Kingdom of Italy/Italian Social Republic/Italian Republic (1939-1948)
Heavy Duty Truck – 8,000 Built
The Autocarro FIAT 666N (English: FIAT 666N Truck) heavy duty truck was the first Italian heavy cab-over-engine truck produced by Fabbrica Italiana Automobili di Torino or FIAT (English: Italian Automobiles Factory of Turin), from 1939 until 1948.
It was produced both in a civilian versions for the Italian and European markets and in a military versions for the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army), Italian Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) and Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy).
After the Italian Armistice of 8th September 1943, it was also deployed by the Germans and by the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic).
After the war ended, it remained in production for another 3 years in a civilian version that also saw a small export to other European countries.
History of the Project
After the Great War, in the 1920s, the Italian industry grew with the development of robust and capable petrol trucks that were substituted in the mid-1930s with diesel engines, in a similar way Germany had done in 1932.
The major truck producers in the Kingdom of Italy were FIAT Veicoli Industriali (English: FIAT Industrial Vehicles), the FIAT branch that produced trucks; Lancia Veicoli Industriali of Turin; ALFA Romeo of Milan; and Isotta Fraschini of Milan.
There were also other producers, such as Fabbrica Automobili e Velocipedi Edoardo Bianchi (English: Edoardo Bianchi Automobile and Bicycle Factory) and Officine Meccaniche or OM (Mechanical Workshops) that produced light and medium and heavy trucks.
Except for the FIAT, all the other ones had bought diesel engines from German producers such as Junkers, MAN and Mercedes-Benz. Some other Italian vehicles were simply copies of German trucks such as the ALFA Romeo 500 that was developed from a Büssing-NAG medium truck with a new Deutz diesel engine or the OM 3 BOD produced under Saurer license.
All the vehicles produced by these companies were powered by petrol or diesel engines, had different payloads and weights, and in some cases, even between trucks produced by the same company, their characteristics were not similar.
In July 1937, the Italian government created a law on truck production. The law was passed for 3 main reasons:
Firstly, Italy was a rapidly growing nation with numerous companies producing dozens of different models of trucks. Standardization would lead companies to produce vehicles very similar to each other and with common parts, increasing production capacity.
Secondly, there was also the problem of embargoes placed on the Kingdom of Italy and the policy of autarky (the aspiration of Italian Fascist leaders to be economically independent from foreign countries). Unified truck standards, as part of this policy, were one part of the process, and they would help to avoid wasting resources.An example of this standardization process can be seen in the size of wheel rims. After 1935, due the embargoes placed after the invasion of Ethiopia, Italy had little rubber with which to produce tires. If all the trucks had the same rim diameters and sizes, companies that produced tires could produce one-size tires adaptable to all heavy trucks.
Thirdly, and probably the most important reason, was the unification of civilian and military truck standards, which meant that, in case of war, civilian trucks could be requisitioned for military purposes.
Autocarri Unificati Laws
Maximum Weight (tonnes)
of which payload
Maximum Speed (km/h)
Maximum Turning Radius (m)
Ground Clearance (cm)
¹ In some cases were accepted also patrol engines for medium trucks
With Regio Decreto (English: Royal Decree) N° 1809 of 14th July 1937, the so-called Autocarri Unificati (English: Unified Trucks) were born. For heavy trucks, the maximum weight should not exceed 12,000 kg, of which at least 6,000 kg had to be of payload, with a diesel engine with a minimum road speed of 45 km/h. The ALFA Romeo 800 and FIAT 666N were the first heavy trucks designed under the Regio Decreto N° 1809 rules.
Many Italian truckers were reluctant in purchasing the Autocarri Unificati, this was because in case of war these trucks would be requisitioned first. Despite their better features, Italian truckers preferred to continue buying older or less efficient vehicles that theoretically would not be requisitioned in case of war.
History of the Prototype
FIAT Veicoli Industriali started the development of a new heavy truck and of a new medium truck after the adoption of the decree on autocarri unificati.
FIAT’s plan was to substitute their earlier FIAT 632N, FIAT 633N, FIAT 634N, and FIAT 635N diesel heavy trucks.
The new heavy truck would become the FIAT 666N (‘N’ for Nafta – Diesel), while the medium one would become the FIAT 626N. Both the projects were cab-over-engine layout (the first for the FIAT) and followed the Regio Decreto N° 1809’s rules.
The FIAT 666N project was ready in late 1938 and the first prototype was produced between 1938 and early 1939.
This new truck was presented to the Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini and accompanying press on 15th May 1939. This was also the occasion of the opening of a new FIAT factory in Turin, the modern FIAT Mirafiori.
It was in this new plant where these new trucks would be produced. This factory building covered 300,000 m2 on an area of over one million m2, with a total of 22,000 workers on 2 shifts. All 50,000 FIAT workers of Turin were present for Mirafiori’s inauguration.
Despite a serious propaganda incident (Mussolini did not receive the reception he expected at Mirafiori), the Italian dictator visited the factory in which some military officers presented him the FIAT 626N, the FIAT 666N, and the Autoblinda AB40 prototypes.
The military version, the FIAT 666NM (‘NM’ for Nafta Militare – Diesel; Military), was presented to the Centro Studi ed Esperienze della Motorizzazione (English: Vehicle Study and Experience Center), the Italian department which examined new vehicles in Rome, for evaluation on 19th September 1940.
It differed from the civilian version through the addition of acetylene headlights, a bulb horn, support for rifles on the cab’s roof, manually operated turn signals on the sides of the windscreen, and only the rear side of the cargo bay was openable.
It was accepted into service and the first Regio Esercito order for the new unified heavy truck was made on 10th January 1941.
FIAT 666N Ordered or Produced
2,500 ordered 1
796 ordered 2
1,000 ordered 1
700 ordered 1
1944 – 1945
78 brand new trucks produced for the Germans
Total Production until 1948
~ 8,000 3
1 No data about the delivery, so it is impossible to know how many were produced, the presence of new orders in 1942 and then in 1943 suggests that the previous orders had been completed. 2 Probably all delivered 3 Including civilian versions
In total, between late 1939 to 1948 a total of about 8,000 Autocarri FIAT 666N in all variants were produced by FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin.
An unknown number of vehicles were sold around Europe after the war. Some FIAT brochures in French suggest the FIAT 666N were sold in the French market, while posters suggested the sale of FIAT 666N’s bus version in the United Kingdom. Many Autocarri FIAT 666N were also sold in Spain, probably in all civilian variants. The relatively small number produced would suggest that only a few hundreds were exported.
The chassis was composed of 2 stringers connected by side cross members. In the front, the bumper connected to the stringers, the engine and radiator were in the center, between the driver and passenger’s seats. The compressed air tank for the brakes and the battery box were fixed on the left side of the chassis, while the fuel tank and the muffler were placed on the right side.
Engine and Suspension
Propulsion was provided by a FIAT Tipo 366 6-cylinder in-line diesel engine. It had overhead valves, with a displacement of 9,365 cm³ and FIAT-produced injectors. The maximum output power was 110 hp at 2,000 rpm on the civilian FIAT 666N, the FIAT 666NM for the Regia Aeronautica, and on the FIAT 665NM. The maximum output power on the Regio Esercito’s FIAT 666NM was limited to delivering 95 hp (70.84 Kw) at 1,700 rpm. The Ricardo type direct-injection chamber created lots of problems in the cold Russian steppes, which forced the crews to mix the diesel fuel with gasoline in order to allow the engine to start. In some cases, crews had to light fires near the vehicle’s cabs to heat the engine before igniting it.
The maximum speed on-road was 48.3 km/h (30 mph) for the power-limited FIAT 666NM, 56.8 km/h for the FIAT 666N and FIAT 666NM and 57 km/h for the FIAT 665 NM.
The fuel was kept in a 135 liter tank (255 liters for the FIAT 665NM) located on the right side of the chassis, which offered a 750 km on-road range (465 km for the FIAT 666N). A FIAT 6-75-2510 diaphragm pump then pumped the fuel into a 5.5-liter tank located behind the cab’s dashboard. This ensured trouble-free feeding thanks to a gravity injection pump. In case of breaking of the main fuel pump or of the main tank itself. This system ensured, in case of pump failure or puncture of the main tank, a limited range until reaching a workshop that could repair the damage.
