2,600 Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini and Breda 20 mm automatic cannons were produced for the Germans, which renamed the latter Breda 2 cm FlaK-282(i).

The barrel of the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda mounted on the vehicles (upper) and the one mounted on the other supports used by the Italian armies (lower). Source: italie1935-45.com

The autocannon had a total weight of 307 kg with its field carriage, which gave it 360° traverse, a depression of -10° and an elevation of +80°. Its maximum range was 5,500 m. Against flying aircraft, it had a practical range of 1,500 m and against armored targets it had a maximum practical range between 600 and 1,000 m.

In all the gun variants, apart from the tank ones, the Breda was fed by 12-rounds clips loaded by the crew to the left side of the gun. In the tank version, the gun was fed by 8-rounds clips due the cramped space inside the vehicle’s turrets.

An Italian soldier loading a 12-round clip for a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 or a Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1939 automatic cannon. Libyan desert, Spring 1941. Source: Archivio Centrale dello Stato

The muzzle velocity was about 830 m/s, while its theoretical rate of fire was 500 rounds per minute, which dropped to 200-220 rounds per minute in practice in the field version, which had three loaders and 12-rounds clips. Inside the tank, the commander/gunner was alone and needed to open fire and reload the main gun, decreasing the rate of fire.

The maximum elevation was +20°, while the depression was -12°.

Secondary Armament

The secondary armament was composed of a 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 mounted coaxial to the cannon, on the left.

This gun was developed from the Breda Modello 1937 medium machine gun after specifications issued by the Ispettorato d’Artiglieria (English: Artillery Inspectorate) in May 1933.

Different Italian gun companies started working on the new machine gun. The requirements were a maximum weight of 20 kg, a theoretical rate of fire of 450 rounds per minute, and a barrel life of 1,000 rounds. The companies were Metallurgica Bresciana già Tempini, Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche, Ottico Meccanica Italiana, and Scotti.

Breda had been working on a 7.92 mm machine gun derived from the Breda Modello 1931, which had been adopted by the Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy), since 1932, but with a horizontal magazine-feed. Between 1934 and 1935, the models developed by Breda, Scotti and Metallurgica Bresciana già Tempini were tested.

The Comitato Superiore Tecnico Armi e Munizioni (English: Superior Technical Committee for Weapons and Ammunition) in Turin issued its verdict in November 1935. The Breda project (now rechambered for the 8 mm cartridge) won. A first order for 2,500 units of the Breda medium machine gun was placed in 1936. After operational evaluation with the units, the weapon was adopted in 1937 as the Mitragliatrice Breda Modello 1937 (English: Breda Model 1937 Machine gun).

During the same year, Breda developed a vehicle version of the machine gun. This was a lightweight one, equipped with a shortened barrel, pistol grip, and a new 24-round top-curved magazine instead of 20-round strip clips.

A Breda Modello 1938 medium machine gun. It was developed for use on armored vehicles. Source: dandbmilitaria.com

The weapon was famous for its robustness and accuracy, despite its annoying tendency to jam if lubrication was insufficient. Its weight was considered too large compared to foreign machine guns of the time. It weighed 15.4 kg, 19.4 kg in the Modello 1937 variant, making this weapon the heaviest medium machine gun of the Second World War.

The theoretical rate of fire was 600 rounds per minute, while the practical rate of fire was about 350 rounds per minute. It was equipped with a cloth bag for the spent casings.

The machine gun 8 x 59 mm RB cartridges were developed by Breda exclusively for machine guns. The 8 mm Breda had a muzzle velocity between 790 m/s and 800 m/s, depending on the round. The armor piercing ones penetrated 11 mm of non-ballistic steel angled at 90° at 100 meters.

Ammunition

The automatic cannon fired the 20 x 138 mm B ‘Long Solothurn’ cartridge, the most common 20 mm round used by the Axis forces in Europe, such as the Finnish Lahti L-39 and Swiss Solothurn S-18/1000 anti-tank rifles and German FlaK 38, Italian Breda and Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini automatic cannons.

During the war, the L6/40 also probably used German rounds.

Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 ammunition
Name Type Muzzle Velocity (m/s) Projectile Mass (g) Penetration at 500 meters against an RHA plate angled at 90° (mm)
Granata Modello 1935 HEFI-T* 830 140 //
Granata Perforante Modello 1935 API-T** 832 140 27
SprenggranatPatrone 39 HEF-T*** 995 132 //
Panzergranatpatrone 40 HVAPI-T**** 1,050 100 26
Panzerbrandgranatpatrone – Phosphor API-T 780 148 //
Note * High-Explosive Fragmentation Incendiary – Tracer
** Armor-Piercing Incendiary – Tracer
*** High-Explosive Fragmentation – Tracer
**** Hyper Velocity Armor-Piercing Incendiary – Tracer

A total of 312 20 mm rounds were transported in the vehicle in 39 8-round clips. For the machine gun, 1,560 8 mm rounds were transported in 65 magazines. The ammunition was stored in wooden racks painted white and with a cloth tarpaulin to fix the magazines. Fifteen 8-round clips were positioned on the left wall of the superstructure, another 13 20 mm clips were placed on the frontal part of the floor, on the driver’s left, and the rest were placed on the rear part of the floor, on the right, behind the driver. The machine gun magazines were stored in similar wooden racks in the superstructure rear.

Ammunition racks on a L6/40. Source: Italeri, Carro Armato L6/40 Photographic Reference Manual

Crew

The L6/40 crew was composed of two soldiers. Drivers were placed on the vehicle’s right and commanders/gunners just behind, seated on a seat fixed to the turret ring. Commanders had to perform too many tasks and it was impossible for them to perform all at the same time.

During attacks, commanders had to check the battlefield, find targets, open fire against enemy positions, give orders to the driver, operate the radio station of the tank, and reload the automatic cannon and coaxial machine gun. This was essentially impossible to do by a single person. Similar vehicles, such as the German Panzer II, had a crew of three to make the vehicle commander’s job easier.

Crew members were usually from the cavalry training school or Bersaglieri (English: assault infantry) training school.

A Carro Armato L6/40 Centro Radio (distinguishable by the two rear antennas) license plate ‘Regio Esercito 4007’ with its crew posing in front of it. Photo taken at the Centro di Addestramento Carristi of Rome; date unknown. Source: Collezione Luca Massacci

Delivery and Organization

The vehicles from the first batches went to equip the training schools on the Italian mainland. When the L6/40 was accepted into service, the L6-equipped units were expected to be structured like the previous L3-equipped units. However, during training at the Pinerolo Cavalry School and during the testing of four L6s with a testing company deployed in North Africa, it was seen as preferable to create new formations: squadroni carri L6 (English: L6 tank squadrons) after October 1941. At the same time, it was decided to deploy two such light tanks in each Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato or RECo (English: Armored Reconnaissance Regroupement). The RECo was the reconnaissance unit assigned to each Italian armored and mechanized division.

The Nucleo Esplorante Corazzato or NECo (English: Armored Reconnaissance Nucleus), which were assigned after 1943 to each infantry division, was composed a battaglione misto (English: mixed battalion) with a command platoon, two armored car companies with 15 armored cars of the AB series each, and a compagnia carri da ricognizione (English: reconnaissance tanks company) with 15 L6/40s. The unit was completed with an anti-aircraft company with eight 20 mm automatic cannons and two batteries of Semoventi M42 da 75/18, with a total of 8 self-propelled guns.

An L6/40 with license plate ‘Regio Esercito 3942’ during crew training. The armament is not yet delivered. Source: Archivio dell’Ufficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito

The L6/40 squadrons consisted of a plotone comando (English: command platoon), a plotone carri (English: tank platoon) in reserve, and another four plotoni carri, for a total of 7 officers, 26 NCOs, 135 soldiers, 28 L6/40 light tanks, 1 staff car, 1 light truck, 22 heavy duty trucks, 2 medium trucks, 1 recovery truck, 8 motorcycles, 11 trailers, and 6 loading ramps. The new L6 squadrons differed from the L3 squadrons in their structure. The new ones had 2 more platoons of tanks.

Like the AB41s units, the Italian Army distinguished between the different army branches, creating gruppi (English: groups) for the cavalry units and battaglioni (English: battalions) for the Bersaglieri assault infantry units. Many sources often do not pay attention to this detail.

In June 1942, the L6 battalions or groups were reorganized into a command platoon with 2 L6/40 command tanks and 2 L6/40 radio tanks and two or three tank companies (or squadrons), each one equipped with 27 L6 light tanks (54 or 81 tanks in total).

If the unit had two companies (or squadrons), it was equipped with: 58 L6/40 tanks (4 + 54), 20 officers, 60 NCOs, 206 soldiers, 3 staff cars, 21 heavy duty trucks, 2 light trucks, 2 recovery trucks, 20 two-seater motorcycles, 4 trailers, and 4 loading ramps. If the unit was equipped with three companies (or squadrons), it was equipped with 85 L6/40 tanks (4 + 81), 27 officers, 85 NCOs, 390 soldiers, 4 staff cars, 28 heavy duty trucks, 3 light trucks, 3 recovery trucks, 28 two-seater motorcycles, 6 trailers, and 6 loading ramps.

Training

On 14th December 1941 the Ispettorato delle Truppe Motorizzate e Corazzate (English: Inspectorate of Motorized and Armored Troops) wrote the rules for the training of the first three squadrons of L6/40 tanks.

Training lasted a few days and consisted of firing tests up to 700 m. Also included were driving over varied terrain and practical and theoretical instruction to personnel assigned to drive heavy trucks. Each L6 had 42 rounds of 20 mm ammunition, 250 rounds of 8 mm ammunition, 8 tonnes of gasoline while for the truck driver there was 1 tonne of diesel fuel for the training.

The Italian training on armored vehicles was very poor. Because of the lack of availability of equipment, Italian tank crews had few opportunities to train to shoot in addition to substandard mechanical training.

Operational Service

North Africa

The first L6/40s arrived in North Africa, when the campaign was already ongoing, in December 1941. They were assigned to a unit to trial them for the first time on the battlefield. The 4 L6s were assigned to a platoon of the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ Mixed Company, assigned to the Raggruppamento Esplorante of the Corpo d’Armata di Manovra or RECAM (English: Reconnaissance Group of the Maneuver Army Corps).

One of the four L6/40s of the Mixed Company of the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’. Libyan desert, December 1941. Source: reddit.com u/_Art_Tank_

III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’

The III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’, also known as the III Gruppo Carri L6 ‘Lancieri di Novara’ (English: 3rd L6 Tank Group) was trained to operate the light tanks in Verona. It was composed of 3 squadrons and, on 27th January 1942, it received its first 52 L6/40 tanks. On 5th February 1942, it was assigned to the 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’ (English: 132nd Armored Division), becoming operational on 4th March 1942.

A FIAT 634N transporting two L6/40s of the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’ to the battlefront. As mentioned before, the weight of the L6/40s was a problem for the Regio Esercito, which was forced to use heavy trucks and medium tank-trailers to transport them. Source: italie1935-45.com

The unit was transferred to North Africa. Some sources claim it arrived in Africa with only 52 tanks and the rest were assigned while in Africa, while others mention that it arrived in Africa with 85 L6/40s (full three squadrons). It was assigned to the 133ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Littorio’ (English: 133rd Armored Division) in June 1942.

A column of FIAT 634Ns loaded with L6/40s of the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’ during a break. It is possible to count a total of 9 L6/40s on heavy duty trucks and medium trailers and also a Ford light lorry truck captured from Commonwealth forces. Source: pinterest.com

The unit was deployed during the attacks to the city of Tobruk and in the decisive attack after which the Commonwealth troops in the city surrendered. On June 27th, along with Bersaglieri of the 12º Reggimento (English: 12th Regiment), the unit defended Field Marshal Rommel’s command post.

The III Gruppo corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’ then fought at El-Adem. On 3rd and 4th July, it was engaged in the First Battle of El Alamein. On 9th July 1942, it was engaged behind the depression of El Qattara, protecting the flank of the 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’.

In October 1942, the unit was equipped with three AB41 medium armored cars, one for each squadron. This was done to provide better communications to the L6 units, as the armored cars had longer-range radio equipment, and to replace the loss of almost all the L6 tanks (78 lost out of 85). Because of the wear and tear of the L6/40 tanks, many could not be repaired at that time, as the field workshops were all destroyed or reallocated to other units.

An L6/40 of the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’ knocked out during North African fighting in 1942. Its license plate is ‘Regio Esercito 3826’. Source: Cavalleria Italiana

Reduced to only five operable tanks after the Third Battle of El Alamein, it followed the other units of the Italian-German army in the retreat, abandoning some serviceable tanks in a depot behind the frontline.

From Egypt, the unit started a retreat, arriving first in Cyrenaica and then in Tripolitania, on foot. It continued the war as a machine gun section aggregated to the Raggruppamento Sahariano ‘Mannerini’ (English: Saharan Group) during the campaign of Tunisia.

Despite this, the unit continued to operate, first assigned to the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ after 7th April 1943, then with Raggruppamento ‘Lequio’ (formed with the remains of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’) after 22nd April 1943. The survivors participated in the operations of Capo Bon until the surrender of 11th May 1943.

An L6/40 of the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’ abandoned after the Third Battle of El Alamein, being inspected by Australian soldiers. Source: David Zambon

Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’

On 15th February 1942, at the Scuola di Cavalleria of Pinerolo, the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ was founded under the command of Colonel Tommaso Lequio di Assaba. On the same day, it was equipped with the 1° Squadrone Carri L6 and 2° Squadrone Carri L6 (English: 1st and 2nd L6 Tank Squadrons) from the school.

L6/40 light tanks grouped up in a farmhouse in Bologna province, Italy, during training in late 1941. Source: Tatsuya Noda

The unit was divided as follows: a squadrone comando, I Gruppo with 1º Squadrone Autoblindo (English: 1st Armored Car Squadron), 2º Squadrone Motociclisti (English: 2nd Motorcycle Squadron), and 3º Squadrone Carri L6/40 (English: 3rd L6/40 Tank Squadron). The II Gruppo was equipped with a Squadrone Motociclisti, a Squadrone Carri L6/40, a Squadrone contraerei da 20 mm (English: 20 mm Anti-Aircraft Gun Squadron), and a Squadrone Semoventi Controcarro L40 da 47/32 (English: Semoventi L40 da 47/32 Anti-Tank Squadron).

On 15th April, a Gruppo Semoventi M41 da 75/18 (English: M41 Self-Propelled Gun Group) with 2 batteries was assigned to the RECo.

In the spring, the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ was sent to the area of Pordenone, at the orders of the 8ª Armata Italiana (English: 8th Italian Army), waiting to leave for the Eastern Front. By order of the General Staff of the Regio Esercito, on 19th September, the destination was changed to North Africa, to the XX Corpo d’Armata di Manovra, for the defense of the Libyan Sahara.

Initially, however, only the equipment of the Squadrone Carri Armati L6/40 (English: L6/40 Tank Squadron) arrived in Africa, with personnel transferred by airplanes. They were meant for the Oasis of Giofra. The other convoys were attacked during the crossing from the Italian mainland to Africa, causing the loss of all the equipment of the Squadrone Semoventi L40 da 47/32 and the rest of the Tank Squadron could not leave until much later, after the tanks were replaced by AB41 armored cars. They reached the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’ in mid-November, while another ship was diverted to Corfu, then reaching Tripoli. The second Squadrone Carri L6, even if assigned to the RECo, never left the Italian peninsula, remaining in Pinerolo for training.

By the time the first units of the RECo reached Tripoli on 21st November 1942, the landing of Anglo-American troops in French North Africa had occurred. At that point, instead of the defense of the Libyan Sahara, the task of the RECo became the occupation and defense of Tunisia. Once gathered, the regiment left for Tunisia.

On 24th November, having left Tripoli, the units of the RECo reached Gabes in Tunisia. On 25th November 1942, they occupied Médenine, where the command of the I Gruppo was left with the 2º Squadrone Motociclisti, a platoon of which had remained in Tripoli to recover, and a platoon of anti-tank weapons. The 1º squadrone motociclisti, an armored car squadron and the anti-aircraft gun squadron continued their march to Gabes, suffering, during the march, some losses due to Allied air attacks. The regiment was thus divided as follows: elements in Gabes, with the commander, Colonel Lequio, then the bulk of the I Gruppo in the Tunisian south, all with the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ and the L6/40 tank squadron in the Libyan south, with the Raggruppamento sahariano ‘Mannerini’.

A bad quality image of a FIAT 666NM loaded with an L6/40 during transport in the desert, followed by a German Panzer III. Source: facebook.com – @Curzio cobetti

On 9th December 1942, Kebili was occupied by a group made up of one platoon of the armored car squadron, one L6/40 light tank platoon, two 20 mm anti-aircraft platoons, the Sezione Mobile d’Artiglieria (English: Mobile Artillery Section), and two machine-gun companies. These were followed two days later by the 2º Squadrone Autoblindo in order to reinforce the garrison and to extend the occupation up to Douz, thus holding under control the whole territory of the Caidato of Nefzouna. The commander of the vanguard was Second Lieutenant Gianni Agnelli of the armored car platoon. From December 1942 to January 1943, the I Group, 50 kilometers away from the main Italian base, in a hostile area and in difficult terrain, continued intense operations in the whole area of Chott el Djerid and the southwest territories.

The tank squadron, composed of L6/40s, was stationed in the area of Giofra and then Hon. It received orders from the Comando del Sahara Libico (English: Libyan Sahara Command) on 18th December 1942 to move to Sebha, where it passed under its command, constituting the Nucleo Automobilistico del Sahara Libico (English: Automobile Nucleus of the Libyan Sahara), with 10 armored cars, and an unknown number of serviceable L6s.

On 4th January 1943, it began the retreat from Sebha, after having destroyed all the remaining L6/40 light tanks because of lack of fuel. It reached El Hamma on 1st February 1943, where the squadron rejoined its I Gruppo.

An L6/40 captured by the Commonwealth forces together with a pair of German Panzer IIIs. Source: worldwarphoto.com

In North Africa, due to losses suffered in 1941, the Italian Army made a number of reorganizing changes. This included forming the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato. The purpose of this change was to equip most armored and motorized formations with a better-armed reconnaissance element. This unit consisted of a command squadron and two Gruppo Esplorante Corazzato or GECo (English: Armored Reconnaissance Group). The newly developed L6 tanks and their self-propelled anti-tank cousins were to be supplied to these units. In the case of the L6 tanks, they were allocated to the 1° Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato, divided into two squadrons supported with a squadron of armored cars. Not many such units were formed, but included the 18° Reggimento Esplorante Corazzato Bersaglieri, Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’, and Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’. The last unit did not even have any L6 tanks in its inventory.

These armored reconnaissance groups were not used as a whole but, instead, their elements were attached to different armored formations. For example, elements from the RECo were attached to the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ (English: 131st Armored Division) and 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ (English: 101st Motorized Division), both of which were stationed in North Africa, and 3 celere divisions which served on the Eastern Front. A few mechanized Cavalry units were also supplied with the L6 tanks. For example, the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ (English: 3rd Armored Group), which supported the 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’, had L6 tanks. The L6 saw service during the Battle for El Alamein in late 1942 as part of the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’. All available tanks of this unit would be lost, which led to its disbanding. By October 1942, there were some 42 L6 tanks stationed in North Africa. These were used by III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’ and Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’. By May 1943, Italian units had some 77 L6 tanks in service. In September, there were some 70 available for service.

In North Africa, due to losses suffered in 1941, the Italian Army made a number of reorganizing changes. This included forming the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato. The purpose of this change was to equip most armored and motorized formations with a better-armed reconnaissance element. This unit consisted of a command squadron and two Gruppo Esplorante Corazzato or GECo (English: Armored Reconnaissance Group). The newly developed L6 tanks and their self-propelled anti-tank cousins were to be supplied to these units. In the case of the L6 tanks, they were allocated to the 1° Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato, divided into two squadrons supported with a squadron of armored cars. Not many such units were formed, but included the 18° Reggimento Esplorante Corazzato Bersaglieri, Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’, and Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Montebello’. The last unit did not even have any L6 tanks in its inventory.

These armored reconnaissance groups were not used as a whole but, instead, their elements were attached to different armored formations. For example, elements from the RECo were attached to the 131ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Centauro’ (English: 131st Armored Division) and 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ (English: 101st Motorized Division), both of which were stationed in North Africa, and 3 celere divisions which served on the Eastern Front. A few mechanized Cavalry units were also supplied with the L6 tanks. For example, the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ (English: 3rd Armored Group), which supported the 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’, had L6 tanks. The L6 saw service during the Battle for El Alamein in late 1942 as part of the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’. All available tanks of this unit would be lost, which led to its disbanding. By October 1942, there were some 42 L6 tanks stationed in North Africa. These were used by III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’ and Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Lodi’. By May 1943, Italian units had some 77 L6 tanks in service. In September, there were some 70 available for service.

Europe

1° Squadrone ‘Piemonte Reale’

Created in an unknown location on 5th August 1942, the 1° Squadrone ‘Piemonte Reale’ was assigned to the 2ª Divisione Celere ‘Emanuele Filiberto Testa di Ferro’ (English: 2nd Fast Division), which had been recently reorganized.

It was deployed after 13th November 1942 to southern France, with police and coastal defense duties, first near Nice and then in the Mentone-Draguignan region, patrolling the Antibes-Saint Tropez coastal sector.

In December, it replaced the 58ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Legnano’ (English: 58th Infantry Division) in the defense of the coastal strip along the Menton-Antibes stretch.

Some L6/40s pass on the streets of Nice, southern France, during Spring 1943. Source: italie1935-45.com

Until the first days of September 1943, it was used in coastal defense in the same sector. On 4th September, it began the movement for the return home with destination Turin. During the transfer, the unit was informed of the Armistice and the transfer was expedited.

On 9th September 1943, the division set up its units around the city of Turin in order to prevent the movement of German troops towards the city and, later, on 10th September, it moved towards the French border to barricade the Maira and Varaita valleys in order to facilitate the return of the Italian units from France to the Italian mainland.

The division then ceased to function on 12th September. The 2ª Divisione Celere ‘Emanuele Filiberto Testa di Ferro’ was disbanded on 12th September 1943 following events determined by the Armistice, while it was in the area between Cuneo and the Italian-French border.

L6/40s on the waterfront of Nice during a break to rest and admire the view during spring 1943. Source: Istituto Luce

There is some disagreement in the sources about the unit’s name. In the book Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, written by the famous Italian writers and historians Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano, the unit was named ‘1° Squadrone’, but the nickname ‘Piemonte Reale’ is unsure.

The website regioesercito.it mentions the 2ª Divisione Celere ‘Emanuele Filiberto Testa di Ferro’, saying that, on 1st August 1942, it was reorganized. In the following days, the Reggimento ‘Piemonte Reale Cavalleria’ was attached to the division, probably the same L6-equipped unit but with a different name.

An L6/40 in Nice during 1942. It had the markings painted vertically on the turret side. Source: worldwarphotos.com

18° Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato Bersaglieri of the 136ª Divisione Legionaria Corazzata ‘Centauro’

This unit was formed on 1st February 1942 in the depot of the 5º Reggimento Bersaglieri in Siena. It had in its composition the I Gruppo Esplorante (English: 1st Reconnaissance group), consisting of 1ª Compagnia Autoblindo (English: 1st Armored Car Company), 2ª Compagnia Carri L40 and 3ª Compagnia Carri L40 (English: 2nd and 3rd L40 Tank Companies), and 4ª Compagnia Motociclisti (English: 4th Motorcycle Company). The unit had also a II Gruppo Esplorante, with the 5ª Compagnia Cannoni Semoventi da 47/32 (English: 5th 47/32 Self-Propelled Gun Company) and 6ª Compagnia Cannoni da 20mm Contraerei (English: 6th 20 mm Anti-Aircraft Gun Company).

On 3rd January 1943, the unit was assigned to the 4ª Armata Italiana deployed in the French region of Provence, with police and coastal defense duties in the Toulon area. After the creation of the unit, the 2ª Compagnia Carri L40 and 3ª Compagnia Carri L40 were reassigned to the 67° Reggimento Bersaglieri and two other companies, with the same names, were recreated on 8th January 1943.

L6/40s and crews lined up in France. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

After Benito Mussolini was deposed as dictator of Italy on 25th July 1943, the 18° RECo Bersaglieri was recalled to the Italian mainland, arriving in Turin. During its time in Toulon, it also lost its 1ª Compagnia Autoblindo, which was renamed 7ª Compagnia and assigned to the 10º Raggruppamento Celere Bersaglieri in Corsica (English: 10th Fast Bersaglieri Regroupement of Corsica).

In the first days of September 1943, the unit started its railway transfer to the Lazio region, where it would be assigned to the Corpo d’Armata Motocorazzato (English: Armored and Motorized Army Corp) of the 136ª Divisione Corazzata Legionaria ‘Centauro’ (English: 136th Legionnaire Armored Division) assigned to Rome’s defense.

When the Armistice was signed on 8th September 1943, the 18º Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato Bersaglieri was still on flat cars on route to Rome. An entire battalion was blocked in Florence, along with half of the 3ª Compagnia Carri L40 and the 4ª Compagnia Motociclisti. The other units were half way between Florence and Rome or in Rome’s suburbs.

Some of these joined the 135ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete II’ (English: 135th Armored Division), which had been created after the destruction of the 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’, in North Africa.

From one of the last trains on which the RECo vehicles and soldiers were traveling, the Bersaglieri landed at Bassano in Teverina near Orte. The train also carried the command company. On the afternoon of the 8th September, the dispersed units near Rome rejoined the main body at Settecamini.

When, in the evening, the news of the Armistice with the Allies came, the units stopped in Florence and participated in the first clashes against the Germans. In the afternoon of 9th September, they unloaded the vehicles from the flat cars and took part in the fighting against the Germans near the Futa pass.

The units that were in the surroundings of Rome on the night of 9th September blocked the access to Rome at Tivoli along with elements of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (English: Police of Italian Africa) and clashed with the Germans in the following morning. The units of the 18° RECO Bersaglieri in Rome were assigned to the 135ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete II’ after the morning of 10th September, as the Division had suffered many losses of its R.E.Co., the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Montebello’. In the afternoon, the elements of the 18° RECo Bersaglieri attacked the Germans at Porta San Sebastiano and Porta San Paolo, supporting the Italian units there and the Italian civilians that had joined the fighting to defend their own city.

After suffering heavy casualties, the Italian units retreated to Settecamini. The 18° RECo Bersaglieri suffered an air attack by German Junkers Ju 87 ‘Stuka’ and, on the morning of 11th September, with the commander wounded during the clashes, the unit dispersed after sabotaging its surviving vehicles.

Yugoslavia

The precise date when the Italians introduced the L6 in Yugoslavia is not quite clear. The 1° Gruppo Carri L ‘San Giusto’ (English: 1st Light Tanks Group), which operated in Yugoslavia from 1941 with 61 L3s on 4 squadrons, may have received its firsts L6/40 tanks in 1942 together with some AB41 medium armored cars. In reality, these probably arrived sometime in early 1943. The first evidence of their use in Yugoslavia is May 1943 according to Partisan reports. In them, they referred to the Italian tank as “Large tanks”. The term “Small tanks”, which they also used at this point, likely referred to the smaller L3 tanks. Given the general Partisan lack of knowledge about the precise names of enemy armor, these and other names should not come as a surprise.

One of the Italian units that had L6s was the IV Gruppo Corazzato, part of the ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’ regiment. This unit had 30 L6 tanks that operated from their headquarter in Berat in Albania. In occupied Slovenia, during August and September 1943, the XIII Gruppo Squadroni Semoventi ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ had some L6 tanks.

In Albania, the II Gruppo ‘Cavalleggeri Guide’ had 15 L3/35s and 13 L6/40s in Tirana countryside. The IV Gruppo ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’ resisted the German attempts to disarm this unit, so the L6s may have seen some limited service against the Germans in September 1943.

3° Squadrone of the Gruppo Carri L ‘San Giusto’

During 1942, the 3° Squadrone of the 1° Gruppo Carri L ‘San Giusto’, which had already been deployed to the Eastern Front, was reorganized, abandoning the surviving L3 light tank series and was reequipped with Carri Armati L6/40 and deployed in Spalato, in the Balkans, to fight the Yugoslavian partisans.

An L6/40 during a rest in Croatia. Note the license plate, that seems to be ‘Regio Esercito 3743’, and the Mickey Mouse face painted on the superstructure. Source: facebook.com

9° Plotone Autonomo Carri L40

Formed on 5th April 1943, this platoon was assigned to the 11ª Armata Italiana in Greece. Nothing is known about its service.

III° and IV° Gruppo Carri ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’

On 5th May 1942, the III° Gruppo Carri ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ (English: 3rd Tank Group) deployed in Codroipo, near Udine, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, and the IV° Gruppo Carri ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ (English: 4th Tank Group), deployed in Tirana, the Albanian capital city, were equipped with 13 L6 tanks and 9 Semoventi L40 da 47/32. They were deployed in the Balkans in anti-partisan operations.

The crew of an L6/40 posing for a photo in the Balkans. It had a two tone camouflage, common for Italian units operating in the Balkans. It had the number ‘32’ painted on the access door. Unfortunately, the opened driver’s port blocks the identification of the unit’s coat of arms painted on the front plate. Source: reddit.com

Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri Guide’

The Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri Guide’ was deployed in Tirana, Albania. It had in its ranks the I Gruppo Carri L6 (English: 1st L6 Tank Group) created during 1942 with a total of 13 Carri Armati L6/40. The unit had also in its ranks 15 older L3/35.

Crews and L6/40s during a blessing by a military pastor. The vehicles belong to the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri Guide’. Tirana, Albania, during 1943. Source: italie1935-45.com

IV Gruppo Squadroni Corazzato ‘Nizza’

The IV Gruppo Squadroni Corazzato ‘Nizza’ (English: 4th Armored Squadron Group, also sometimes mentioned as IV Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’) formed together with the III Gruppo Squadroni Corazzato ‘Nizza’ in the Deposito Reggimentale (English: Regimental Depot) of the Reggimento ‘Nizza Cavalleria’ of Turin on 1st January 1942. It was created six months after the III Gruppo and was composed of two Squadroni Misti (English: Mixed Squadrons). One equipped with 15 L6/40 light tanks and the other with 21 AB41 medium armored cars.