The water-cooling tank had a capacity of 50 liters. Air was drawn through 2 filters mounted at the back of the engine. Up until engine number 000530, they used cartridge filters, after which they were replaced with oil bath filters. As on the FIAT 626 medium truck, the engine could be extracted through the cab’s front after the removal of the grille thanks to rollers mounted on the 2 supports of the engine, rolling on guides fixed to the frame.
The lubricant oil for the engine was 20 liters (about 16 kg), 1.5 liters (1.2 kg) for the oil bath filters, and about 30 liters of oil (21 kg) in the gearbox and transmission. The brake fluid was 3 liters (2.9 kg).
Brakes and Electric Systems
The single dry plate clutch was connected to the gearbox via a drive shaft. This could be removed independently of the gearbox and engine simply by removing the rear casing. This meant that maintenance and disassembly were easier.
The transmission, thanks to the reducer, had eight forward gears and two reverse gears.
The drum brakes were hydraulic and had a pedal-operated air-brake booster.
The compressed air tank, with a capacity of 55 liters, was located on the left of the frame. It had a pressure of 5.5 bar (550 kPa). On the NM version, the rear axle was equipped with a differential.
There was a 12 Volt electrical circuit used to power the headlights and dashboard, and a FIAT 10 hp/24 Volt circuit for starting the engine. The batteries were 2 Magneti Marelli 6MF21 12V housed in a box on the left side of the chassis, behind the air tank.
Structure and Bodywork
The cargo bay measured 4.75 m long by 2.20 m wide. The height of the cargo bay was 600 mm on the civilian version and 650 mm on the military version for a total cargo volume of 6.27 m3 and 6.79 m3 respectively. It was homologated to carry up to 6 tonnes of cargo, but could carry, without much difficulty, a 6.84 tonnes Carro Armato L6/40 light reconnaissance tank.
The cab had the steering wheel and the driver on the right, while the vehicle’s commander was placed on the left. The cab’s doors opened backwards. FIAT was one of the only Italian truck companies that produced bodywork for its vehicles instead of having them coach-built. This allowed FIAT to increase the speed of its production as well as reducing the overall cost of the truck.
Despite this, some FIAT 666N were provided with custom coach-built bodies by various private companies upon special request from the customer.
Due to the slow production rates, some early FIAT 666NMs were equipped with civilian FIAT 666N cabs. These differed from the military ones for the presence of a road sign on the cab’s roof. The black square with a yellow or white triangle painted inside meant the truck could tow a trailer and warned drivers in its vicinity to be careful. If the rectangle was upright, the truck was towing a trailer. If it was horizontal, the trailer was not present. The triangle was only required by law on civilian vehicles. Another detail not present in the military cabs were the electric arrow keys that were manual on the military version.
In spite of its respectable dimensions and its large load capacity, the FIAT 666 heavy-duty truck chassis weighed only 1 tonne.
The bodywork and cargo bay increased the weight by 5 tonnes for a total weight of 6 tonnes in the FIAT 666NM variant.
The FIAT 666N, FIAT 666NM Regia Aeronautica, and FIAT 665NM could travel at a maximum empty speed of 56 km/h, while the FIAT 666NM Regio Esercito had a maximum speed of 48 km/h. Fully loaded, it could climb a 20º or 28° slope while empty or fully-laden, respectively.
Thanks to its short wheelbase and cab layout, it was comfortable traveling on mountain roads. The FIAT 666NM had a wheel rim size of 20 x 8” (50.8 x 20.32 cm). Like the other vehicles, it could use a wide variety of tires developed and produced by the Pirelli company in Milan.
It was considered a short range heavy duty truck. In fact, the companies that coach-built bodywork on the chassis never used long cabs with berths inside (apart from some of Officine Viberti’s private work). The only FIAT vehicle with berths was the FIAT 634N, the first truck in Europe with the possibility to be equipped with 2 or 3 berths. As an example, the second company to provide a berth in the cabin was Renault with its 3-axle Renault AFKD, with a load capacity of 10 tonnes, which entered service only in 1936. The third was Lancia with the Lancia 3Ro in 1938 that could have 1 or 2 berths.
The Autocarro FIAT 666NM was produced in a wide range of special bodyworks for the Regio Esercito.
Autocarro FIAT 665NM
One of the most notable versions of the FIAT 666N was the 4-wheel drive Autocarro FIAT 665NM that had the majority of parts in common with the FIAT 666NM truck.They were deployed as heavy duty cargo trucks with larger tires and 4-wheel drive that could reach any unit for resupply even in muddy roads and on rough terrains even with an empty weight of 7.2 tonnes.
Thanks to its excellent off-road mobility, it was introduced in 1942 as a cargo truck and about 100 were eventually converted into APCs by applying armored plates to them. The FIAT 665NM Protetto was a standard 4×4 heavy truck on which armored plates with a thickness between 4.5 mm to 7.5 mm were added on the existing cargo truck bodywork. Another vehicle called FIAT 665NM Blindato con Riparo Ruote was designed but never produced. It had a new armored superstructure that would transform the vehicle into a well designed armored personnel carrier.
Autocisterna and Autobotti
The Officine Viberti (English: Viberti’s Workshops), one of the coach-building companies specialized in custom-built bodywork for trucks, produced a FIAT 666N fuel carrier variant for the Italian Regia Aeronautica, the Autocisterna FIAT 666N Modello Regia Aeronautica 4 (English: Fuel Carrier [on] FIAT 666N Model [for the] Royal Air Force [type/version/model] 4). This vehicle was equipped with a 7,710 liter fuel tank and could tow a 10,995 liter tank on trailer for a total of 18,705 liters of fuel transported to refuel planes. There were 2 Società Anonima Industriale di Verona or SAIV (English: Industrial Anonymous Company of Verona) pumps delivering 100 liters of fuel per minute.
From photographic evidence, it seems that standard Regio Esercito fuel carriers with a capacity of 5,000 liters were not produced on the FIAT 666NM chassis. After the war, some civilian FIAT 666N were equipped with fuel or water tanks (in Italian nomenclature, a water carrier is ‘Autobotte’). The majority were Viberti-SAIV tanks, but some were equipped with other companies’ special bodyworks.
For the Regio Esercito’s needs, some FIAT 666NM were equipped with special bodywork, such as Officine Volanti (English: Flying Workshops). These mobile workshops were composed of 4 Autocarri FIAT 666NM 2 in van configuration that transported machinery tools while other 2 standard cargo trucks transported the spare parts.
It seems that the only unit produced, under the control of FIAT mechanics, was sent to the Soviet Union as a FIAT private project to support Italian soldiers on the frontline. It was deployed in Stalino (today known as Donetsk, Ukraine) in the abandoned Putilov Plant and supported the Autofficine Pesanti Modello 1938 (English: Heavy Mobile Workshops Model 1938) of some Italian infantry divisions.
Some Autocarri FIAT 666N in mobile workshop versions were also deployed by the Regia Aeronautica and Regio Esercito in Officina Mobile Modello 1938 configuration. The mobile workshop was composed of 2 trucks, one for spare parts and another one for machinery tools. The exact number of workshop bodied FIAT 666N is unknown, even if it could be supposed that only a small number were converted due the absence of photographic evidence.
In 1942, the Società Anonima Bergomi of Milan proposed a special tow truck version of the Autocarro FIAT 666N with a winch on the rear to tow even other heavy trucks. The Regio Esercito was not interested in the project because the unit usually towed broken down trucks with other trucks.
A special version which remained a prototype was the Autocarro FIAT 666NM Radio, equipped with an A310 radio apparatus, and developed by Officine Viberti. This powerful radio apparatus had a range, with special radio antennas, of 200 to 300 km. To avoid air recognition, the soft-skinned cargo bay could be covered by a second tarpaulin to make it seem like a standard cargo truck. Due to unspecified uninspired performances during trials, the project was abandoned.
Due to problems encountered with the injection of the engine at low temperatures, FIAT proposed a patrol version of the FIAT 666NM, the Autocarro FIAT 666BM (BM for Benzina Militare – Patrol Military). It was approved only in June 1943, when the Soviet front was lost and the petrol version of the truck was no longer a necessity. It was never adopted due the Armistice of 8th September later that year that canceled production.