Some sources do not mention the use of L6/40 light tanks, but mention 36 armored cars assigned to it. This could mean that the squadron was theoretically armed with tanks, but in fact, it was equipped only with armored cars.

In Albania, it was assigned to the Raggruppamento Celere (English: Fast Group). It was employed in counter-partisan operations and escorting Axis supply convoys, highly coveted prey by the Yugoslav Partisans who often attacked them almost undisturbed, capturing many weapons, ammunition, and other military material.

After the Armistice in September 1943, the 2º Squadrone Autoblindo, under the orders of Captain Medici Tornaquinci, joined the 41ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Firenze’ (English: 41st Infantry Division) in Dibra, managing to open the way to the coast through fierce battles against the Germans during which Colonnello Luigi Goytre, the commander of the unit, lost his life. The most bloody fights against the Germans took place particularly in Burreli and Kruya. After the battles, the IV Gruppo Corazzato ‘Nizza’ dispersed. Many officers and soldiers went back to Italy, reaching Apulia by makeshift means and concentrating at the Centro Raccolta di Cavalleria (English: Cavalry Gathering Center) in Artesano to join the Allied forces.

IV Gruppo Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’

The IV Gruppo Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri di Monferrato’ was created in May 1942 and deployed in Yugoslavia. Not much is known about its service. It was equipped with a theoretical force of 30 L6/40 light tanks operating from the city of Berat in Albania.

Like the other units in the Balkan peninsula, it was deployed in anti-partisan and convoy escort duties until the Armistice of September 1943. From 9th September onward, the soldiers fought against the Germans, losing the majority of their serviceable tanks.

Even if the commander of the unit, Colonnello Luigi Lanzuolo, was captured and then shot by the Germans, the soldiers continued to fight the Germans in the Yugoslavian mountains until 21st September 1943. After that date, the remaining soldiers and vehicles were captured by the Germans or joined the Partisans.

Soviet Union

The L6 tanks were used by Italian armored formations that were engaged on the Eastern Front, supporting the Germans during 1942. A large contingent of some 62,000 men was dispatched by Mussolini to assist his German allies. Initially called Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia or CSIR (English: Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia), it was later renamed ARMata Italiana In Russia or ARMIR (English: Italian Army in Russia). At first, only some 61 older L3 tanks were used, which were mostly lost in 1941. In order to support the new German offensive toward the Stalingrad and the oil-rich Caucasus, the Italian armor strength was reinforced with L6 tanks and the self-propelled version based on it.

LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato

The LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato (English: 67th Armored Bersaglieri Battalion) was created on 22nd February 1942 with units from the 5° Reggimento Bersaglieri and 8° Reggimento Bersaglieri (English: 5th and 8th Bersaglieri Regiments). It was composed of 2 L6/40 companies, with 58 L6/40s in total. It was assigned after 12th July 1942 to the 3ª Divisione Celere ‘Principe Amedeo Duca d’Aosta’ (English: 3rd Fast Division), but officially arrived on the Eastern Front on 27th August 1942.

An L6/40 of the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato climbing on the cargo bay of a FIAT 666NM heavy duty truck on the Eastern Front. Source: italie1935-45.com

It was equipped with a command platoon with 4 tanks, and the 2ª Compagnia and 3ª Compagnia (English: 2nd and 3rd Companies). Each company was composed of a command platoon with 2 tanks and 5 platoons with 5 tanks each.

This Italian fast division also had the XIII Gruppo Squadroni Semoventi Controcarri (English: 13th Anti-Tank Self-propelled Gun Squadron Group) of the 14° Reggimento ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ (English: 14th Regiment), equipped with Semoventi L40 da 47/32.

Alpini, the Italian mountain troops, watching the march of some L6/40s of the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato to the battlefront. Source: Rassegna Militare

On 27th August 1942, the unit undertook its first combat in Russia. Two Platoons with 9 tanks contributed to the defensive maneuvers operated by the Battaglione ‘Valchiese’ and Battaglione ‘Vestone’ of the 3° Reggimento Alpini (English: 3rd Alpine Regiment), repelling a Russian attack in the Jagodny sector. Only a few days later, however, a company of the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato, with 13 L6/40s, lost all but one of its vehicles during a battle, knocked out by 14.5 x 114 mm Soviet anti-tank rifles.

A member of a Soviet anti-tank squad poses proudly with his PTRD-41 next to an L6/40 of the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato, which he probably helped knock out. The license plate is unfortunately only partially visible. Source: pinterest.com

On 16th December 1942, the Soviet Army launched Operation Little Saturn. On that day, the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato had in its ranks 45 L6/40s. In spite of the strenuous Italian resistance, between 16th and 21st December, the Soviets broke through the defensive line of Battalgione ‘Ravenna’, between Gadjucja and Foronovo, and on the 19th December 1942, the Italian units had to retreat.

The Bersaglieri and the Cavalry had to cover the retreat with the few armored vehicles that survived the fights of the previous days. About twenty vehicles of the XIII Gruppo Squadroni Semoventi Controcarri and the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato were available.

Two L6/40s of the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato and a Semovente L40 da 47/32 of the XIII Gruppo Squadroni Semoventi Controcarri abandoned in a Russian village south of Stalingrad. Source: pinterest.com

Most of these tanks and self-propelled guns were lost during the retreat, which ended on 28th December in Skassirskaja. The very few remaining tanks were then dispersed in the disastrous retreat of the ARMIR.

An L6/40 overturned for unknown reasons in a village south of Stalingrad. It was of the First Company of the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato. Source: socimage.com

Other Units

Some units received the L6/40 and its variants for training purposes or in small numbers for police duties. The 32° Reggimento di Fanteria Carrista (English: 32nd Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) in Montorio, near Verona, in north-eastern Italy, was equipped on 23rd December 1941 with six L6/40 Centro Radio that were assigned to its battalions.

Their fate is not clear. On 31st December 1941, the unit was disbanded and its soldiers and vehicles were transferred by ships to the 12° Autoraggruppamento Africa Settentrionale (English: 12nd North African Vehicle Group) of Tripoli after 16th January 1942, where they were used to create the Centro Addestramento Carristi (English: Tank Crew Training Center).

Another 5 L6/40s were assigned to the Scuola di Cavalleria (English: Cavalry School) of Pinerolo and used to train new tank crews to operate on the L6 light reconnaissance tanks.

A FIAT 666NM of the Scuola di Cavalleria of Pinerolo loaded with an L6/40 of the same school. The FIAT 666NM had a maximum payload of 6 tonnes and, from the photo, it is visible that the vehicle’s suspension was under strain. Source: worldwarphotos.com

On 17th August 1941, four L6/40 light reconnaissance tanks were assigned to the Compagnia Mista (English: Mixed Company) of the Battaglione Scuola (English: School Battalion) of one of the Centro Addestramento Carristi on the Italian mainland.

The 8° Reggimento Autieri (English: 8th Driver Regiment) of the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione was also equipped with some L6/40.

A total of three L6/40s were assigned to the Centro Addestramento Armi d’Accompagnamento Contro Carro e Contro Aeree (English: Support Anti-Tank and Anti-Aircraft Weapons Training Center) of Riva del Garda, near Trento, north-eastern Italian peninsula. Another three L6/40 were assigned to a similar center in Caserta, near Naples, southern Italy. All six tanks were assigned to the two centers on 30th January 1943.

Two unarmed L6/40 light reconnaissance tanks of the Scuola di Cavalleria loaded on a FIAT 666NM and its Rimorchio Unificato Viberti da 15T two axle trailer, developed for medium tanks. Source: Cavalleria Italiana

The last two L6/40s used by a Regio Esercito unit were assigned in late 1942 or early 1943 to the 4° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 4th Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) in Rome to train Italian tank crews to operate these light tanks before their departure for Africa.

Polizia dell’Africa Italiana

The Polizia dell’Africa Italiana or PAI was created after a reorganization of the Police Corps operating in Libyan territory and the colonies of Africa Orientale Italiana or AOI (English: Italian East Africa). The new corps was under the command of the Italian Ministry of Italian Africa.

During the first phases of the war, the corps operated side by side with the Regio Esercito troops like a standard army branch. It was equipped only with AB40 and AB41 medium armored cars so, during the North African campaign, the PAI command asked the Italian Army to better equip the police corp with tanks.

After bureaucratic delays, six (some sources claim 12) L6/40s were assigned to the 5° Battaglione ‘Vittorio Bòttego’ deployed in the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana training school and headquarter in Tivoli, 33 km from Rome.

At least six registration numbers are known for these tanks (which is why six seems the correct number of vehicles received). The numbers are 5454 to 5458 and were produced in November 1942.

The vehicles were deployed for training purposes until the Armistice in September 1943. The Polizia dell’Africa Italiana took active part in the defense of Rome, first blocking the road to Tivoli to the Germans and then fighting with the Regio Esercito units in the city.

Two Allied soldiers inspecting one of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana’s L6/40s. The other vehicles in the photo are all L6/40s. The license plates were not painted. Source: gbmodelli.blogspot.com

Nothing is know about the PAI L6/40’s service, but a photo taken on 9th September 1943 shows a column of L6/40 of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana on the road between Mentana and Monterotondo, north of Tivoli and north-east of Rome. At least 3 (but probably more) survived the fighting against the Germans and were deployed, after the surrender, by PAI agents in Rome for public order duties. Three of them survived the war.

Use by Other Nations

When the Italians capitulated in September 1943, what was left of their armored vehicles was seized by the Germans. This included over 100 L6 tanks. The Germans even managed to produce a limited amount of vehicles with the resources that were captured from the Italians. After late 1943, as it was a low priority, some 17 L6 tanks were built by the Germans. The use of L6s in Italy by the Germans was quite limited. This is mostly due to the vehicle’s general obsolescence and weak firepower. In Italy, the majority of the L6s were allocated to secondary roles, being used as towing tractors, or even as static defense points.

The L6 in German hands. Source: B. B. Dimitrijević and D. Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945 Beograd.

In occupied Yugoslavia, the Italian forces were quickly disarmed in 1943 and their weapons and vehicles were seized by all warring parties. The majority went to the Germans, which used them extensively against the Yugoslav Partisans. The L6s saw use against the Partisans, where its weak armament was still effective. The problem for the Germans was the lack of spare parts and ammunition. Both Yugoslavian Partisans and the German puppet state of Croatia managed to capture and use L6 tanks. Both would use these up to the war’s end and, in the case of the Partisans, even after that.

An L6 in Yugoslav 1st Proletarian Brigade service in October 1943. Source: B. B. Dimitrijević and D. Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945 Beograd.

Italian Soldiers in Yugoslav Partisan Ranks

Some Regio Esercito units in Yugoslavia joined the Yugoslav Partisans, since it was impossible to join the Allied forces.

Two L6/40 tanks of the 2ª Compagnia of the 1° Battaglione of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista joined the 13 Proleterska Brigada ‘Rade Končar’ (English: 13th Proletarian Brigade) near the village of Jastrebarsko on the day of the Armistice. They were assigned to an armored unit under the command of the I Korpus of the Yugoslavian People’s Liberation Army. Not much is known about their service, apart that they were operated by their previous Italian crews.

Also in Albania, entire Italian divisions that could not return to Italy after resisting the German forces even for entire months joined the Albanian Partisans.

The survivors of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri Guide’, together with the survivors of some Italian infantry divisions such as ‘Arezzo’, ‘Brennero’, ‘Firenze’, ‘Perugia’, and other small units, joined the Battaglione ‘Gramsci’ assigned to the 1st Assault Brigade of the Albanian National Liberation Army.

Some of the L6/40s were used during the liberation of Albania and the soldiers of the RECo ‘Cavalleggeri Guide’ took part in the liberation of Tirana in mid-November 1944.

Commander Shehu, leader of the 1st Assault Brigade of the Albanian National Liberation Army, sits on an L6/40, probably of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri Guide’. Source: I Mezzi delle Unità Cobelligeranti

After the War

After the war, the three L6/40s of the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana were taken over by the newly formed Corpo delle Guardie di P.S. (English: Corps of Public Safety Officers), which was then renamed Polizia di Stato (English: State Police). The new Police, created after the fall of Fascism in Italy, used these surviving vehicles until 1952.

An L6/40 in front of the Viminale, Interior Ministry of Italy, in May 1946. It had a particular two tone camouflage and the license plate ‘Polizia 2632’. Source: italie1935-45.com

Due to wear and tear and few spare parts, the vehicles were rarely used in Rome. Other examples captured from the Germans and the Fascists loyal to Mussolini in April 1945 were also reused in Milan, assigned to the III° Reparto Celere ‘Lombardia’ (English: 3rd Fast Department). These vehicles were modified, probably by the Arsenale di Torino (English: Turin Arsenal), after the war. The primary armament was replaced and a second Breda Model 1938 machine gun was mounted to replace the 20 mm cannon.

The only known action of the Milanese L6/40s occurred on 27th November 1947, when the Italian Minister of the Interior, Mario Scelba, removed the prefect of Milan, Ettore Trailo, a former partisan of Socialist ideology. This act unleashed protests through the entire city and the government was forced to deploy the police departments, which at the time were not well seen by the population due to their violent actions during demonstrations, even peaceful ones.

Two L6/40s rearmed with twin Breda Modello 1938 machine guns in the streets of Milan in November 1947. On the left, above the sidewalk, there is a FlaK 30 covered by a waterproof sheet. A policeman is wearing an army tank uniform. Source: facebook.com – @Curzio Cobetti

Minister Scelba was the promoter of a hard line approach against the people with leftist ideologies. After the first opening of the police ranks to former partisans, Scelba changed plans. He tried to identify all those who, in his opinion, were dangerous Communists. He forced leftist former partisans and police officers to resign through continuous harassment and non-stop transfers from one city to another.

On this occasion, the Corpo delle Guardie di P.S. was deployed in Milan together with the Army. Barbed wire was placed with heavy armament and even medium tanks in some streets, in order to prevent attacks from the protesters.

Not even a single shot was fired and there were no injuries during the demonstrations. Thanks to the political intervention of Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi and Secretary of the Partito Comunista d’Italia or PCI (English: Communist Party of Italy) Palmiro Togliatti, the situation returned to normal within a few days.

The same vehicles in another photo. 27th November 1947, Milan. Source: polizianellastoria.it

Camouflage and Markings

As on all Italian vehicles of the Second World War, the standard camouflage applied in the factory on Carri Armati L6/40 was Kaki Sahariano (English: Light Saharan Khaki).

The prototypes used the standard, pre-war Imperiale (English: Imperial) camouflage composed of a standard sand yellow Kaki Sahariano (English: Saharan Khaki) base with dark brown and reddish-brown lines. This camouflage is popularly known as the “Spaghetti” camouflage, even if this is only a joke name that has appeared in modern times.

The vehicles used in the Soviet Union left for the Eastern Front in the classic khaki camouflage. At an unspecified point between summer and winter 1942, the vehicles were covered with mud, dirt, or earth, trying to camouflage them from air attacks. The vehicles were, in some cases, also covered with branches or straw for the same purpose.

The vehicles kept this camouflage even during winter, at which time the camouflage made them easier to observe even if, due to the low temperatures, during the colder months, snow and ice would stick to the mud or dirt sticking to the vehicle making it, unintentionally, better camouflaged.

L6/40 of the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato in the Soviet Union. The license plate is ‘Regio Esercito 3930’. Note the presence of dirt that covers part of the license plate and the frontal coat of arms, and the straw. Source: pinterest.com – Chris Coleman

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

An L6/40 of the III Gruppo Corazzato ‘Lancieri di Novara’ in the North African desert. Note the unit’s coat of arms on the vehicle’s side. gbmodelli.blogspot.com

In some photos, it is clearly visible that the barrel of the 20 mm gun was not painted in Saharan Kaki but retained the original metallic dark-gray color of the weapon. This was because the main armament was often mounted a few days or hours before being shipped to the front and the crew did not have time to repaint the barrel.

In the final months of the North African campaign, the Royal Air Force had complete control of the skies over North Africa, so it could act almost undisturbed at any time to support Allied ground troops on the battlefields. To avoid being spotted by Allied ground attack aircraft, the crews of the L6/40 light tanks began to cover their vehicles with foliage and camouflage netting.

An L6/40 of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri Guide’ in Albania. It is camouflaged with foliage and a two tone camouflage with green spots. Near the driver’s port is the unit’s coat of arms. The plate was ‘Regio Esercito 4032’. Source: Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano

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

The markings that the L6/40s possessed identified the platoons and companies of the Regio Esercito to which they belonged. This system of cataloging vehicles was used from 1940 until 1943 and was composed of an Arabic numeral indicating the number of the vehicle within the platoon and a rectangle of different colors for the company. Red was used for the first company, blue for the second, and yellow for the third company, green for the fourth squadron, black for the command company of the group, and white with black platoon stripes for the regimental command squadron.

As the conflict went on, there was also a change in the structure of the armored squadrons, as a fourth, and sometimes a fifth platoon were added.

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

In 1941, the Italian High Command ordered the units to paint a 70 cm diameter circle to ease aerial identification, but this was rarely applied on the turrets of the light tanks.

An L6/40 during off road mobility tests in Castel Fusano during 1941. It had the white roundel for air identification and the gun barrel in its original dark-gray color. Behind the L6 was the T-34-76 that the Italian Army tested. Source: facebook.com – @Curzio Cobetti

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

In the Soviet Union, during summer, before being camouflaged with dirt, the command vehicles received different markings for unknown reasons. These rectangles were monochrome (blue or red from photographic sources) with an oblique line running from the upper left corner to the lower right corner.

The Polizia dell’Africa Italiana’s L6/40s did not receive particular camouflages or coat of arms, remaining essentially identical to the Regio Esercito ones except for the license plate, which had the acronym P.A.I. instead R.E. on the left side.

At least four L6/40s of the 5° Battaglione ‘Vittorio Bòttego’ on the street between Mentana and Monterotondo, together with an AB41 of another Italian unit on 9th September 1943. Note the acronym P.A.I. on the left side of the transmission cover. The license plate was not painted. Source: instagram.com @Storia_Italiana

Post-war, L6/40s received two different camouflage schemes. The ones used in Rome received dark horizontal stripes, probably over the original Kaki Sahariano monochrome camouflage. The Milan vehicles were painted like all the Italian police vehicles after the war in Amaranth Red, a reddish-rose shade of red that was useful for two reasons. First of all, it was able to cover the previous military paintings and coat of arms applied on former military vehicles. Secondly, L6/40 tanks or Willys MB Jeeps (one of the most common vehicles used by the Italian Police after the war) had no sirens, so a garish red vehicle was more visible in the city traffic.

Variants

L6/40 Centro Radio

This L6/40 variant had a Magneti Marelli RF 2CA radio transceiver mounted on the left of the fighting compartment. The Stazione Ricetrasmittente Magneti Marelli RF 2CA operated in graphic and voice mode. Its production began in 1940 and had a maximum communication range of 20-25 km. It was used for communications among tank squadron commanders, so it is logical to assume that the L6/40 equipped with this type of radio were used by squadron/company commanders. Another difference between the standard L6/40 and the Centro Radio ones was the dynamotor power, which was increased from 90 watts in the standard L6 to 300 watts in the Centro Radio.

An L6/40 Centro Radio of the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato in the Soviet Union. The crew men, who wear the typical Bersaglieri fez, are having lunch on it with a bottle of wine. Source: facebook.com – @Curzio Cobetti

Externally, there were no differences between standard L6/40 and L6/40 Centro Radio (English: Radio Center) apart from different antennas positions. Internally, the second dynamotor was placed on the left side, near the transmission.

The L6/40 Centro Radio had a reduced amount of ammunition transported due to the space occupied by the transmitter and receiver box. This main ammunition load was reduced from 312 rounds (39 8-round clips) to 216 rounds (27 8-round clips), placed only on the floor of the fighting compartment.

The L6/40 Centro Radio equipment position. As visible, the 20 mm clips rack on the left wall was reduced to hold only five clips. Source: italie1935-45.com

Semovente L40 da 47/32

The Semovente L40 da 47/32 was developed by Ansaldo and built by FIAT between 1942 and 1944. It was designed on the L6 chassis to allow the Bersaglieri regiments to provide direct fire support with a 47 mm gun during infantry assaults. The second reason behind these vehicles was to provide the Italian armored divisions with a light vehicle with anti-tank performance. In total, 402 vehicles, also in Centro Radio and Command Post variants, were built.

A Semovente L40 da 47/32 in Sicily during the Allied invasion of southern Italy, 1943. Source: pinterest.com

L6 Trasporto Munizioni

In late 1941, FIAT and Ansaldo started the development of a new tank destroyer on the chassis of its medium tank, the M14/41. After the tests, the prototype was accepted in service in late March – early April 1942 as the Semovente M41M da 90/53.

This heavy self-propelled gun was armed with the powerful Cannone da 90/53 Modello 1939 90 mm L/53 anti-aircraft/anti-tank gun. The small space onboard did not permit the transport of more than 8 rounds and two crew members, so FIAT and Ansaldo decided to modify the chassis of some L6/40s to transport an adequate supply of rounds. This was the L6 Trasporto Munizioni (English: L6 Ammunition Carrier).

Two more crew members, together with 26 90 mm rounds, were transported by each auxiliary vehicle. The vehicle was also equipped with a shielded Breda Modello 1938 machine gun on an anti-aircraft support and racks for the crew’s personal weapons. The vehicle usually towed an armored trailer with another 40 90 mm rounds, for a total of 66 rounds transported.

The L6/40 ammunition carrier prototype outside the Ansaldo-Fossati plant. Source: wikipedia.com

L6/40 Lanciafiamme

The L6/40 Lanciafiamme (English: Flamethrower) was equipped with a flamethrower. The main gun was removed, while a 200 liter flammable liquid tank was placed inside. The machine gun ammunition amount remained unchanged at 1,560 rounds, while the weight increased to 7 tonnes.

The prototype, with license plate ‘Regio Esercito 3812’, was officially accepted in service on 1st September 1942. This variant was produced in small numbers, but the exact number remains unknown.

The L6/40 Lanciafiamme at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente. Apart from the different main armament, the vehicle remained unchanged. Source: armedconflicts.com

Cingoletta L6/40

This was the Italian version of the British Bren Carrier re-engined with a FIAT-SPA ABM1 engine (the same engine of the AB40 armored car). Essentially, it had the same structure as the British APC/weapon carrier. However, the vehicle did not have a specific purpose. It could not carry soldiers (other than the two crew members and a couple of other soldiers) so it was not an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC). It had a payload of only 400 kg and could not tow anything beyond the 47 mm Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1939, so it was not a prime mover. Despite this, it was armed with a Mitragliera Breda Modello 1931 13.2 mm heavy machine gun in a frontal spherical support and a Breda Modello 1938 that could be mounted on one of two anti-aircraft mounts, one at the front and one at the rear. It was also equipped with a Magneti Marelli RF3M radio station, so perhaps Ansaldo developed it as a command post.

Upper view of the Cingoletta L40 prototype. Note the radio station with its antenna near the Breda Modello 1938 and the Mitragliera Breda Modello 1931 heavy machine gun on its spherical support. Source: Nicola Pignato

Surviving L6/40s

In total, nowadays, only three L6/40s remain. The first one is placed as a gate guardian at the Comando NATO Rapid Deployable Corps’ headquarter at Caserma ‘Mara’ in Solbiate Olona, near Varese. Another one is in bad condition at the Military Museum of the Albanese Army in Citadel-Gjirokäster.

The last and most important one is exhibited at the Armored Vehicles Museum in Kubinka, Russia.

The L6/40 exhibited in Kubinka before restoration, on 24th August 2017. Source: flikr.com @Nils Mosberg

During Summer and Fall 1942, the Red Army captured at least two L6/40s, (registration plates ‘Regio Esercito 3882’ and ‘3889’). Other vehicles in running condition were captured after Operation Little Saturn, but their fate is unknown.

The Soviets took at least three L6/40s to the NIBT Proving Grounds in different time periods. The Soviet technicians called it ‘SPA’ or ‘SPA light tank’ due the SPA factory logo on the engine and other mechanical parts.

The L6/40 license plate ‘Regio Esercito 3898’ photographed by Soviet technicians at the NIBT Proving Grounds in 1944. Source: warspot.net

The vehicle did not interest the Soviet technicians too much. They only noted on their documents some standard data, not even mentioning some important values, such as top speed.

One of these vehicles was the one that is now exhibited in Kubinka, the ‘Regio Esercito 3898’, which was the 4th tank assigned to the 1° Plotone of the 1ª Compagnia of the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato.

The same L6/40 from the front. From this angle, it is possible to read the license plate. Source: warspot.net
Colorization by Johannes Dorn

For many years, it remained exhibited in bad condition, with a broken suspension tilted on a side. Luckily, on 15th July 2018, a team led by Vladimir Filippov finished the restoration of this tank, taking it to running condition.

The restored L6/40 at Kubinka. Unfortunately, the license plate is not the original. Source: warspot.ru

Conclusion

The L6/40 light reconnaissance tank was probably one of the most unsuccessful vehicles used by the Regio Esercito during the Second World War. While it offered great improvement in armament and armor over the older L3 fast tank, by the time it was introduced into service, it was already obsolete in almost every regard. Its armor was too thin, while its 2 cm gun was only useful in a reconnaissance role and against lightly armored targets. Against other tanks of the time, it was useless. In addition, it was designed to operate in high mountains, but it ended up fighting in the vast deserts of North Africa, for which it was completely unsuited for. Despite its obsolescence, it saw relatively wide use given the lack of anything better. Surprisingly, it would see action on almost all fronts but with minimal success. Even when the Germans took over Italy, they regarded the L6 as an obsolete design, relegating it to secondary roles.

L6/40 prototype with ‘Imperiale’ camouflage scheme.
An L6/40 from the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato on the Eastern Front.
Carro Armato L6/40 Centro Radio always from the LXVII° Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato on the Eastern Front.
L6 Trasporto Munizioni in Sicily.
An L6/40 of the Raggruppamento Esplorante Corazzato ‘Cavalleggeri Guide’ with foliage. Illustration modified by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Carro Armato L6/40 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.820 x 1.800 x 1.175 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 6.84 tonnes
Crew 2 (driver and commander/gunner)
Propulsion FIAT-SPA Tipo 18 VT 4-cylinder 68 hp ​​at 2500 rpm with 165 liters tank
Speed Road Speed: 42 km/h
Off-Road Speed: 50 km/h
Range 200 km
Armament Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 and Breda Modello 1938 8 x 59 mm medium machine gun
Armor from 40 mm to 6 mm
Production until the Armistice: 440 vehicles

Sources

F. Cappellano and P. P. Battistelli (2012) Italian Light Tank 1919-1945, Osprey Publishing

B. B. Dimitrijević and D. Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.

D. Predoević (2008) Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj, Digital Point Tiskara

S. J. Zaloga (2013) Tanks of Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941-45, Osprey Publishing

A. T. Jones (2013) Armored Warfare and Hitler’s Allies 1941-1945, Pen and Sword

unitalianoinrussia.it

regioesercito.it

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

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

digilander.libero.it/lacorsainfinita/guerra2/ordinamenti/cavalleria.htm

Carro Armato FIAT-Ansaldo Modello L6 ed L6 Semovente – Norme d’Uso e Manutenzione 2ª Edizione -Regio Esercito

Italia 1943-45, I Mezzi delle Unità Cobelligeranti – Luigi Manes

warspot.net – The Tankette’s Late Successor

warspot.net – FIAT L6/40 Again in Running Condition

Carro Armato L6/40 Photographic Reference Manual – ITALERI Model Kit Company

Categories
WW2 Italian Tanks

Carro Armato M15/42

Kingdom of Italy (1942-1945)
Medium Tank – 167 Built

The Carro Armato M15/42 was the last variant of the Italian ‘M’ tank series. It was in service from late 1942 to 1945 in small numbers. For the most part, it was used by the Wehrmacht. Compared to its predecessors, the M13/40 and M14/41, it had a much more powerful engine and a gun with greater anti-tank performance.

The M15/42. Source: pinterest.com

Development of the M15/42

In order to discuss the M15/42, its predecessors must be taken into consideration. The ‘M’ series was born in 1938, with the M11/39 (Medium 11 tonnes, Model 1939), itself developed from the Carro di Rottura da 10t (Eng. 10-tonne Breakthrough Tank). This vehicle was, in turn, inspired by the two Vickers 6 ton tanks that the Regio Esercito purchased from Britain in 1932.

The Carro di Rottura da 10 t at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, near Genoa. Source: Ansaldo Archives

Imagining that a hypothetical future war would be fought like World War I in the mountainous terrain of northern Italy, the designers developed a very light vehicle. This was done in order for it to cross small bridges and traverse narrow mountain roads. It had the cannon in the casemate because it was deemed that it was less likely to be attacked from the side in the mountains.

The vehicle was still a long way away from the shape of the M15/42, but the lower hull and suspension were almost unchanged between the two vehicles.

The M11/39 was armed with a 37/40 Vickers-Terni cannon in the casemate. It had a limited traverse range. There was also a single-seat turret equipped with two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns. The vehicle, although modern, did not impress the Regio Esercito, which ordered only 100 units, produced between July 1939 and May 1940.

The M11/39, the first Italian medium tank to enter service. Source: italiantanktree.wordpress.com

Considering the limited firepower of the M11/39 and its ineffectiveness in facing other tanks, Ansaldo modified the vehicle by equipping it with a two-seat revolving turret armed with a 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon. The previous gun position in the hull was replaced with a ball mount for two Breda Mod. 1938 machine guns.

The new M13/40 (Medio 13 tonnellate Modello 1940 – Medium 13 tonnes Model 1940) was presented in October 1939. After some modifications, it was accepted into production by the Regio Esercito. In November 1939, 400 units were ordered, with the first ones delivered only in July 1940.