The vehicle was also produced in some bus variants even after the war.
After the war, a new variant of the vehicle was produced, the Autocarro FIAT 666N7, with a major modification, direct injection engine. The vehicle was produced until 1948, when it was substituted on the production lines by the Autocarro FIAT 680N.
The Autocarri FIAT 666N and 666NM had a towing capacity permitted by law of 12 tonnes (cargo + trailer) for a total weight of the fully loaded truck and fully loaded trailer of 24 tonnes. During the war, the FIAT 666NM was found capable of loading on the cargo bay a battle ready Carro Armato L6/40 light truck without problems.
It was a similar story in terms of towing. With special towing tank trailers, it could tow Carri Armati M13/40, M14/41, and M15/42 and the semoventi on their chassis that ranged between 13 to 16 tonnes without over-stressing the engine.
Brief Operational Service
The first Autocarri FIAT 666N were ready in early 1940, but the majority of them were requisitioned by the Regio Esercito for military needs and immediately redeployed to frontline units. Some civilian trucks were seen during the Italian invasion of France. In fact, in June 1940, the FIAT 666NM was not yet in production, so civilian trucks were needed.
Each Italian division had some heavy-duty trucks to tow the artillery pieces or the tanks of the division. The exact number of heavy-duty trucks changed for each division type. An armored division had a theoretical number of 246 heavy-duty trucks, which was increased to 258 in June 1942. In 1942, an Italian motorized division had in service a theoretical number of 861 trucks (light, medium, and heavy), prime movers, and staff cars. The 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ (English: 101st Motorized Division) had 61 heavy duty trucks of all variants during the same year. An infantry division in North Africa had a theoretical organic strength of 127 heavy trucks, 28 SPA Dovunque medium trucks, and 72 FIAT-SPA TL37 light prime movers.
Many Autocarri FIAT 666NM were assigned to Italian infantry and mechanized divisions of the Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia (English: Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia) that was then renamed ARMata Italiana in Russia or ARMIR (English: Italian Army in Russia).
During the Great Soviet Offensive on the Don, many Italian trucks were captured by the Soviets that redeployed only some sturdy Axis vehicles that did not have problems in ignition at low temperatures. From Italian veterans reports, it is known that the Soviet preferred to destroy the Autocarri FIAT 666N when they ambushed the Axis troops on retreat because the low-temperature ignition problems meant that it was considered problematic by the Soviets.
In North Africa, the FIAT 666N was deployed in all logistic roles, from artillery tractor to tank transporter. The British managed to capture some vehicles, but it seems that their judgment was not positive and only a few were reused. Their objections were probably down to the cartridge filters that failed with the desert dust. The problem was solved shortly after by adopting bath oil filters for the engine.
In 1942, the Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy) developed its own Autoprotetto FIAT 666NM per la Regia Marina (English: Armored FIAT 666NM for the Royal Navy). Its main task was to patrol Italian military harbors and docks and to patrol coastal areas to prevent Allied paratrooper landings. A single prototype was built, but the project was abandoned due to the minimal protection to the soldiers transported on board.
After the Armistice of 8th September 1943, the German forces captured dozens of Autocarri FIAT 666NM and redeployed them on any front of the war, together with 79 brand new vehicles produced under German control.
Some were also deployed by the new Italian puppet state, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI. The RSI forces were equipped with a few dozen FIAT 666NM. Among them was the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico (English: 630th Public Order Company) of Piacenza, that, due the absence of armored vehicles, modified a civilian Autocarro FIAT 666N with armored plates and an heavy machine gun, creating the FIAT 666N Blindato.
The Germans, on other hand, deployed some FIAT 666NM as self-propelled anti-aircraft guns loading 2 cm Flakvierling 38 quadmount anti-aircraft automatic cannons on the cargo bays of a few FIAT 666NM.
In Italy, after the war, the Azienda Recupero Alienazione Residuati or ARAR (English: Company of Recovery and Alienation Survey) society was entrusted by the Italian Government of National Unity with the task of reconditioning and selling military vehicles confiscated from the enemy or abandoned by the Allied armies on Italian territory after the Second World War. Private owners, companies, the Italian Army, and the Italian police had the possibility of buying hundreds of those vehicles after 1945. Many other vehicles were also acquired, such as US GMC 353 and Dodge T-110 trucks, German Opel Blitz, British CMPs, and the ubiquitous FIAT and Lancia trucks.
After the war, FIAT also proposed a new versions, the FIAT 666N7 direct ignition cargo truck and with Viberti-SAIV presented new fuel carriers for the civilian market.
The Autocarro FIAT 666N and its military version, the FIAT 666NM, were both reliable vehicles and innovative in Italy for their cab-over-engine configuration.
Even if their service in cold winter temperatures was judged to be poor due to ignition issues, the overall service could be considered positive, with some trucks sold in France, the United Kingdom, and Spain after the war. It was one of the three most widely produced and deployed Italian heavy trucks during Second World War, along with the Lancia 3Ro and FIAT 634N.
Autocarro FIAT 666NM Specification
7.095 x 2.250 x 2.850 m
2 (driver and commander)
FIAT Tipo 366, 9,365 cm3 6-cylinder diesel, 95 hp at 1,700 rpm
Speed on road
465 km on-road, 350 km off-road
about 8,000 trucks in all the variants
Gli Autoveicoli Tattici e Logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943, Tomo 1 – Nicola Pignato e Filippo Cappellano – Ufficio Storico Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito – 2005
Gli Autoveicoli Tattici e Logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943, Tomo 2 – Nicola Pignato e Filippo Cappellano – Ufficio Storico Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito – 2005
Ruote in Divisa, I veicoli Militari Italiani 1900-1987 – Brizio Pignacca – Giorgio Nada Editore, 1989
Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II – Ralph A. Riccio – Mattioli 1885 – 2010
Semicingolati, Motoveicoli e Veicoli Speciali del Regio Esercito Italiano 1919-1943 – Giulio Benussi – Intergest Publishing – 1976
Kingdom of Italy/Italian Social Republic (1943-1945)
Reconnaissance Car – 11 Converted From Pre-Existing Vehicles
The Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 (English: Desert Reconnaissance Car Model 1943) was an Italian Regio Esercito desert reconnaissance car that was created in early 1943 by modifying existing FIAT-SPA Autocarri Sahariani Modello 1937 or A.S.37 (English: FIAT-SPA Saharan Trucks Model 1937) light lorries.
Despite their name and original chassis, these camionette (singular camionetta) were never deployed in North Africa. The vehicles were assigned to the Battaglione d’Assalto Motorizzato (English: Assault Motorized Battalion) that used the camionette in public order duties on the Italian mainland for a short period of time. It was only during the desperate defense of Rome, between 9th and 10th September 1943, that the Camionette Desertiche Modello 1943 got actively deployed by the Italian troops.
The Regio Esercito started the North African Campaign on 9th September 1940, fighting against the British and Commonwealth troops based in Egypt. After a few months, in January 1941, the Italian Xª Armata (English: 10th Army) was forced to retreat to Libya and take defensive positions, awaiting German help.
In that period, the Regio Esercito‘s High Command started to request the development of various new kinds of vehicles based on the experience gained in the first months of desert warfare. One of the most famous vehicles designed in that period was the FIAT-SPA S.37 Autoprotetto (English: Armored [Wheeled Vehicle] FIAT-SPA S.37) armored personnel carrier, based on the FIAT-SPA Trattore Leggero Modello 1937 ‘Libia’ (English: FIAT-SPA Light Tractor Model 1937), or more simply, the FIAT-SPA T.L.37 ‘Libia’ light prime mover.
At the same time, due to the absence of many types of special purpose vehicles, the Italian soldiers on the frontline tried to fill the gaps in their organic strength with improvised vehicles of two kinds: support and reconnaissance vehicles, based on both Italian built and captured trucks.
The support trucks were called autocannoni (English: truck-mounted artillery). Basically, these were just standard trucks without cab roofs and windshields with support, anti-aircraft, or anti-tank guns mounted permanently on their cargo bays.