The engine of the M13/40 was more powerful than the 105 hp FIAT SPA 8T of the M11/39. This improved power plant was the FIAT SPA 8T Mod. 1940 11,140 cm³ V8 diesel engine delivering 125 hp at 1,800 rpm, allowing a speed of 32 km/h for the M13/40. The tank had a weight of about 14 tonnes.

A first series M13/40 at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente. Source: Ansaldo Archives

In August 1941, the first M14/41 (Medio 14 tonnellate Modello 1941 – Medium 14 tonnes Model 1941) came off the assembly line. It differed from the M13/40 in having reinforced fenders, some small external modifications, and the new FIAT SPA 15T Mod. 1941 11,980 cm³ V8 diesel engine delivering 145 hp at 1,900 rpm.

The ammunition supply remained unchanged, with 87 rounds for both the M13/40 of the third series and for the M14/40. A total of 710 M13/40s were produced in three different series and 695 M14/41s in two different production series.

A fresh M14/41 in the Ansaldo-Fossati plant’s testing park. Source: pinterest.com

In the winter of 1940 and 1941, the Regio Esercito, in great difficulty due to the numerous defeats on the various war fronts, turned to its closest ally, Germany, placing an order for 800 French tanks captured during the French Campaign.

Given the German difficulties, the order was later reduced to 450 French tanks that arrived in even smaller numbers. 109 Renault R35s, out of 350 ordered, and 33 Somua S35s, out of 50 ordered, were received, while the 50 Char B1 heavy tanks were never delivered. The 142 vehicles were delivered in 1941, but the lack of spare parts and ammunition did not allow their use and the Regio Esercito was forced to look for another solution.

Another request for help was sent to Germany in June 1941, which responded by proposing that FIAT purchase the production license for the Panzer III, at that time the Wehrmacht’s leading tank. FIAT agreed in August, but a clause was added that armament and optics had to be purchased from Germany, as well as half of the raw materials needed to produce the vehicles.
These restrictions led to the cancellation of the contract, as FIAT convinced the High Command of the Royal Army that they should not allow Germany to interfere in the Italian industry.

Also in June 1941, the Regio Esercito tested the Czechoslovakian Skoda T-21 medium tank. Due to pressure from Ansaldo and FIAT, the Army was forced to give up on the evaluation and possible production.

In order to avoid losing the monopoly on the production of armament for the Regio Esercito, Ansaldo and FIAT announced in the summer of 1941 that they would be able to put the P26/40 tank into production by the spring of 1942. This was the same period foreseen for the production of the first Italian Panzer III or Skoda T-21 tanks under license.

However, the Royal Army needed a new tank. This time, it no longer relied on FIAT and Ansaldo, but tested foreign material. The two leading companies in the Italian sector set to work in order to distract the High Command of the Royal Army from its research into alternative vehicles.

The two companies began to work together on the Carro Armato Medio Celere (Eng. Fast Medium Tank) ordered by the Royal Army at the beginning of 1941. Until then, it had remained in an embryonic state.

In June 1941, Ansaldo presented the mock-up of the Carro Armato Medio Celere, now called Carro Armato Celere Sahariano (Eng. Saharan Fast Tank). This was produced in a hurry by mounting a wooden superstructure on an M14/41 hull.

The Carro Armato Medio Celere mock-up based on an M14/41 hull. Source: pinterest.com

The project was slowed down by the development of Christie suspension and the prototype was ready only in the spring of 1942. The tests lasted until 1943, showing that the vehicle was well designed, but it was too late. The North African Campaign was coming to an end and the vehicle lost its purpose.

Due to delays in the production of the vehicle, FIAT and Ansaldo had to devise a stratagem to prevent the Royal Army from canceling the contract in favor of a foreign vehicle. In fact, in February 1942, Germany once again proposed the production of the Panzer IV under license.

After August 1942, the official Regio Esercito nomenclature for tanks changed from vehicle type, weight in tonnes, and year of production to type and year of production. For example, the M13/40 became the M40, the M14/41 became the M41, and the M15/42 became the M42.

Thus, the correct name for this vehicle would be M42. However, it was still called the M15/42 by the crews, and many book sources and contemporary companies call it the M15/42. In keeping with the popular usage, this article will use the M15/42 designation from here on.

History of the Prototype

In 1941, a 47 mm L/40 cannon was mounted in the turret of an M14/41, but continuous delays slowed down the project. Finally, in 1942, with the experience gained with the Carro Armato Celere Sahariano that mounted the same gun, it was possible to modify the turret to resist the firing recoil.

The M14/41 hull was also modified by lengthening it to accommodate a new gasoline engine with greater power than the FIAT SPA 15T. The side access hatch was also moved to the right side of the vehicle. After testing, the first batch of the new M15/42 Tank (Medio 15 tonnellate Modello 1942 – Medium 15 tonnes Model 1942) was ordered in October 1942.

The M15/42 prototype during testing. The big triangular plate is the standard one used on prototypes. Source: reddit.com

Production

In October 1942, after tests, 280 units were ordered, stopping the production of the M14/41.

In 1943, however, with the planned start of production of the P26/40 and with the obvious backwardness of the ‘M’ series, the High Command of the Royal Army decided to rely only on heavy tanks and self-propelled vehicles. They cut the order of M15/42s to 220 in March 1943.

Entering production in autumn 1942, the first vehicle was registered on November 21st, 1942, with plate number R.E. 5022, and assigned to the Centro Carristi di Civitavecchia on November 28th in order to train new crews.

Another photo of the prototype after testing. Source: pinterest.com

The data on the production of the M15/42 are very discordant. Some sources claim numbers even beyond the two hundred units produced during the war.

An Ansaldo source states that the first batch of 103 vehicles was produced in 1942 and a second batch of 36 by March 1943. A third batch of 80 was due by December 1943 but was never fully completed.

The number of 103 vehicles produced between October and December 1942 seems slightly exaggerated given the short period of time and state of the Italian armament industry. According to this document, 139 M15/42 were produced by March 1943, plus another unspecified number between March and September, before the armistice.

Winter 1942-43 Genoa, the first M15/42 produced outside the Ansaldo-Fossati factory being inspected by a representative of a unit of the German Luftwaffe assigned to anti-aircraft batteries near the city of Genoa. Source: Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II

After the armistice, 28 M15/42 were produced for the Germans in 1944. The total number of M15/42s produced should be at least 167, while the maximum number could be at most 248 (considering the entire last batch was finished in addition to the German vehicles).

Design

Hull

At the front, the rounded transmission cover had two hooks and a towing ring. There were also two inspection hatches above the clutch. The two hatches could be opened or closed from the inside of the vehicle even while driving by means of a lever located on the right side of the chassis. This allowed the driver to better cool the clutch while driving if needed and when not in combat.

View of the transmission and braking system of an ‘M’ series vehicle, with top armor plate removed. Source: pinterest.com

On the right side, the front superstructure had a ball mount armed with two machine guns. On the left side, there was a slot for the driver, who also had a hyposcope for use when the hatch was closed. For night driving, there were two headlights on the sides of the superstructure.

On the left side of the superstructure, there was a pistol port behind the headlight, used for close defense. Three canister holders were mounted on this side. These were used to carry fuel to increase the range of the vehicle. On the right side, there was a large hatch for crew access. It was also equipped with a pistol port for close defense.

On the rear side of the superstructure, there were two more pistol ports and an air intake. On the mudguards, behind the superstructure, were a glove box on each side and the mufflers behind. These were equipped with a heat sink.

In order to make room for the new engine, the engine compartment was lengthened by 14 centimeters (5.06 meters length compared to the 4.92 meters of the M13/40 and M14/41). Because of the lengthening, extra armor plates were added and the track tensioning system was modified. The engine deck received inspection hatches which could be opened at 45°. Cooling grills were added. Between the two inspection hatches there were the tools, including a shovel, a pickaxe, a crowbar, and a track removal system.

Back of the M15/42. One of the two pistol ports and the air intake on the back of the superstructure are visible. The storage box on the fender and the inspection hatch with the cooling grill can also be seen closer to the camera. Source: masterminiatures.it

The rear of the vehicle was completely redesigned compared to previous ‘M’ series tanks. The radiator cooling grills were much larger and the rear was much more sloped. The rear had a towing ring and two hooks, two spare wheels, and a license plate. There was a brake light on the left side.

During production, a smoke launcher was added to the rear. In order to make room for it, one of the two spare wheels was removed. The jack that was previously positioned on the back was moved to the front, on the left fender, in front of the superstructure. This was like on the M13/40 first Series.

Rear photo of an early production M15/42 in the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, near Genoa. The Regio Esercito plate is not yet painted. Source: worldwarphotos.com

Armor

The armor thickness was slightly increased compared to the previous models of the ‘M’ series. The frontal armor of the transmission cover was rounded and 30 mm thick. The frontal plate of the hull, inclined at 12°, was 42 mm thick. The sides of the hull and superstructure, inclined at 8°, were 25 mm thick. The back of the superstructure was 25 mm thick, while the back of the hull was 20 mm thick.

The turret, on the other hand, had a maximum armor of 50 mm on the mantlet and 45 mm frontally inclined at 13°. The sides and the back were 25 mm inclined at 20°. The roof of the hull and of the turret and the engine deck had a thickness of 15 mm, while the floor of the hull had a thickness of only 6 mm.

The armor was bolted to an internal frame, making the structure more fragile but with faster replacement of damaged armor plates than models with welded or cast armor.

The armor was produced with low-quality steel because, while the demand for ballistic steel to produce armored vehicles had increased since 1939, the Italian industry was not able to supply very large quantities of high-quality steel. This was further worsened because of the embargoes that hit Italy in 1935-1936 due to the invasion of Ethiopia and the almost total isolation after 1940.

In fact, the Kingdom of Italy counted on the fact that, in case of entry into the war on the German side, their new allies would supply the majority of raw materials needed to produce high-quality steel. Obviously, starting in 1942, Germany could not supply these large quantities of raw materials since it had to replace its own losses.

Suspension

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

The tank had 26 cm wide tracks with 86 track links per side, 6 more than the other tanks of the ‘M’ series due to the hull lengthening. The drive sprockets were at the front and the idlers with modified track tension adjusters at the back, with three rubber return rollers on each side. The small surface area of the tracks (20,800 cm²) caused a ground pressure of 0.76 kg/cm², increasing the risk that the vehicle would bog down in mud, snow, or sand.

M15/42 leaf spring boogie. Source: masterminiatures.it

Turret

The two-seat turret had a narrow mantlet armed with a 47 mm cannon and a coaxial machine gun on the left. There was a turret basket attached to the turret, with a support connected to a circular platform above the transmission shaft. Two folding seats for the loader and the commander were welded on the same support.

In addition to the gun breech and the machine gun, the gunsight was on the right, while a small rack for 13 magazines for the machine gun was on the far left.

Interior photograph of the turret of a first series M13/40 taken at Ansaldo in October 1939. Apart from the absence of the bulge and the different breech, the interior of the M15/42 was the same. Source: Ansaldo Archives

On the roof of the turret, there was a rectangular split hatch, two panoramic monocular periscopes produced by the company San Giorgio, a bulge that allowed better depression for the cannon and a support for the anti-aircraft machine gun.

Panoramic Monocular Periscope for the M15/42. Source: pinterest.com

On the sides were two pistol ports for viewing the exterior and for close defense. At the back were stowed ready-to-use 47 mm rounds in two different racks.

Main armament

The main armament of the M15/42 was the Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938. It was a significantly more powerful cannon than the 47/32 Mod. 1935 cannon used on the Semovente L40 da 47/32 and the previous M13/40 and M14/41 medium tanks.

This cannon was also used on the AB43 ‘Cannone’ and the Carro Armato Celere Sahariano. It was developed starting from the 47/32 Mod. 1935 in 1938 and was produced only for vehicles. It was made by the Ansaldo-Fossati factory of Genoa. The elevation in the M15/42 turret was +20° and the depression was -10°. The maximum firing rate, thanks to the semi-automatic breech, was 14 rounds per minute. Due to the reduced space inside the vehicle, in practice, this dropped to about 8-10 rounds per minute.

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

In addition to the 38 cm longer barrel (1.88 meters compared to 1.5 meters), the breech was larger. This meant that it could fire round with a longer casing, increasing the muzzle velocity, the accuracy at long range, and penetration.

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

Secondary armament

The secondary armament consisted of four 8 mm Breda Mod. 38 machine guns, one mounted coaxially on the left side of the gun, two in the hull’s spherical mount, and a fourth which could be mounted on the anti-aircraft support on the turret roof.

These machine guns were the vehicle version of the Breda Mod. 37 medium machine gun used by the Italian infantry and had a top curved 24-round magazine.

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

In 1943, smoke grenade launchers were introduced. Smoke grenades were stored in a box mounted on the right side of the rear of the engine compartment. A box for carrying smoke grenades was also mounted on the rear of the superstructure, above the protective plate of the air intake.

When activated, the box would drop a smoke grenade, masking the position of the vehicle. It is unclear how effective this rear-mounted system was, but it was fitted to all vehicles produced from 1943 onwards, including the last series of AB41 and AB43 armored cars.

Ammunition

The Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 1938 used the same ammunition as the previous Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 1935 gun, but its cartridges were 10 centimeters (32,8 centimeters versus 22,7 centimeters) longer. This increased the muzzle velocity by 43%. This also increased precision and penetration.

The ammunition types consisted of:

Name Type Fuze
Cartoccio Granata da 47 mod. 35 High-Explosive Percussion mod. 35 or mod. 39
Perforante mod. 35 Armor Piercing – Tracer Percussion mod. 09
Proietto Perforante mod. 39 Armor-Piercing Composite Rigid – Tracer Percussion mod. 09
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto High-Explosive Anti-Tank Internal mod. 41
Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale High-Explosive Anti-Tank IPEM front fuze

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

The Proietto Controcarri Effetto Pronto Speciale could penetrate 112 mm at 100 m and 43 mm at 1,000 m, instead of the 30 mm at 1,000 m of the 47/32 Mod. 1935 round.

The M15/42 carried a total of 111 shells onboard in three different racks. The first two unprotected racks were in the turret and contained 9 rounds each. The third, containing 93 47 mm shells, was positioned on the bottom of the hull.

None of the racks were armored. Often, when the racks on the back of the turret were hit, the result was a catastrophic explosion that destroyed the machine. The same thing is true for the rack in the hull even if, because of its lower position, it was rarely hit.

For the Breda machine guns, there were 108 magazines of 24 rounds each, for a total of 2,592 rounds. The 8×59 mm RB Breda cartridge had two types of bullets. These were standard ammunition and the M.39 AP (Armor Piercing) that weighed 12 grams and, with a muzzle velocity of 780 m/s, could penetrate a 16 mm RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armor) plate at 90° at a distance of 100 m. The standard ammunition, with the same muzzle velocity, penetrated 11 mm at 100 m.

The Breda magazine racks were mounted on the sides of the superstructure, 54 on the left side and 41 on the right side, with 13 more carried in the turret.

Interior

At the front of the fighting compartment were the transmission and the braking system. On the left side of the superstructure was the driver’s seat, which has a folding backrest to facilitate access. In front of this position, the driver had a large slit with a lever used to open or close it. Above the slit was the hyposcope.

The driver also had two tillers to move the vehicle. The handbrake handle was on the left, while the gearshift was on the right. On the left side was the dashboard, a box with spare hyposcopes, and the pistol port. Behind the dashboard, there were racks for machine gun magazines.

Interior of a restored M15/42. The two seats for the two hull crew members are visible, of which the driver’s has the back folded. On the left side are the dashboard, the pistol port and the machine gun magazine racks. The transmission, the support for the two machine guns, the circular platform that serves as a floor for the crew members in the turret and the main rack for the 47 mm rounds (left side of the photo, behind the platform) are also visible. Source: pinterest.com

On the right-hand side was the machine gunner, who also sat on a folding seat. In front of the machine gunner were the machine guns while, on the right, there were some magazines for the two weapons and the radio.

In the middle of the right side was the access hatch. On the lower side was the storage place for the anti-aircraft machine gun, which was fixed to the hull with straps. In the middle of the vehicle was the transmission shaft, which was largely covered by the circular platform which served as a floor for the two crew members in the turret.

On the left side, at the bottom of the hull, was the largest 47 mm ammunition rack. The rear of the superstructure had two large cylindrical filters and the engine coolant tank. On the floor and on the sides of the superstructure were more racks for machine gun magazines.

View of the rear side of the superstructure. The pistol port, the filters, the water tank, the primary 47 mm ammunition rack, the turret platform, and the machine gun magazine racks are visible. Source: pinterest.com

Engine

The engine of the M15/42 medium tank was inherited from previous tanks of the ‘M’ series. However, in addition to the increase in displacement that increased the overall performance of the vehicle, the novelty was that the new engine worked on gasoline. The change of fuel from diesel to gasoline was due to the fact that the Italian diesel reserves were now almost completely exhausted.

The new FIAT-SPA T15B (‘B’ for ‘Benzina’) petrol water-cooled 11,980 cm³ engine developed 190 hp at 2,400 rpm. It was designed by FIAT and one of its subsidiary companies, the Società Piemontese Automobili, or SPA (Eng. Piedmontese Automobile Company). It gave the vehicle a maximum velocity of 38 km/h on-road and 20 km/h off-road. It had an on-road range of 220 km and an off-road range of 130 km, or 12 operational hours.

Thanks to the increased space in the engine compartment, the tank’s fuel tanks were increased to 367 liters in the main tanks, plus 40 liters in the reserve tank. This gave a total of 407 liters. The fuel consumption was almost two liters of gasoline per kilometer.

The engine was better suited to the new vehicle, with a power-to-weight ratio of just under 13 hp/tonne. It was connected to a new transmission produced by FIAT, with five forward and one reverse gears, one gear more than the previous vehicles.

The FIAT-SPA T15B engine. Source: bnamodel.com

Crew

The crew was composed of four. A driver on the left side of the hull and machine-gunner/radio operator on his right. Behind them, sitting in the turret, were the tank commander/gunner on the right and the loader on the left.

The crew of 4 was insufficient. The tank commander had to perform too many tasks, having to give orders to the rest of the crew, examine the battlefield, find targets, aim at them, and fire.

Operational use

Regio Esercito

The Regio Esercito received about a hundred M42s by September 1943. However, the Army was never able to use these vehicles, except during the clashes against the Germans between September 8th and 11th 1943. In Sicily and Southern Italy, the M15/42 was never sent to fight the Allied troops. The Regio Esercito used them only for the training of the crews and in the new armored units it had created after the loss of Tunisia.

85 M42s were assigned to the 135ª Divisione Corazzata “Ariete II” (Eng. 135th Armored Division “Ariete II”) together with 12 M42 Centro Radio,164 other tanks (medium and light) and self-propelled guns, and 80 AB41 armored cars and AS42 and AS43 trucks. This unit was formed in July 1943 and was part of the Corpo d’Armata Motocorazzato (Eng. Armored Motor Corps). It was stationed in Rome.

Two Regio Esercito M42s during training in the summer of 1943. Source: pinterest.com

After the fall of Benito Mussolini on July 25th, 1943, at the behest of the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II, the Italian Marshal Pietro Badoglio was brought in to command the army. He continued the war on the side of the German allies but secretly tried to make contact with the Allied powers to surrender.

The Chief of Staff of the Royal Army, Vittorio Ambrosio, moved the Armored Corps to Rome for two reasons. The first was to defend the capital from a possible Allied landing. The second was to defend Rome from a possible coup attempt by the fascists still loyal to Benito Mussolini.

The Armored Motor Corps was formed from the 10ª Divisione fanteria “Piave” (Eng. 10th Infantry Division “Piave”), the 136ª Divisione Corazzata “Centauro II” (Eng. 136th Armored Division “Centauro II”) (not considered loyal to the King, but to Mussolini) and the 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” (Eng. 21st Infantry Division “Granatieri di Sardegna”). It was equipped with 11 self-propelled guns and 31 tanks of the ‘M’ series (probably including some M15/42s).

Obviously, there were other units in Rome, such as the 220ª and 221ª Divisioni della Difesa Costiera (Eng. 220th and 221st Coastal Defense Divisions), 103ª Divisione fanteria “Piacenza” (Eng. 103rd Infantry Division “Piacenza”), the X° Reggimento Arditi (Eng. 10th Regiment Arditi), as well as smaller units, such as those of the Corpo dei Carabinieri Reali (Eng. Royal Carabiners Corps), the Corpo della Regia Guardia di Finanza (Eng. Corps of the Royal Finance Guard) and the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana (Eng. Italian African Police). This totaled 88,137 soldiers, 124 tanks, 257 self-propelled guns, 122 armored cars and trucks, and 615 cannons and howitzers in the capital.

M15/42s of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II” during maneuvers in late 1943. Source: pinterest.com

The proclamation of the surrender was made by Pietro Badoglio on Radio Algiers at 0745 pm, on September 8th, 1943, catching the Italian troops unprepared, as they did not expect the surrender.

The Germans were, however, not unprepared for the Italian defection. They had already prepared Fall Achse (Eng. Operation Axis). In the north of Rome, they had at their disposal about 25,000 soldiers, 71 tanks, 54 self-propelled guns, 196 armored cars and 165 cannons.

Already by 1000 pm, the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division “Ramke” (Eng. 2nd Parachute Division “Ramke”) attacked the airport of Pratica di Mare, which was 30 km south of Rome. During the morning of September 9th, German units repeatedly attacked a stronghold of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II”. This position resisted throughout the day, losing 4 tanks and 20 soldiers.

Other units of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II” were in the area between Bracciano and Menziana. They blocked the 3. Panzergrenadier Division, which had to give up the attack against Rome, heading towards Naples.

The men of the 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division succeeded in forcing the Italian troops to retreat inside the city on September 9th and restarted the attack on September 10th. The 21ª Divisione fanteria “Granatieri di Sardegna” had established itself at Porta San Paolo, part of the ancient Roman walls, together with some groups of Allievi Carabinieri and other units of the Royal Army. They were also supported by several civilians who took to the streets either unarmed or armed with hunting weapons.

The 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division was slowed down significantly and, only at 1700 pm managed to penetrate the rather poorly organized Italian defenses.

Map showing the defense of Rome, September 8th-10th 1943. Source: o5m6.de

In the fight for the Porta San Paolo and in the defense of the nearby Forte Ostiense, some ‘M’ series tanks of the 135ª Divisione corazzata “Ariete II” were damaged or destroyed by German troops. The numbers and the exact model of the vehicles are unknown, it can only be assumed that there were some M15/42s among them.

During the clashes of Porta San Paolo, a Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger hit an ‘M’ tank of an unknown model. Only one member of the crew survived, saved by a young civilian woman who, under German fire, climbed into the vehicle, pulling him out of the turret and carrying him to safety.

At 1600 pm on September 10th, 1943, the Italian command proclaimed Rome an “Open City”, even if some Italian units fought until the evening. Most of the Italian soldiers surrendered to the Germans while others, along with civilians, fled the city to form the first partisan nuclei.

In the battle for Rome, 1,167 Italians died, of which between 200 and 400 were civilians. 597 Italians fell at Porta San Paolo, of which 414 military and 183 civilians.

The fate of the Italian vehicles present in Rome was threefold. Most were captured by the Germans or were handed over intact by the units that surrendered. Others were sabotaged by the crews before surrendering to the Germans. A small number were hidden from the Germans, waiting for the right time to use them.

Captured or abandoned M15/42s in Rome, during the days after the armistice. Source: beutepanzer.ru

In addition to Rome, the Regio Esercito defended itself also in Piombino, a Tuscan seaside town, where the Germans had landed on September 9th to occupy the city. The XIX Battaglione of the 31° Reggimento Carristi (Eng. 19th Battalion of the 31st Carristi Regiment), equipped with 20 tanks of the ‘M’ series (among which probably some M15/42s) and 18 M42 self-propelled guns contained the German troops until September 11th with heavy losses.

M15/42 of the Reggimento Lanceri di Vittorio Emanuele II of Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’, September 11, 1943. Source: Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II

The CCCCXXXIII Battaglioni Complementi Carri M (Eng. 433rd Tank Complement Battalions ‘M’), which had training duties, was in Fidenza. After receiving news that the Germans were besieging Parma, at 0100 pm on September 9th, in the absence of orders, the unit unilaterally took the decision to support the troops in Parma. At 0530 PM, the unit left with 1 M15/42 tank, 7 Semoventi da 75/18 and 12 Autocannoni da 20/65 su SPA Dovunque.

Having had training duties, the vehicles had racks full of target practice rounds and had only 5 live rounds on board. The Germans discovered the column and organized an ambush outside Parma, knocking out 3 self-propelled guns and capturing another one.

The other vehicles managed to enter the city, creating a defensive perimeter until 0800 am, when the ammunition ran out and the CCCCXXXIII Battaglioni Complementi Carri M was forced to surrender after having sabotaged the vehicles.

Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano

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

A small part of Italian soldiers immediately sided with the Germans but was deprived of their armored vehicles. The majority of Italian soldiers were captured and placed in prison or concentration camps until September 23rd, 1943, when Benito Mussolini returned to Italy after his release. He founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (Eng. Italian Social Republic) in Salò, in the province of Brescia.

Many Italian soldiers loyal to Mussolini and fascism adhered to the new republic, joining the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (Eng. National Republican Army). They were then released from prison and re-equipped.

Given previous events following the Armistice, the German soldiers did not trust the Italians and they re-equipped them with few Italian tanks, preferring to keep the captured tanks for themselves and, where possible, to replace their own losses.

The Italian soldiers were thus forced to re-equip themselves with the few armored vehicles not seized by the Germans, by looking for vehicles abandoned and hidden by the crews after September 8th or by repairing some damaged ones.

The Gruppo Corazzato “Leoncello” (Eng. Armored Group “Leoncello”) was established in September 1943 with the aim of defending the Ministry of the Armed Forces in Polpenazze del Garda, in the province of Brescia. It was commanded by Captain Gianluca Zuccaro.

Initially named Battaglione Carri dell’Autodrappello Ministeriale delle Forze Armate (Eng. Tank Battalion of the Armored Group of the Armed Forces Ministry), it was established without the authorization of the Germans. The group recovered armored vehicles from almost everywhere in Lombardy, Veneto, and Piedmont.

At the end of 1944, it received 5 tanks of the “M” series from the 27° Deposito Misto Provinciale (Eng. 27th Provincial Mixed Depot) of Verona. Four M13/40s and one M15/42s were used only in training and exercises until April 1945.

On the evening of April 24th, 1945, General Graziani himself called at Polpenazze del Garda and ordered the Squadrone Comando (Eng. Command Squadron), which had the 5 tanks of the “M” series, a Semovente da 105/25 M43 and some L3 light tanks, to move towards Milan.

During the night march, one of the five ‘M’ tanks was abandoned due to a breakdown following an Allied air attack (with only machine guns). In the morning, at Cernusco sul Naviglio, 100 km from Polpenazze, the squadron received the order to surrender, managing to sabotage two ‘M’ tanks and the Semovente M43 before surrendering to the partisans.

It is not clear if the M15/42 was sabotaged or was hit by the aircraft, but the two vehicles captured by the partisans were M13/40s.

Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana

For the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, or GNR (Eng. Republican National Guard), the situation was more drastic, as the ENR, some soldiers in prison camps swore allegiance to Mussolini and Nazi Germany, and those who did not join the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano joined the GNR but only the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” (Eng. Armored Group “Leonessa”, not to be confused with “Leoncello”) was able to recover some ‘M’ series tanks.

Some were recovered from Lombardy, Piedmont, and Emilia Romagna. According to some German documents, about thirty ‘M’ tanks were recovered from a unit in Milan before being dismantled.

Of these thirty or so tanks recovered in Milan, at least five were put back into service, while the others were used for spare parts. In total, the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” had 33 tanks of the “M” series (of which only a small number were M15/42s) and two M42 command tanks.

The 33 tanks were deployed with the four companies of the unit located in Lombardy, Piedmont, and Emilia Romagna.

Two photos showing some vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa”. An L6/40, an M13/40, another M13/40 or M14/41, two M15/42s (recognizable by the longer barrel), and at least a pair of AB41s are visible. The photos were taken in Milan in 1944, in front of the building of the Ministry of Defense of the RSI. Source: pinterest.com

There is only one record about the M15/42s of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa”, from December 16th 1944 in Milan. There, a large parade was held in honor of Benito Mussolini visiting the city. After the parade, Mussolini paid a visit to the Distaccamento di Milano (Eng. Milan Detachment) that had at least 2 M15/42s. He climbed on the turret of the M15/42 under the command of Vice Brigadier Donati, haranguing the gathered soldiers and people.

Benito Mussolini speaks on top of the turret of an M15/42, Milan. December 16th, 1944. Source: Istituto Luce

Wehrmacht

The Germans managed to acquire, either by capturing or producing, over 100 M15/42 tanks. The Italian equipment, including tanks, was mainly used to replace the older French captured vehicles which were operated in the Balkans fighting the Partisan forces there.

The units that used them in Yugoslavia also had other M-series tanks in their inventory, which may sometimes lead to confusion. Another quite common issue with determining the precise type of tanks was the poor knowledge of the Partisans in identifying the enemy armor. Being that the Italian M-series tanks were quite similar to each other, distinguishing them was not always an easy task.

Some M15/42 used by the Panzer Abteilung 202 were used to defend the vital Belgrade-Zagreb railway line during mid-1944. During skirmishes against partisans, many M15/42s were also damaged or lost by anti-tank gunfire.

During the Battle for Belgrade, there was an accident when a Soviet T-34 rammed an M15/42 and completely turned it on its side.

One of the first combat use of the M15/42 in German service was to protect the important transport railways Source: http://beutepanzer.ru/Beutepanzer/italy/tanks/M13-15/M15_42-2.htm
A group of abandoned M15/42s near Belgrade. Source: Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu
An M15/42 destroyed during the Battle for Belgrade. Source: http://beutepanzer.ru/

From late October 1944 onwards, Panzer Abteilung 202 would be involved in the German defense line on the so-called Syrmian Front in the northern parts of Yugoslavia.

At the end of the war, what was left of the equipment of Panzer Abteilung 202, which was attempting to evacuate from Yugoslavia, was captured by the Partisans in Slovenia.