The reconnaissance trucks were built on light lorries and were called camionette desertiche (English: desert reconnaissance cars). In Italian, the term camionetta (camionette plural) is used to designate any kind of unarmored light reconnaissance vehicle of the army or unarmored police vehicles.
The first camionette were based, in the first stages of the war, on the FIAT-SPA Autocarro Sahariano Modello 1937 (English: FIAT-SPA Saharan Truck Model 1937), or more simply FIAT-SPA A.S.37, a light desert truck developed on the T.L.37 chassis.
These vehicles had the advantages of being powered by a strong petrol engine and, thanks to their large tires, had great off-road mobility. The armament usually consisted of a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 anti-aircraft gun, which was also effective against light armored vehicles, or machine guns mounted on pedestal supports.
In the first years of war in North Africa, the Italian troops in the southern Libyan Sahara, who were not involved directly in the campaign, were deployed to defend isolated garrisons from the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) patrols. The first mechanized columns, later renamed compagnie sahariane (English: saharan companies) were equipped with standard cargo trucks (mainly FIAT 634N heavy trucks, FIAT-SPA A.S.37 desert lorries, and even some captured British LRDG trucks) loaded with Italian and colonial soldiers and with some 20 mm automatic guns and medium or heavy machine guns on the cargo bays.
These cheap, easy to modify all-terrain vehicles proved themselves to be really effective against the British saboteurs and reconnaissance units. They were also effective against convoys or small armored units. In particular, the camionette on FIAT-SPA A.S.37 chassis were judged better for their off-road capabilities and speed compared to the bigger FIAT 634N, which had greater loading capacity but was slower and had difficulties crossing loose sand areas.
The success of these vehicles persuaded the Comando Militare del Sahara Libico (English: Libyan Sahara Military Command), the branch of the Regio Esercito’s High Command in North Africa, to ask for upgraded vehicles with similar characteristics modified in workshops to better adapt to the Italian necessities.
In mid-1942, the Comando Militare del Sahara Libico ordered the modification of the FIAT-SPA A.S.37 light desert lorries into camionette. The modifications were made by a specialized military workshop in the Hon Oasis, the headquarter of that branch of the Regio Esercito.
One of the biggest problems encountered with the FIAT-SPA A.S.37 was its height, which, in flat landscapes like the desert, made it easily spottable by enemy forces. The FIAT-SPA A.S.37 was 2.65 m high due to the cab and waterproof tarpaulin.
The Hon workshop then cut the cab, removing the roof, rear wall, and windshield, and lowered the chassis by a few centimeters. The equipment of the vehicle was increased, adding 20 liter can supports and ammunition boxes to increase the range and firepower of the camionetta.
A universal support was mounted in the modified cargo bay’s center, which could be equipped with a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 or a Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935. The armament was completed with a 8 mm Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1937 (English: Breda Medium Machine Gun Model 1937) manned by the vehicle’s commander.
Probably no more than 2 FIAT-SPA A.S.37s were modified into camionette, tested and then delivered to the compagnie sahariane.
These vehicles gave great results in the last stages of the Italian defense of the Libyan desert and in the early stages of the Tunisinian campaign. As a result, the Comando Militare del Sahara Libico sent a favorable report to the Regio Esercito’s High Command in Rome. During that period, the Stato Maggiore del Regio Esercito (English: General Staff of the Royal Army) had ordered the production of long-range desert camionette inspired by the British LRDG patrol cars. The Regio Esercito’s plan was to create an Italian special force with similar characteristics and tasks as the British one. The Long Range Desert Group would be countered and emulated by the X Reggimento Arditi (English: 10th Arditi Regiment), while Arditi Distruttori della Regia Aeronautica (English: Arditi Destroyers of the Royal Air Force) did likewise with the Special Air Service (SAS).
The Camionetta Desertica SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’, based on the Autoblinda AB41 chassis, was developed for the X Reggimento Arditi. A few were delivered before the end of the North African campaign and gave excellent results. Another patrol car was the Camionetta Desertica SPA-Viberti AS43 which was not produced in time to participate in the North African campaign.
The Italian designers modified the project shortly after the presentation of the desert version prototype, removing some 20 liter can supports and adding lockers for ammunition. The new vehicle, renamed Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43, was deployed only in Europe in small numbers by the Regio Esercito until September 1943 and then by the German and Italian fascist troops until the end of the war. The SPA-Viberti AS43 was a cheaper option compared to the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Metropolitana’, the non-desert version of the Camionetta Desertica SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’.
The FIAT-SPA Autocarro Sahariano Modello 1937
The Autocarro Sahariano Modello 1937 was developed from the FIAT-SPA Trattore Leggero Modello 1937 or FIAT-SPA T.L.37 (English: FIAT-SPA Light Tractor Model 1937) light prime mover. The two vehicles were developed by Fabbrica Italiana Automobili di Torino or FIAT (English: Italian Automobile factory of Turin) and produced by its subsidiary, the Società Piemontese Automobili or SPA (English: Piedimontese Automobile Society), at its plant in Corso Peschiera 249 in Turin. For this reason, they were known as FIAT-SPA even if only the Società Piemontese Automobili logo sat over the radiator grille. Due to the presence of the logo, in many foreign sources, these trucks are known simply as “SPA A.S.37”.
The FIAT-SPA Autocarro Sahariano Modello 1937 was especially developed by FIAT for desert service with large tires, long-range capabilities, and a powerful petrol engine. It was developed after a special request by the Governatore della Libia (English: Libya’s Governor), Italo Balbo, who wanted a long-range desert truck for its compagnie sahariane before the war. In 1938, a total of 200 FIAT-SPA A.S.37 were delivered to Libya. In March 1942, 584 FIAT-SPA A.S.37 were in service, and by April 1943, a total of 802 were in service in North Africa.
A total of 190 liters of petrol were transported in the fuel tanks, giving a range of 450 km for the first variants. The fuel tanks were increased to 210 liters and then to 380 liters in the last upgraded versions, for a maximum range of 500 km and then 900 km. Another 4 50-liter tanks for drinkable and engine water were transported, together with 6 ghirbe, used by the Italians before the 20-liter cans were adopted in 1941. The ghirbe were transported on the outer side of the cargo bay and were used only for drinking water. This great amount of water permitted the crew to survive in the desert for many days if the vehicle had a mechanical failure in the middle of the desert.
The engine compartment and hood were inherited from the FIAT-SPA T.L.37, with two headlights on the sides, radiator cap on the front, and fuel cap near the windshield. On the front was a bumper and two bars to protect the radiator grille. The engine’s ignition crank was fixed on the bars.
The cab was fully made of iron sheets and the doors opened backwards. The side windows were lowerable and the windshield could be opened to better cool the driving compartment. The cab had three seats: one on the right for the driver and a bigger seat for the vehicle’s commander and another soldier. The seats were leather-lined until 1942, when production was changed to faux leather to save on raw materials and on the total cost of the vehicle.
Behind the cab was the spare wheel support, mounted on the right, and the 4 50-liter cube-shaped drinking water tanks were stored on the left. On the first series of A.S.37, there were two ladders with two steps on each side of the vehicle, behind the cab. Beginning on the first A.S.37 upgrade 7, the left one was removed to add the 50-liter tank support. The ladders could have been used for repairs, tarpaulin mounting, and for observation in the desert. To remove the spare wheel from its support, the right ladder had to be removed.
On the rear, there was a cargo bay with a payload capacity of 800 kg or enough space for 8 fully equipped soldiers, usually crewmembers when the vehicle was used as an artillery tractor. On the frontal side of the cargo bay, two racks were transported for a total of eight Moschetto Carcano Modello 1891 per Truppe Speciali (English: Carcano Model 1891 for Special Troops Rifle) for the artillery crews.
The cargo bay was made of wooden planks bolted on an iron structure. It had fixed sides with only a section of the rear side openable, with a foldable step to ease the loading and unloading operations. The benches on which the soldiers sat were divided in 2 parts: the lower part could be folded upwards to save space for equipment, while the backrest could be folded backwards to lower the cargo bay’s height or to ease the loading and unloading operations.
Three supports for a tarpaulin could be mounted on the cargo bay’s side to mount a waterproof tarpaulin on the cargo bay and the space between it and the cab. The tarpaulin was, in some variants of the vehicle, extended to the roof of the cab to store more equipment and then, in the 900 km range version, to protect the rooftop mounted fuel tank.
The truck was also used for specific and special variants, such as a radio station with two radio antennas openable on two different sides and an observation post with an elevating ladder on the cargo bay.
Due to the delays in the delivery of the Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43 in early 1943, the Centro Studi ed Esperienze della Motorizzazione modified some FIAT-SPA A.S.37 into camionette, which were delivered to the Battaglione d’Assalto Motorizzato (English: Assault Motorized Battalion).
The question of its name is up for debate. The majority of sources call it Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943, except for the book Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano written by Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano, which calls it Camionetta AS43 Modificata (English: Modified AS43 Reconnaissance Car). This article will use the Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 designation, as it is the most commonly used name.
Chassis and Bodywork
The chassis was composed of two members with ovoid holes in order to lighten the total weight, connected by cross members made of stamped sheet metal.
The cab was modified. The windshield, roof, and doors were completely removed. The seats were substituted with two new ones. The rear spare wheel support and rear wall of the cab were not modified. This resulted in a separation between the front crew (driver and vehicle commander) and the rear crew (gunner and 2 loaders).
A total of three supports for Moschetti Automatici Beretta Modello 1938 or MAB38 (English: Beretta Automatic Rifles Model 1938) were added, two on the sides of the cab, and one over the driver’s seat. A support for the machine gun tripod was added on the right frontal fender. If needed, the crew could dismount the machine gun and deploy it on the ground.
On the front mudguards, two width-limit indicator rods with a red sphere on top were used by the driver to help drive through narrow mountain streets or to park.
The cargo bay lost the benches. On the more spacious floor, a support for a 20 mm anti-aircraft automatic gun was installed. The ammunition was probably held in wooden boxes with racks on the cargo bay’s front, where the loaders sat and on the rear part. Three 20-liter can supports were present per side and sapper tools were put on the cargo bay sides.
On the rear side of the cargo bay, on the sides of the foldable part, another 2 20-liter can supports were positioned. A further two can supports were on the frontal mudguards, for a total of 10 cans for petrol, lubricant oil, and drinkable water.
Engine and Suspension
The Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 light desert truck was powered by a FIAT-SPA Tipo 18TL in-line, four-cylinder, water cooled gasoline engine that produced 52 hp at 2,000 rpm. Its maximum revolutions per minute were limited to 2,000 rpm to increase its lifetime, reducing the need for maintenance and overall costs. The Zenith Modello 1936 TTHVI carburetor was designed for off-road and steep slope operations.
The FIAT-SPA T.L.37 prime mover had the same engine and, on the vehicles delivered to Libya, the Zenith air filter was replaced by a standard OCI oil bath model. It is logical to assume that, on the FIAT-SPA A.S.37s, these were specifically developed for desert service the OCI oil bath filters were standard.
The engine-clutch assembly was suspended from the chassis by four silent blocks.
The main armament on the Camionetta SPA-Viberti AS43 was a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 anti-aircraft automatic gun that could also be used against light armored targets, such as light reconnaissance tanks or armored cars.
The anti-aircraft gun was developed by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche (English: Mechanical Constructions Ernesto Breda Italian Limited Company) in 1935. In its field version, it had a crew of five, while on the camionetta, the number of crew was decreased to 3: a gunner and two loaders. The gunner was seated behind the gun and the loaders were seated in the cargo bay, on the gun’s sides. The driver would probably occasionally help load the gun to speed up reloading.
The maximum anti-aircraft range was 1,500-2,000 m. Against ground targets, the maximum range was 5,000 m, while the effective range decreased to about 2,500 m.
This gun was one of the best light automatic guns of its era, with a total weight of 330 kg and a theoretical rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute. The practical rate of fire dropped to about 300 rounds per minute in case of the presence of a single loader in the cargo bay. The maximum depression was -10°, while maximum elevation was +80°.
Secondary armament consisted of a Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1937 (English: Breda Medium Machine Gun Model 1937) mounted on a gooseneck support on the left side of the cab and used by the commander for anti-personnel fire or to fire against low flying enemy planes.
This gun was developed according to the 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 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 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 Media Breda Modello 1937.
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 19.4 kg and its tripod had a weight of 18.8 kg, making this weapon the heaviest medium machine gun of the Second World War. The practical rate of fire, which was about 200-250 rounds per minute, was considered a bit low. The machine gun was fed by 20-round rigid strips. After firing, instead of ejecting the spent casings like all firearms, the Breda Modello 1937 reinserted them into the rigid strip to facilitate the recovery of reusable spent casings.
The machine gun shot 8 x 59 mm RB cartridges 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 type. The armor piercing rounds could penetrate 11 mm of non-ballistic steel angled at 90° at 100 m. Even if there is no photographic evidence, as on other Italian vehicles, the Breda Modello 1937 could be substituted with the Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1938 (English: Breda Medium Machine Guns Model 1938) with the same action and cartridges of the Modello 1937, but specially developed for armored vehicles. It had a shorter barrel, pistol grip, and top curved 24-round magazines.
On the right front mudguard, a support for the machine gun tripod was fixed by means of butterfly screws. In fact, the Breda could be quickly dismounted and deployed in a fixed position by the crew on the ground.
Even if rarely seen on Mitragliatrici Medie Breda Modello 1937 mounted on vehicles, the one mounted on the Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 number ‘9’ was equipped with anti-aircraft sight and iron stock to help the machine gunner hold the recoil of the machine gun during anti-aircraft shooting. Even it could seem a special upgrade, the anti-aircraft sights were delivered to all the infantry units with which the Mitragliatrici Medie Breda Modello 1937 were deployed, along with spare tripod parts to use it as anti-aircraft support.
Using the standard tripod, some additional legs were added to stretch the height, permitting a standing soldier to fire the machine gun. An anti-aircraft sight was mounted on the barrel while a collimator was placed halfway between the barrel and the grip. An iron tube shaped as a rifle-stock for the machine gunner’s shoulder was placed on the left side of the machine gun.
The Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 was deployed by the Battaglione d’Assalto Motorizzato, made up of two compagnie fucilieri d’assalto (English: assault riflemen companies) and a compagnia esploratori (English: reconnaissance company). The latter one was theoretically composed of a command platoon and 3 camionette platoons.
Due to the absence of camionette in late 1942, the Centro Studi ed Esperienze della Motorizzazione started the development of the Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943, which were only ready in August 1943, a few months after the end of the North African Campaign.
During the same period, the Battaglione d’Assalto Motorizzato was equipped with 21 or 24 Camionette SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Metropolitane’. It officially had 11 Camionette Desertica Modello 1943 and 3 Camionette SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Metropolitane’ in the command platoon and 3 platoons with 6 Camionette SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Metropolitane’ each. Probably 3 more ‘Metropolitane’ were maintained in reserve.
Shortly before the Armistice with the Allied forces, in early September 1943, the Compagnia Esploratori of the Battaglione d’Assalto Motorizzato was stationed in downtown Rome for public security duties.
When the Armistice was made public on the evening of 8th September 1943, the Company was still in Rome, and on 9th September, it was deployed against the Germans that tried to enter the city. They very likely saw action on 10th September 1943 in the Porta San Paolo area. In the small square with the Ancient Roman walls and gate was the Via Ostiense, the quickest way to reach downtown Rome.
The details of the clashes are not clear and there are no mentions in official sources about the Compagnia Esploratori. Based on the testimony of a Battaglione d’Assalto Motorizzato officer, the Company lost an entire platoon during the fighting against the German 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division “Ramke” (English: 2nd Paratrooper Division) during the clash near Porta San Paolo. Nothing is known about which platoon was destroyed and there is no information about the use of the Camionette Desertica Modello 1943.
After the failed defense of Rome, another unit used the Camionette Desertica Modello 1943. Many Italian soldiers still loyal to Mussolini, who had refused to fight against the Germans, decided to join to crate an Italian unit allied to the Germans.