An M15/42 captured in Slovenia by the Partisans. Source: Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was another unit stationed in Yugoslavia from 1941. It was heavily involved in fighting the Partisan forces there. At the beginning of March 1944, Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 was in the process of reorganization and the older French tanks were slowly being replaced with Italian-built vehicles. By April 1944, there were some 42 Italian-built M15/42 tanks in use by this unit.

Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12 had some 33 M15/42 tanks reported in October, which were reduced to 15 vehicles by the end of the following month.

The M15/42 tanks employed by the Germans in Yugoslavia were plagued by a lack of spare parts, ammunition and fuel. Many tanks were not used in combat, as they needed constant maintenance and repairs, and, too often, these would be simply cannibalized for spare parts.

The M15/42 in Yugoslavia often received a larger storage box located behind the turret. Source: Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

Another unit that used M15/42s was the SS Panzer Abteilung 105, which was part of V-SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgskorps. It was involved in fighting Bosnian Partisans during 1944.

At the end of 1944, when the unit was recalled to Germany, it had 5 M15/42 tanks in its inventory. While the unit fought the Soviets in the defense of Frankfurt, it is unknown if by that time it still possessed any M15/42 tanks.

Yugoslav Partisan service

The Yugoslav Communist resistance movement managed to capture a number of M15/42 tanks. Some of these were probably used in combat, while smaller numbers were even used as training vehicles. The M15/42s were also used in military victory parades, like the one held in Kragujevac in May 1945. Following the end of the war, the M15/42s, together with other captured vehicles, was employed by the new Yugoslavian People’s Army. Their use would be quite limited due to the general lack of spare parts and ammunition. Nearly all would be scrapped a few years later, with one vehicle being preserved at the Belgrade Military Museum.

A Partisan captured M15/42 in a military parade at Kragujevac in May 1945. Source: Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

Camouflage and Markings

The Italian Royal Army received most of its M15/42s in Kaki Sahariano (Eng. Saharan Khaki). Only in late 1943 did some M42s receive the Continental three-tone camouflage (Eng. Continental). This was a Kaki Sahariano base color with dark green and reddish-brown spots.

Some photos show an unusual two-tone camouflage, quite surely applied independently by some crews during training in Italy in the summer of 1943.

One of the two-tone camouflaged M15/42s. Source: pinterest.com

The vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leoncello” were painted in standard Saharan khaki camouflage with the department’s coat of arms on the sides of the turret, a tricolor on the sides of the turret and on the front plate of the hull.

On one vehicle, on the front plate, the nickname “DERTHONA” (name of the Tortona soccer team) was painted in capital letters, along with the name Silvio Pelati, perhaps a dead comrade, a footballer or the name of the driver.

An M15/42 of the Gruppo Corazzato “Leoncello” during a crew training. Source: pinterest.com

The M15/42 and M42 command tanks of Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” were painted in standard Kaki Sahariano with the symbol of the unit, a red M with the fascio littorio, symbol of Italian Fascism, and the inscription GNR until late 1944. After that, all vehicles were repainted with a three-tone camouflage called Continentale, in some cases covering the symbol of the department.

In the case of the M15/42 of the Distaccamento di Milano, in addition to the ‘M’, a white thunderbolt whose meaning is unknown was painted on the turret.

On the M15/42 in this photo, the three-tone camouflage is not apparent, but the thunderbolt and ‘M’ symbol of the unit are visible. Milan, December 16th, 1944. Source: Istituto Luce

Wehrmacht troops repainted captured vehicles in Saharan Khaki with two- or three-tone spot or line camouflage, depending on the unit employing them. The 28 vehicles produced for the Germans, on the other hand, received Continental camouflage at the factory. Pz.Abt.202 camouflaged its vehicles with dark green spots. This unit also received newly produced vehicles.

M15/42 of Panzer Abteilung z.b.V.12. Note the two-tone camouflage. Source: beutepanzr.ru

Variants

Carro centro radio

Like in previous versions, the M15/42 chassis was used for a modified command tank variant (carro centro radio/ radio tank). For the modification, the turret was removed, the superstructure’s twin-machine guns were sometimes replaced with a 13 mm heavy machine gun, and, lastly, extra radio equipment was added. By the time of the September Armistice, some 45 M15/42 CC vehicles had been built. An additional 40 vehicles were built after September 1943 under German control.

The command version based on the M15/42 had two radio antennas on the rear of the casemate. Source: Pinterest

Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo

Based on the M15/42 chassis, the Italians built an experimental self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle. While most parts of the tank, including the suspension and hull, were unchanged, it received an enlarged turret armed with four 2 cm Scotti cannons. Possibly one or two prototypes were built and their fate is not clear.

The Semovente M15/42 Antiaereo prototype. Source: https://forum.warthunder.com

M15/42 with a Panzer 38(t) turret

The M15/42 was also used as a field modification by replacing its original turret with one taken from a Panzer 38(t). This vehicle is quite a mystery regarding who made it and why. What is known is that it was built during 1944 or in early 1945.

The modified M15/42 with a Panzer 38(t) turret. Note the large ‘U’ capital letter on the front part of the superstructure, which indicates that this vehicle was used by the Croats. Source: forum.warthunder.com

Semovente M42 da 75/18 and M42M da 75/34

Due to the general ineffectiveness of their tank designs, the Italians introduced a series of vehicles called Semovente. These used tank chassis (starting from the M13) by replacing the superstructure and turret with an enclosed casemate and a 75/18 mm gun. The M15/42 chassis was also used in this manner. By the time of the Italian surrender in September 1943, around 200 vehicles were built. Under German supervision, an additional 55 vehicles were built with the materials available on hand.
The Semovente based on the M15/42 was further improved by adding the longer 75/34 gun. By May 1943, some 60 vehicles would be completed by the Italians. An additional 80 new vehicles would be built by the Germans after the Italian Armistice.

The Semovente M42 da 75/18 based on the M15/42 tank chassis. Source: worldwarphotos.com
Semovente M42M (M – ‘modificato’ Eng. Modified) da 75/34 Source: Wiki

Surviving exemplars

In total, thirteen M15/42s have survived to this day. Only three are outside Italy.

One of those three is at the Musée des Blindés of Saumur, France. Another is exhibited in the Belgrade Military Museum, in not a great condition. The last M15/42 outside Italy is in a private collection in the San Marino Republic and is in running condition.

The M15/42 exhibited at the Musée des Blindés de Saumur. Source: pinterest.com

In Italy, of the ten vehicles that survived, eight are conserved in military barracks around Italy. One is at the Caserma “de Carli” of the 132º Reggimento carri in Cordenons, Friuli Venezia Giulia. One is at the Museo Storico della Motorizzazione Militare in Cecchignola, near Rome, and another one is in the Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra in Rovereto, northern Italy.

The vehicle at the Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra in Rovereto. Source: reddit.com

Conclusion

The M15/42 was built by the Italians as a makeshift solution to their need for a better tank design. While it offered some improvements over the previous M13/40 and M14/41 series, by the time it was ready for service, it was already obsolete. Its armor and firepower were simply insufficient in comparison to the enemy tanks that would be used against. While less than 200 would be built, ironically, their use by the Italians was minimal at best.

The Germans managed to get their hands on nearly all M15/42s. These were used against the Yugoslav Partisans in the Balkans. Their performance was limited, due to many factors, including a lack of spare parts and frequent breakdowns, which prevented many vehicles from being used in combat. They did achieve some success against poorly armed Partisans, who lacked proper anti-tank weapons. Once the Soviets started to closely support these fighters with modern tanks, the M15/42 was unable to do much.

In the end the M15/42 proved to be a quick solution to the Italian need for a proper tank, but it ultimately failed in this regard.

M15/42 as factory delivered in August 1943
M15/42 of the VII squadron, 1st platoon, Ariete II division near Rome, September 1943.
M15/42 of the 13th Armoured Regiment, 135th Cav. Div. Ariete II Rome Sept. 1943
M15/42 of Ariete II, showing its fuel jerrycans, September 1943
M15/42 of 1st Company, XVIth Batallion, Sardegna winter 1943
Carro Comando Semovente M42.
M15/42 Centro Radio, showing the antennae on the other side

Semovente da 75/18 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.06 x 2.28 x 2.37 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 15.5 tons battle ready
Crew 4 (Commander/gunner, loader, machine gunner and driver)
Propulsion FIAT-SPA T15B, petrol, water-cooled 11,980 cm³, 190 hp at 2400 rpm with 407 liters
Speed 38 km/h
Range 220 km
Armament Cannone da 47/40 Mod. 38 with 111 rounds and 3 or 4 Breda Mod. 1938 with 2,592 rounds
Armor From 42 mm to 20 mm
Total Production 167

Sources

D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Italija, Beograd
V. Meleca, Semovente M 15/42 “Contraereo”.
F. Cappellano and P. P. Battistelli (2012) Italian Medium Tanks 1939-45, New Vanguard
Pafi, Falessi e Fiore Corazzati Italiani Storia dei mezzi corazzati
N. Pignato, F. Cappellano. Gli Autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano Volume secondo
L. Ceva and A. Curami (1989) La meccanizzazione dell’esercito italiano dalle origini al 1943, Volume 2″ from Stato maggiore dell’Esercito, Ufficio storico,
N. Pignato, (2004) Italian Armored Vehicles of World War Two, Squadron Signal publication.
C. Bishop (1998) The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, Barnes Book.
R. Riccio and N. Pignato (2010) Italian Truck-mounted Artillery in Action. Squadron Signal publication
Bojan B. Dimitrijević and Dragan Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu,, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd
N.Pignato (1978) Le armi della fanteria italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale, RIVALBA
I Mezzi Corazzati Italiani della Guerra Civile 1943-1945 – Paolo Crippa
Italia 1943-45 I Mezzi delle Unità Cobelligeranti – Paolo Crippa, Luigi Manes
Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II – Ralph A. Riccio

Categories
WW2 Italian Tanks

Carro Armato M11/39

Kingdom of Italy (1939-1940)
Medium Tank – 100 Built

pre-production m11/39 tank
Pre-production M11/39 at the Ansaldo Factory in July 1939 with the multi-plate turret painted red-brown with vertical grey-green bands. Source: Pignato

Development

Italian tank designers had focussed on the needs of the army for a tank suitable for mountain warfare as well as for colonial use rather than one meant to fight contemporary European vehicles. As a result, the production of their first modern gun-armed tank was slow in coming. The Italians had evaluated and done some experiments with some other European tanks, most notably the British Vickers 6 ton tank. Ansaldo had even built a 9-tonne vehicle based on a British casemate design, which had later been modified with sprung suspension, all leading up to the design which became the M11/39.
In 1936, the Italian Army issued requirements for a tank with a 3 man crew, a 37mm L.40 gun mounted in the hull and two 8mm machine guns in the turret. As it would not be fighting tanks, the vehicle only needed armor to be proof against armor piercing ammunition from small arms and 20mm cannon fire. This new vehicle was set to replace the very outdated Fiat 3000’s the Italian Army (Regio Esercito) was still operating along with the CV.3 light tanks. An initial prototype was made in 1936 but was abandoned in 1937. The essential layout and suspension design of the prototype were retained though for development of a new 10-ton tank.
Despite it being obvious for years that tanks armed with cannons rather than machine guns were needed, it was not until May 1938 that the Italian Army officially decided that gun-armed tanks were going to be essential to its new armored division makeup despite years of experimental development beforehand. This was a time in which the Italian army was being modernized with a new structure and part of this restructuring created an armored division consisting of three medium tank battalions and a single heavy tank battalion. The drawback was that, other than the brand new 10-tonne tank design, they had no medium tanks and no heavy tanks at all. The bulk of the armored fleet for the army was still being filled by the CV.3 light tanks instead. The other project, a 7-tonne medium tank design had still not finished either, although that eventually became a light tank to replace the CV.3.
M11/39, the commander and gunner are riding on top
M11/39 in the North African desert, the commander and gunner are riding on top – Source: State Archives
This new 10-tonne design was ready by May 1938. It had evolved directly from the Carro di Rottura da 10 tonnes which had been trialed in 1937 and then extensively modified.
This new 10-tonne vehicle was to become the first M11/39 but was still being known as the ‘Carro di Rottura 8T’ at the time (8T because the engine was the Fiat SPa 8T – not because it weighed 8 tonnes) and was registered by the Army as ‘RE2576’ (this particular vehicle was later inspected by Italian leader Benito Mussolini in October 1938.
This vehicle was ideal for what the Army wanted from a medium tank, a pair of machine guns mounted in a turret and a 37mm gun or 47mm gun mounted in the hull, an operational range of 12 hours, and capable of 30-35kph. It had grown a little heavier than the original 10 tonnes though and was now an 11-tonne vehicle. As it was a Medium tank weighing 11 tonnes and expected in service in 1939, it was given the name M11/39 (Medium, 11 tonnes, 1939). The choice of a 47 mm gun as the main armament for medium tanks was finally confirmed in a meeting between General Pariani and Agostino Rocca (a director at Ansaldo) of the 25th September 1939 in preference to the 37 mm gun.
The Italians, therefore, had the tank they wanted for the medium role, but they did not have a heavy tank. The Pesante (P – heavy) tank wanted in 1938 was a 20-25 tonne vehicle, capable of 32 kph, 10 hours range of operations and a 47 mm gun in a turret along with numerous machine guns. That requirement was going to prove a lot more tortuous to fulfill.
In the absence of any heavy tanks for their armored divisions and with this new tank being available for production by December 1938, the Italian Army ordered 100 M11 tanks in mid 1938 which were to supposed to be ready by November 1939. This could be followed by potential orders for up to 450 more depending on whether an improved medium tank was available by that time or not. The first M11/39 did not roll off the production lines until July 1939 though, over a year after the order was first made.
This first production of M11/39 was not going to feature a radio. The vehicle presented to Mussolini back in October 1938 had been fitted with an RF 1CA radio but the remaining 99 vehicles were not fitted with a radio and crews would instead have to rely on signal flags to communicate.
mussolini inspecting a m1139
relatively simple bolted and riveted construction
M11/39 hull during assembly showing the relatively simple bolted and riveted construction. Source: Italie 39-45
By the start of World War 2 in September 1939, the Italian Army had only received 96 of these new tanks and already decided that it needed another 400 medium, and 1,200 improved light tanks. Instead, they had less than 100 medium and over 1,400 light tanks including the mostly useless Fiat 3000’s. Production of the M11/39 ran at a slow rate of just 9 tanks per month built in batches of 12. The first 12 vehicles differed from the following vehicles in that they had no oval hole on the inside of the front mudguard. This was a later modification to permit the inspection of the drive sprocket and track for damage or blockage from dirt etc.
Composite image showing production mudguard difference between early
Composite image showing production mudguard difference between early (hole-less) and later pattern
Mussolini inspecting the new medium tank in 1938
and again on another occasion
Mussolini inspecting the new medium tank in 1938 and again on another occasion (different hat) probably at the Ansaldo factory. Source: Cappellano and Battistelli, and unknown

Design

The vehicle had a crew of 3. A commander, situated with his upper body in the small one-man turret, a gunner in the front right-hand side of the hull and the driver in the front left. The small turret on top of the machine was offset from the center line by 30 cm to the left and had a ring diameter of just 876.3 mm (internal). The vehicle was provided with a single 7mm thick hatch in the turret roof hinged at the front with a splash ring and another hatch in the hull roof for the crew. The internal ergonomics were not very good though. The internal height did not allow for the commander to stand fully upright, as there were only 1,714.5 mm from the floor to the roof of the turret. He was also at risk of being struck by the recoil of the gun as explained in an Australian report from 1941 “hull gunner is a very cramped position and in danger of being hit by the revolving turret mechanism. Commander in a cramped position and dangerously near the recoiling breach of the 37/40 gun”.