They had already explained to the German commanders that they were loyal to Mussolini and to the Axis forces. They tried to find new military equipment to arm the new unit. They found 2 Carri Armati M13/40s and some lorries abandoned after 10th September in the Forte Tiburtino fortress, the headquarters of the former 4º Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 4th Tank Crew Infantry Regiment). The 2 tanks were from the 3° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 3rd Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) that arrived in Rome shortly before the Armistice to equip the IX Battaglione Carri M, which was being created. The “light lorries” found in the fortress were probably light trucks, but at least one was in all likelihood a Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 that was later deployed by the Fascist soldiers. Before the Armistice, the 4º Reggimento Fanteria Carrista had 31 tanks, 11 semoventi, and 20 camionette, of which only 7 were with certainty Camionette SPA-Viberti AS43, while the others were unknown models.
On 17th September 1943, Lieutenant General Renzo Montagna, the former commander of the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale or MVSN (English: Voluntary Militia for National Security) was put in charge. The former 1ª Divisione Corazzata Legionaria ‘M’ was part of the MVSN before the Armistice, so returned under its control.
Lt. Gen. Montagna mentioned in a letter that the units under his control had recovered a total of about 40 medium tanks and dozens of other vehicles in the streets of Rome. Even if the tank number seems high, the Fascist soldiers recovered dozens of knocked out or abandoned vehicles, of which only some were re-deployed.
The two tanks and the vehicles found in Forte Tiburtino were immediately put into service on the order from Lt. Gen. Montagna. The Carri Armati M13/40s and a Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 were deployed to guard the Piazza Colonna, where the Ente Italiano per le Audizioni Radiofoniche or EIAR (English: Italian Body for Radio Broadcasting) and the Partito Fascista Repubblicano or PFR (English: Republican Fascist Party) were headquartered, in the Palazzo Wedekind. A FIAT 626 and a civilian car were also deployed to transport militiamen.
On 29th September 1943, the former officers and soldiers of the 1ª Divisione Corazzata Legionaria ‘M’ created the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) and were transferred to Montichiari, near Brescia, with the few armored vehicles that they had recovered in Rome. It seems that the Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 did not follow the unit. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was disbanded on 1st May 1945 after its surrender to the US troops in Northern Italy. There is no mention in official documents nor photographic evidence of this camionette in service with the unit between September 1943 and May 1945.
After the War
After the defense of Rome, the soldiers of the Compagnia Esploratori disbanded, but some of its camionette were reused by the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana or PAI (English: Police of the Italian Africa) for public order duties in Rome. Nothing is known about their service with the PAI, but, when the Allied forces liberated Rome in June 1944, all the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana camionette and equipment were taken by the Allied forces that, at the end of the war, delivered them to the newly formed Italian Police.
The Italian Police deployed many Camionette AS42 of both models and at least a Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943.
The vehicle was only photographed in 1947. during a parade of the Reparto Mobile Blindisti (English: Armored Car Fast Department) in Rome. It was probably deployed as a command vehicle for the armored car unit equipped both with T17E1 Staghound heavy armored cars of US production and with AB43 medium armored cars of Italian production. The two images show the absence of the 20 mm automatic cannon, instead of which 2 Mitragliatrici Breda Modello 1937 were installed on anti-aircraft pintle mounts with big metal crates fixed on the right, containing the 20-round clips to feed the machine guns. These anti-aircraft pintle mounts were from Italian Navy boats.
Although it could seems a heavy piece of equipment for a public order corp, the camionette and armored cars were only deployed as deterrents during strikes or political rallies.
The Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 was painted in Amaranth Red (standard Italian Police color after the war) with “Polizia” painted white on the cargo bay.
The Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 was a cheap transformation of a light truck into a reconnaissance car. It would have been adequate for the role even if its moderate speed could have been a problem during some attacks. It was a good solution to equip a small unit with camionette as a stopgap before the more powerful SPA-Viberti models were available. Had there been a large-scale production of the Camionette Desertiche Modello 1943, FIAT-SPA A.S.37 light desert lorries had to be modified, decreasing the total monthly delivery of light lorries to increase the camionette delivery. This was another example of the Regio Esercito’s continuous production problem throughout the whole war.
Camionetta Desertica Modello 1943 Specification
4.65 x 2.00 x ~ 2.70 m
Weight, battle ready
5 (driver, commander, gunner and 2 loaders)
SPA 18TL, 4-cylinder petrol engine, 4053 cm3, 52 hp at 2,000 rpm
1 Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 and a Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1937
Le Camionette del Regio Esercito. FIAT-SPA AS/37, SPA-Viberti AS/42, FIAT-SPA AS/43, Desertica 43, i Reparti che le Impiegarono – Enrico Finazzer and Luigi Carpetta – Gruppo Modellistico Trentino – 2014
Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II – Ralph A. Riccio – Mattioli 1885 – 2010
Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Volume Secondo, Tomo II – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano – Ufficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito – 2002
Semicingolati, Motoveicoli e Veicoli Speciali del Regio Esercito Italiano 1919-1943 – Giulio Benussi – Intergest Publishing – 1976
Italian Social Republic/German Reich (1943-1945)
Tank Destroyer – 11 to 18 Built
The Semovente M43 da 75/46 (English: 75 mm L/46 M43 Self-Propelled Gun) was the last self-propelled gun (SPG) produced by Italy during the Second World War. It was based on the previous Semovente M43 (plural semoventi) chassis, but featured new spaced armor that offered better protection to the crew. It was developed by Italian companies after a German request of late 1943.
A total of 11 to 18 vehicles were produced, but most of the vehicles were delivered to the Germans, who deployed them on the Italian peninsula against the Allied forces in the last stages of the Second World War.
The effective Semovente M40 da 75/18 self-propelled howitzer based on the chassis of the Carro Armato M13/40 IIIa Serie immediately proved to be more potent than Italian-produced medium tanks in terms of firepower. When deployed in North Africa by the Italians, it demonstrated to be an effective support vehicle, and could deal with almost all the Allied tanks in that theater of operations. It was deployed mainly as an assault tank or to support infantry attacks, but it was also deployed to attack Commonwealth armored formations with success.
It was armed with a Obice da 75/18 Modello 1934 (English: 75 mm L/18 Howitzer Model 1934) with 44 rounds and a Fucile Mitragliatore Breda Modello 1930 (English: Breda Light Machine Gun Model 1930) with 600 rounds. Its engine was the FIAT-SPA 8T Modello 1940 diesel giving out 125 hp at 1,800 rpm.
After the production of a small series of 60 vehicles, the Semovente da 75/18 was changed to the chassis of the more advanced and modern Carro Armato M14/41, becoming the Semovente M41 da 75/18. This vehicle was powered by the new FIAT-SPA 15T Modello 1941 diesel engine with a maximum power of 145 hp at 1,800 rpm. This semovente was also captured by the Germans and renamed as the Beute Sturmgeschütz M41 mit 7,5 cm KwK L/18 850 (Italienisch) (English: Captured Assault Gun M41 with 75 mm L/18 Cannon [Coded] 850 [italian])
In 1942, the chassis was again changed to the Carro Armato M15/42’s, becoming the Semovente M42 da 75/18. It was longer than its predecessors by 14 cm due to the new engine compartment mounting a powerful 190 hp petrol engine, the FIAT-SPA 15TB Modello 1942. The M42 da 75/18 was known in German service as the Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 7,5 cm KwK L/18 850 (Italienisch).
The Obice da 75/18 Modello 1934 had a great High-Explosive Anti-Tank round, but had a short firing range and was imprecise at long ranges. A new armored vehicle with a different gun had to be produced, and, in October 1942, Ansaldo-Fossati started the new development. In February 1943, the prototype of the new semovente was ready.
The new tank destroyer had a casemate that was made 11 cm longer in order to host the Cannone da 75/34 Modello SF [Sfera] (English: 75 mm L/34 Cannon Model [on Spherical Support]), which had more recoil than the previous howitzer.
In German service, the vehicle was known as Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 7,5 cm KwK L/34 851(Italienisch).
Other developments were the Semoventi M41M da 90/53 tank destroyer, based on a heavily modified Carro Armato M14/41 chassis with the engine compartment in the center and the main gun on the rear. It was accompanied by the more conventional-shaped Semovente M43 da 105/25, a new self-propelled gun on a completely modified M42 chassis.
The M43 Chassis
The Semovente M43 chassis, also called in Ansaldo documents Semovente M42L (L for ‘Lungo’ – English: ‘Long’), was 4 cm longer than the M42, reaching a length of 5.10 m. It was also 17 cm wider (2.40 m compared to 2.23 m of the M42) and 10 cm lower (1.75 m compared to 1.85 m of the M42).
Finally, the flameproof bulkhead separating the engine compartment from the fighting compartment was moved back 20 cm, increasing the fighting compartment’s space. All these modifications brought the total weight of the vehicle to 15.7 tonnes battle-ready, compared to the 15 tonnes of the M42.
The Semovente M43 chassis was first adopted for the Semovente M43 da 105/25 equipped with the Obice da 105/25 Modello SF [Sfera] (English: 105 mm L/25 Cannon Model [on Spherical Support]), which needed more space for the cumbersome gun breech and longer ammunition.
It was also adopted by the Germans as the base for their new chassis, to which some original Italian production documents referred to as Semovente M42T (T for ‘Tedesco’ – English: German), meaning that it was derived from the previous Semovente M42L chassis.
The German ordered the installation of the Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934 (English: 75 mm L/46 Anti-Aircraft Cannon Model 1934) and Cannone da 75/34 Modello SF on this chassis to the Italian Ansaldo factory, which remained in the German controlled zone after the Armistice.
History of the Project
After the Armistice of 8th September 1943 and Operation Achse (English: Axis), the German forces captured thousands of Italian vehicles. Many of these were obsolete or needed to be repaired, but some were immediately redistributed to frontline German units in Italy and Balkans to replace some losses.
The Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (English: Inspector General of the Armed Forces) of the Wehrmacht inspected the various Italian factories and their armored vehicle projects in order to reorganize the production of Italian vehicles. He canceled the production of non-suitable vehicles by German Army standards and ordered modification to some vehicles to meet some German tank requirements.
On 18th December 1943, the Abteilung Waffen und Gerät beim Wehrkreiskommando 6 (Italienisch) (English: Weapons and Equipment Department of the Military District Headquarters No. 6 [Italian]) reported the proposal of the modification of the Semovente M43 da 105/25, called by the Germans Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 10,5 cm KwK L/25 853 (italienisch) (English: Captured Assault Gun M43 with 105 mm L/25 Cannon [Coded] 853 [italian]).
After authorization from the LXXXVIII Armee Korps (English: 88th Armored Corps), German Hauptmann Dobiey, commander of the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 356 (English: 356th Anti-Tank Battalion) assigned to the 356. Infanterie-Division, proposed a series of modifications for the Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 10,5 cm KwK L/25 853(i) that his unit had received after the Armistice. The 356. Infanterie-Division was formed in Toulon, France in May 1943, and was moved to northern Italy, between Genoa and Ventimiglia, in November 1943, where it received the Italian Semoventi M43 da 105/25.
Hauptmann Dobiey proposed the addition of 25 mm Schotten-Panzerung (English: Shadow Armor) and Seitenschürzen (English: Side Aprons) to increase the protection on the casemate to 60 mm on the superstructure sides and 34 mm on the chassis.
The German Hauptmann assumed an increase in weight of 600 kg, bringing the vehicle weight to about 16 tonnes, a weight that the original suspensions could withstand.
It is not clear who proposed to mount the Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934 on this upgraded chassis. It is improbable that Hauptmann Dobiey, a German officer, had such extensive knowledge of the Italian cannon that he knew it was also an adequate anti-tank weapon and could be installed inside an armored vehicle.
Another note on the armament is that it was planned to modify the Cannone da 75/46 Antiaereo Modello 1934 to fire German PaK 40 ammunition. This would have increased the anti-tank performances of the Italian cannon and standardized ammunition production.
Major General Ernst von Horstig, head of Dienststelle Italien des Heereswaffenamt (English: Italian Branch of the [German] Army Weapons Office), took the initiative and ordered the development of the vehicle. Ansaldo had to produce the prototype by 15th January 1944, less than a month later. The German general wanted the prototype tested before deciding its fate.
The Semovente M43 da 75/46 was rarely mentioned in Second World War Italian documents. It was barely mentioned by German sources either, but when it was mentioned, it was named with its German designation: Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) (English: Captured Assault Gun M43 with 75 mm L/46 Cannon [Coded] 852 [italian]).
In this article, the vehicle was referred to with both designations. The factory designation Semovente M42T will be used while referring to an up-armored version of the Semovente M42L chassis.
Production and Delivery
It is not known when the Semovente M43 da 75/46 prototype was ready and tested, but the German response was positive. Its production was organized at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant.
Ansaldo archive sources claim a total production of 11 Semoventi M43 da 75/46, 8 (including the prototype) in 1944 and 3 in 1945. The same document reports that only 7 spherical supports for the Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934 were produced, all in 1944. Photographic evidence confirms the existence of 6 production vehicles and a prototype.
In the late war, the German Army wanted to save on raw materials, producing only the most powerful and reliable vehicles. This was done in Germany and also in Italy. It was planned to cancel the production of all Italian armored fighting vehicles apart for the Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i), the Beute Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i) (aka the Autoblinda AB43 medium reconnaissance armored car), and the Beute Panzerkampfwagen P40 737(i) (aka the Carro Armato P26/40 heavy tank).
On 20th February 1945, the Wehrmacht planned to equip 4 infantry divisions with Italian armored fighting vehicles. The Aufstellungsstab Sued was in favor of a production contract extension with the Italian factories. They essentially wanted to let all the Italian armored vehicle factories still capable of producing vehicles convert their production lines to Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) and Beute Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i) (no mention was made of of the Beute Panzerkampfwagen P40 737(i) in this document), with a production estimated at 50 StuG and 50 Pz.Sp.Wg. per month.
The new production schedule for Ansaldo-Fossati plant of Sestri Ponente, where all the semoventi were produced, was of 116 Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 (not specifying the armament) in total until August 1945.
Ansaldo-Fossati production planned by the Germans in early 1945
Panzerkampfwagen P40 737(i)
Beute Sturmgeschütz M43
Panzerbefehlswagen M42 772(i)
The document did not specify which of the 3 semoventi on the M43 chassis it refers to, but, the Germans wanted to standardize the production of the Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i). It could be assumed that, in German plans, all or the majority of Sturmgeschütz M43 mentioned in the document would have been armed with the Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934.
The German document also mentioned that the Ansaldo-Fossati plant produced 7 Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) in 1944. Another 12 vehicles with and without main guns were produced in 1945.
Some of these were produced at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant but then sent to Milan, at the Fonderia Milanese di Acciaio Vanzetti Società Anonima (English: Milanese Steel Foundry Vanzetti Limited Company), which was reconverted into an assembly plant.
In fact, the German report specifically mentions the presence of 12 completed (but without guns) Sturmgeschütz M43 at the Fonderia Milanese di Acciaio Vanzetti S.A. assembly plant. At that plant, the vehicles were equipped with cannons and delivered to their German units, so it is probable that some of the 12 unarmed chassis at Fonderia Milanese di Acciaio Vanzetti S.A. plant of Milan were later equipped with Cannoni da 75/34 in order to send them to the frontline as soon as possible.
At the end of the war, Aufstellungsstab Sued (English: Positioning Staff South) reported the production of a prototype and 7 Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) in 1944 plus 2 Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) between 5th December 1944 and 5th January 1945.
Another 2 were produced between 5th January to 15th February 1945 and another 6 Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) chassis were produced between 16th February and 20th March 1945, of which only 2 equipped with main guns.
Beute Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) Production as Reported in German Documents
StuG M43 mit 75/46 852(i) Chassis Produced
StuG M43 mit 75/46 852(i) with Main Guns Installed
5th January 1945
15th February 1945
20th March 1945
2 on the way to their unit2
1Including the prototype 2Nothing is known about the other 4 chassis
The total German number of 18 Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) differs from the Ansaldo-Fossati one, of just 11. This difference in sources can be easily explained as, from early 1945 on, assembly (and probably production) of Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) was moved from the Ansaldo-Fossati plant of Sestri Ponente to Fonderia Milanese di Acciaio Vanzetti S.A. of Milan. When assembly was moved, Ansaldo simply stopped counting the Semoventi M43 da 75/46. Another explanation could be that some chassis meant for other types were armed with the Cannone da 75/34 in order to put them in service as soon as possible.