Armor

The armor of the M11/39 was composed of all steel plates bolted together. Countersunk hexagonal headed bolts with a conical top were used throughout the hull fabrication connecting the armored plates to a mild steel framework.
A British 1943 report suggests there were some manufacturing problems with the steel on the turret in particular. The plates had been bent in order to be bolted onto the frame, possibly causing a stress fracture which had been welded to fix it. No cast or welded plate was used on the vehicle.

Automotive

The M11/39 used a Fiat SPa 90 degree Vee type 8 cylinder (2 valves per cylinder) 11.14 litre diesel engine which was an excellent feature of the tank despite producing just 105hp. Some sources state 125hp, which may have been the intended performance rather than the actual performance. The cylinder blocks and crankcase were made from aluminum and had detachable cylinder heads. Upon examination by the engineer Sir Harry Ricardo (who had worked before the war as a consultant for Fiat) he concluded that the design used his patented Comet head and could be developed to produce up to 150 hp. The British M.I.10 report looking at the engine was complicated by the fact the vehicle had suffered a serious fire and subsequently arrived both fire damaged and corroded by rust. Even so, it was sufficiently interesting for further examination of Italian engines to be suggested.
The engine compartment itself featured two fuel tanks, a main tank and a reserve tank straddling the engine with air filters on top of them, and the radiator at the rear. The British measured these fuel tanks as holding about 150 litres and 40 litres respectively. Due to the very long ranges involved in desert fighting in 1940, some M11/39 vehicles were fitted with a 23-litre external fuel tank as well. The 190 litres were sufficient for 10 hours / 200 km of operation, and the additional 23-litre tank would increase this to hours 11 hours / 222 km respectively.
23 litre extended range fuel tank for the M11/39
Source: Pignato
23 litre extended range fuel tank for the M11/39. Source: Pignato
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A rather precariously slung additional range fuel tank on the back of an M11/39, North Africa 1940 as seen from the driver’s hatch of the following tank. Source: still from unidentified film, Luce
Air flow for the engine was through a small vent in the rear of the fighting compartment. Air was sucked in through that area and into the engine bay, also providing ventilation for the crew. Air was also drawn in via louvres on the engine bay hatches. The transmission, which was located at the front, was a four-speed box with a single reverse gear.
One particularly good feature of the tank was not just the ability to start it externally via a cranking handle but also the ability to do so from inside the vehicle. This, according to the British, was a very desirable feature which “might with advantage be incorporated in our own designs
Detail of one of the two suspension units
Detail of one of the two suspension units from each side of the M11/39 showing the two pairs of wheels on their sprung carrier. All dimensions are in Imperial units not standard units. Source: M.I. 10 report.

Suspension

The M11/39’s suspension consisted of 2 assemblies on each side, each containing 4 wheels. These wheels were 30cm in diameter and were rubber tired by the Pirelli company. The track was supported by 3 rubber-tired (again, by Pirelli) return rollers 240 mm in diameter. Springs were made from 10 laminated leafs and no shock absorbers were fitted.
The single pin track was made from steel stampings 260mm wide with 80 links on each side and was notable to the British due to how many different stages of machining were necessary to make the track. Track tension was effected by means of an adjusting nut on an arm connected to the rear idler wheel and drive to the track by means of a double driving sprocket at the front.
The suspension was assessed by the British to be robust but too exposed to damage with damage to even one wheel possibly crippling the vehicle.
Close up of the Vickers-Terni 37/40 main gun
Close up of the Vickers-Terni 37/40 main gun and the twin machine gun turret. Source: Pignato
Post-combat photo of the crew of the M11/39
Post-combat photo of the crew of the M11/39 showing that painting the large Italian tricolor on the turret, used as a recognition mark in June 1940, drew some unnecessary attention from the British. The entire front is heavily riddled with hits too. Source: Tallilo and Guglielmi

Armament

The small turret mounted a pair of machine guns mounted coaxially and fired by the commander. Notably, these machine guns were mounted in a gimbal which allowed them to be traversed and depressed a small degree independent of the turret.
The main armament was positioned in the hull on the right-hand side and was the 37 mm semi-automatic Vickers-Terni gun built at the Terni plant in Italy. This was an old design and style of gun not well suited for tank-to-tank combat. The example examined by the British in 1943 was marked “Spezia 1918”. The gun, despite its elderly background, was light and compact, weighing just 95 kg. It had a simple falling wedge breech with a single hydraulic recoil buffer mounted on top of the gun. Sights for the gun consisted of a telescope and an open sight graduated for 500, 1,000, 1,500, and 2,000 metres with notches on the sides allowing for wind drift. Because of the location of the gun, the traverse was severely constrained to just 30 degrees in total (although the British report says “approx. 16° each way” making up to 32° total) and an elevation of -8 to +12 degrees. It had both a hand traverse and a hydraulic power traverse (although elevation was manual only) and was fired by means of a foot pedal. Ammunition for the main gun was held in boxes below the gun and a total stowage of 84 rounds was carried for it along with 117 24-round magazines for machine guns (2,808 rounds).
Interior of the M11/39 showing the very large telescope
inside of the gun mount.
Interior of the M11/39 showing the very large telescope for the gunner and the inside of the gun mount. In front of his seat, the stowage for the ammunition for the 37 mm gun can be seen. Source: Pignato
The hydraulic traverse system was, according to a British report, very good. Compact, simple, and effective without having to use filters and so well engineered that the British believed this system made by the firm of Calzoni had originally been intended for use in aircraft. The British were sufficiently impressed to try and get hold of another example for tests as it was “decidedly more simple than that employed on British tanks.” The British were, however, puzzled as to why such a relatively small gun needed hydraulic traverse at all and could only conclude that, as the first vehicles were found to be lacking the system and the gun was badly out of balance, there was too much friction on the traverse mount which was not supported by roller bearings or balls. Traverse speed with the hydraulic resistance though was just over 17 degrees a second when the engine was at 1065rpm and almost exactly 13 degrees a second at 700 rpm.
The choice of the Vickers-Terni 37mm gun had caused significant production problems. Supplies of the gun were so slow that some had to be stripped back out of the Fiat 3000’s in order to fill the order for the M11/39’s and the comments by the British on the need for the traverse system allude to why a larger gun more than 40 mm in calibre was not selected, it was just too heavy to move.
Fighting compartment of the M11/39
Fighting compartment of the M11/39 showing position of the hull gun, power traverse and steering levers. Source: M.I.10 Report
Rare shot of an M11/39 in service in East Africa
Rare shot of an M11/39 in service in East Africa in early 1941. Source: Pignato
One of the first batch of M11/39
One of the first batch of M11/39’s built as seen destroyed in Massaua, Eritrea in 1941. Source: British Pathe news
M11/39 dumped in the harbor at Massaua
M11/39 dumped in the harbor at Massaua, Eritrea 1941 to prevent capture by the British. Source British Pathe news


M11/39 in Eastern Africa, British Somaliland invasion, September 1940. It seems the prototypes also had a vermicelli camouflage.

Ariete division, 4th Tank Regiment, 3rd tank of the 2nd platoon of the 1st company, Egypt, September 1940.

M11/39 of the 1st Armored Battalion, Ariete division, Egypt, August 1940.

M11/39, Ariete Division, 32nd Tank Regiment, fourth tank of the 2nd company. Libya, 1940.

A M11/39 from the 2nd Company of the 32nd Tank Regiment, Ariete division, Libya, early 1941, during Operation Compass.

During the first stage of the war in North Africa, the British and Australians managed to push back the Regio Esercito from Egypt and launched Operation Compass in December 1940. This success was accompanied by the capture of hundreds of trucks, guns and tanks. All captured M13/40s and M11/39s were taken over by the 6th Australian Division Cavalry Regiment, which painted their famous large kangaroo of the turret and hull. These fought during most of the siege of Tobruk.

Combat

Of the first 96 tanks, 24 were sent to East Africa in May 1940 and a further 72 were sent to Libya arriving on the 8th and 9th July 1940. These vehicles were formed into the I and II Battaglioni Carri Medi (Medium Tank Battalions) and were first in combat there on the 5th August against the British at Sidi Azez where the Italian forces destroyed two British tanks, and captured another two in exchange for the loss of three M11/39’s.
Strafurini twin axle 14 tonne trailer
Strafurini twin axle 14 tonne trailer with the prototype M11/39 loaded. Source: Pignato
The reality of tank movement
The reality of tank movement- long road marches under their own power. Source: unknown
In November 1940, at Alam el Quatrani, 5 of the 27 M11/39’s still operational were lost trying to break out of an encirclement by British forces, being either knocked out or breaking down. Shortly after this, some vehicles which had been captured were painted with large white Kangaroos by Australian forces and pressed into service against Italian forces, at least one of which was recaptured by the original owners. The Australians pressed these vehicles into service in 3 companies named Dingo, Wombat, and Rabbit respectively.
Mechanical failures were a continual problem in the desert. Long road marches and hard rocky ground combined with fine desert dust wore vehicles down quickly. For example, deploying 39 M11/39 tanks to the front at Tobruk entailed a 60km road march for the tanks under their own power due to a lack of transport trucks or the specifically designed trailers. As a result, only 5 got there in working order. By January 1941 though, only 5 M11/39’s were left operational in North Africa for Italian forces and these were lost at El Adem on the 21st January.
Troops of the Australian 6th Cavalry, Tobruk
AUSTRALIAN M11/39s
Troops of the Australian 6th Cavalry, Tobruk 23rd January 1941 operating three M11/39’s and an M13/40 captured from Italian forces all clearly marked with large white Kangaroos as recognition symbols. These appear on all sides including the rear of the vehicles. Source: Australian War Memorial
Italian troops in a dugout
Italian troops in a dugout next to a knocked out M11/39 previously operated by Australian forces. Source: Pignato
Captured Italian M11/39
Captured Italian M11/39 used in East Africa by South African forces
Captured Italian M11/39 repainted with large number ‘1’s in use in East Africa by South African forces. Source: regioesercito.com
The 24 tanks sent to East Africa arrived prior to Italy’s entry into the War and were formed in two companies, 321 and 322 respectively with 12 tanks each. These vehicles participated in the taking of Kassala, Sudan on the 4th July 1940. Company 322’s M11/39’s took part in the invasion of British Somaliland in August 1940 but had lost two tanks by April 1941 and was destroyed as a unit by combined British and South African forces on the 22nd May 1941. At least one M11/39 was reused by the South Africans against Italian forces. The 12 tanks of Company 321 were all lost at Agordat by the end of March 1941 meaning that, by the end May 1941, only the Allies were operating Italian M11/39’s on the African continent. The remaining 4 M11/39’s which had not been sent to Africa remained in Italy, 3 with the Cavalry School and one with Centro Studi ed Esperienze della Motorizzazione (CSEM) for automotive studies.
M11/39 in the hands of German Fallschirmjager troops
M11/39 in the hands of German Fallschirmjager troops during the seizure of Rome, September 1943.
Source: German Federal Archives Bild 101I-476-2070-05

One of the four tanks which had remained in Italy is known to have been used by German forces during the seizure of Rome in September 1943. In German service, the tank, despite the few they could possibly have operated (no more than four), was known as the M11/39 734(i). One vehicle which had been retained at the Italian Cavalry School saw combat in July 1944 in mainland Italy. It was subsequently abandoned after action.

Conclusion

The M11/39 was an unusual tank, placing the main armament in the hull was an easy solution to carrying a cannon on a tank but was less than ideal when it came to combat in the wide-open North African desert. The restrictions on the movement of the gun due to its location meant that despite the hydraulic system it was not going to meet the needs of the Army. The problem of limited traverse was made worse by the lack of a common tank radio and the M11/39 is often seen as one of the least successful tanks of World War II. Combat reports from action near Agorat by March 1941 showed it was easy to cause confusion to the crew by firing at the tank from the sides and the vulnerability from the rear due to a lack of traverse should be exploited in attacking it.
It is probably the lack of a radio which was the biggest failing of the tank, the following vehicle, the M13/40 rectified both these problems though, a 47 mm gun in the turret and a radio fitted as standard. It was ready before any further production of the M11/39 took place and was a much more sound design than the M11/39 although it used many of the same features.
Production of the M11/39 had ended with the delivery of the final and 100th vehicle in July 1939 although the additional production orders for more tanks given in 1938 were not formally canceled until October 1939. The more advanced M13/40 medium tank was already available by that time and production was switched to that vehicle to meet the demands of the Italian Army. Despite one example being shipped to Great Britain for evaluation and rumors of one shipped to Australia for display, no M11/39’s survive.
A row on display for the newsreels
captured Italian M11/39
on display at Agordat during fighting in Eritrea in 1941
A row on display for the newsreels of captured Italian M11/39’s on display at Agordat during fighting in Eritrea in 1941. Source: British Pathe news, and Prasad and Litt

Specifications

Carro Armato M11/39 specifications

Dimensions 4.70 x 2.20 x 2.30 m (15ft5 x 7ft2 x 7ft6.5)
Total weight, battle ready 11.2 tonnes
Crew 3 (commander/radio operator, driver, gunner)
Propulsion Fiat SPA 8T, V8 diesel, 105 hp
Speed 32.2 km/h (20 mph)
Operational range 200 km (125 mi)
Armament (see notes) 37 mm (1.46 in) Vickers Termi L40, 84 rounds
Twin Breda 38 8 mm (0.31 in) machine guns, 2,800 rounds
Armor From 6 to 30 mm (0.24-1.18 in)
Total production 100

Videos

Eritrea’s Last Stand, British Pathe news https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blEmpAgn-6I shows some M11/39’s abandoned in East Africa
Episodes of the Italian-German Offensive on the Sollum Front, Luce https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jO5OwnF9j3I scenes of M11/39’s advancing
Fronte africano – Con i nostri soldati alla presa di Cassala https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=zcuEQdVb7ZY

Sources

Preliminary Report Italian Tank M11/39, School of Tank Technology, March 1943
MI.10 Report on Foreign Equipment GSI, 13th March 1941
Italian Medium Tanks, Cappellano and Battistelli
‘Captured Italian Tanks’ CRME/10054/1/G(S.D.2) – February 1941 – Australian National Archives
Report on Hydraulic Traverse Gear from Italian M11/39 tank, Department of Tank Design 1943
Fallen Eagles’ by Howard Christie
Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento Dell’Esercito Italiano, Pignato and Cappellano
La Meccanizzazione dell’ Esercito Italiano, Ceva and Curami
Carro M, Tallilo and Guglielmi
Carro Armato Fiat-Ansaldo Tipo M11(8T) Catalogo parti di ricambio 1939
Official History of the Indian Armed Forces In the Second World War – East African Campaign, 1940-41, Prasad, and Litt, 1963