The same report from 20th February 1945 claimed that Beauftragte für Waffen (English: Weapons Commissioner) Goering had reported that 25 StuG M43 mit 75/46 852(i) should be delivered in March 1945.
A last note about Italian armored vehicle production was sent on 9th April 1945 to the Reichsministerium fuer Rüstung und Kriegsproduktion (English: Reich Ministry for Armaments and War Production), directed to Reichsminister Albert Speer. The note was sent by the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen and reported that the Beauftragter fuer Panzerkampfwagen bei Rüstung und Kriegsproduktion (English: Representative for Armored Fighting Vehicles at Armament and War Production) in Milan wanted to order more Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) and Beute Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i), reaching a full rate production of 50 StuG and 50 Pz.Sp.Wg. per month.
The Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen wrote to Reichsminister Speer that he was in favor of continuing the Italian armored vehicle production if it did not interfere with German vehicle production because of the very few raw materials available.
The Generalinspekteur’s note reported that, if the Reichsministerium fuer Rüstung und Kriegsproduktion would approve, the Italian factories would increase, by every means, the production rate of armored vehicle currently on the lines, especially the Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i).
This unrealistic production plan was never realized. On 25th April 1945, 2 weeks later, the Italian Partisans started a great insurrection, attacking the last Axis forces in the main cities of northern Italy. Turin, Milan, Novara and Genoa, where the Italian armored fighting vehicles were produced, were freed between 25th to 28th April 1945, capturing the production plants with the help of the workers.
Apart from the new armored plates, mounted only on some Semoventi M43 chassis, other upgrades were done on the Italian semoventi produced for the Germans. These included 4 bigger teeth bolted on the outside of the sprocket wheel, intended to prevent the track slipping off the wheels while driving in muddy or snowy terrain. Another modification was the addition of 3 helmet supports on the roof, 2 on the left side and one on the right, for the crew members when operating with open hatches. The third modification requested by the Germans was to substitute the right roof hatch with one openable in 2 parts for better ventilation of the fighting compartment.
Other unconfirmed modifications claimed by many sources were:
Substituting the Italian radio apparatus with more reliable German-produced ones
Replacing the gearbox with one of German origin
German-produced Mauser MG34s or MG42s instead of the original Italian anti-aircraft machine guns
The Germans did not usually change the radio apparatus of the Italian tanks and self-propelled guns they used. It is possible the sources refer to occasional changes made by individual crews, such as German intercoms or new batteries and accumulators. The Germans did not modify the powerpacks on the Italian vehicles.
There is no photographic evidence showing the adoption of German machine guns on Italian self-propelled guns. This suggests that these were not widely adopted on Italian vehicles. Most likely, many sources are confusing the machine guns due to the German caliber. In fact, during the German occupation, the factories were ordered to change the caliber of the Italian machine guns and even some rifles to standardize to the German 7.92 x 57 mm Mauser caliber. Many Breda Modello 1938 Italian medium machine guns were modified to fire the Mauser cartridges. This could be considered another German modification of the Semovente M43 da 75/46.
The armor was both bolted to an internal frame and partially welded (a great innovation for Italian vehicles) and had great thickness compared to Italian standards. The hull armor had 2 angled armored plates with a thickness of 50 mm at 40° on top and 35 mm at 50° on the bottom for the transmission.
The transmission deck plate was 25 mm-thick angled at 78°. It also had 2 brake inspection hatches of the same thickness. The hull side armored plates were 40 mm thick.
The superstructure had a 75 mm thick armor plate angled at 5° frontally, while the gun spherical support was 60 mm thick.
On the casemate’s sides, the 45 mm thick armored plates were angled at 7°, while the rear was protected by a 45 mm thick plate angled at 0°. A plate of 25 mm angled at 15° protected the back of the engine compartment. The roof and floor of the vehicle were 15 mm thick. Unlike its predecessors, the Semovente M43 da 75/46 had three-part side skirts.
The peculiarity of the Semovente M42T was the addition of 25 mm thick spaced armored plates angled at 25° on the front. They had a hatch where the driver port of the M43 was placed. The gun barrel received a 25 mm thick gun shield angled at 25°. This was a great improvement. For all the duration of the war, one of the problems encountered in Italian semoventi was the absence of protection to the spherical support that was sometimes blocked by light arm fire or artillery splinters. On the side, protecting the casemate and the lower part of the fighting compartment, there was a 25 mm spaced armored plate.
Nothing is known about the real efficacy of this spaced armor. At the end of the war, the Italian ballistic armor, like the German one, was produced with poor raw materials and the final result was of bad quality and often broke or split.
Nevertheless, the spaced armor probably guaranteed more chances to survive thanks to the distance between the spaced armor and the casemate’s plate. The total weight of the vehicle was about 15.6 tonnes, 100 kg less than the less-armored Semovente M43 da 105/25.
On the left front mudguard, there was a support for the jack. On the sides of the superstructure, there were two headlights for night operations. On the rear part, the engine deck had two large-size inspection hatches which could be opened by 45°. Between the two inspection hatches were the sapper tools, including a shovel, a pickaxe, a crowbar, and a track removal system.
The rear of the vehicle had the horizontal radiator cooling grills in the center, the cooling water cap and, on the sides, two fuel caps. The rear had a towing ring in the center and two hooks on the sides, one spare wheel on the left side, and a license plate on the lower left side with a brake light. A smoke grenade box was placed on the rear armored plate, on the right.
On either side of engine deck, on the rear fenders, there were two storage boxes and the mufflers covered by a steel shield to protect them from impacts.
A total of 6 racks for 20-liter cans were placed on the sides of the vehicle, 3 on each spaced armored plate on the sides, just like on other Italian self-propelled guns and tanks. It should be noted, however, that on the Semoventi M43 da 75/46, the cans were not transported because they were never sent to North Africa, and it was not necessary to transport a great amount of fuel during operations in Italy, where it was deployed.
On the inside, starting from the front of the vehicle, was the transmission connected to the braking system, which had two armored inspection hatches. These could be opened from outside by means of two handles, or from the inside by means of a knob located on the right side of the vehicle, which could be used by the gunner. On the left was the driver’s seat, equipped with a fold-down back for easy access. In front, it had two steering tillers, a driving port that could be closed with a lever, and a hyposcope used when the port was closed. The hyposcope had 19 x 36 cm dimensions and a vertical field of view of 30°, from +52° to +82°. On the left was the dashboard and, on the right, the gun breech.
Behind the driver was the seat for the loader. The loader had, on the left, the radio apparatus and, above him, one of two armored hatches. In case of an attack from the air, the loader would also have to use the anti-aircraft machine gun. On the right side of the fighting compartment was the gunner’s seat without a backrest. In front of his seat, the gunner had the elevation and traverse handwheels.
On the gunner’s right was the support for the anti-aircraft machine gun when not in use, a maintenance kit, and a fire extinguisher. Behind the support was a wooden rack for ammunition for the secondary armament. In order to prevent the magazines from falling on rough terrain, the rack had a closable curtain. Behind the gunner/commander were the ammunition racks for the main gun. On the rear wall were the engine fan, an engine cooling water tank, and the Magneti Marelli batteries. On the rear side of the superstructure were two pistol ports which could be closed by revolving shutters from the inside. These were used for self-defense and to check the rear side of the vehicle in order to avoid the crew having to expose themselves outside of the vehicle. The transmission shaft ran through the entire fighting compartment, dividing it in half.
The Semovente M43 da 75/46’s radio apparatus was an Apparato Ricetrasmittente Radio Fonica 1 per Carro Armato or Apparato Ricevente RF1CA (English: Tank Audio Radio Receiver Apparatus 1) produced by Magneti Marelli. This was a radiotelephone and radiotelegraph station box of 415 x 208 x 196 mm and a weight of about 18.5 kg. It had 10 watts of power in both voice and telegraphy. It had a small cover that was raised up when the radio was in use.
Operating frequency range was between 27 and 33.4 MHz. It was powered by an AL-1 Dynamotor supplying 9-10 Watts, mounted on the hull’s right side, with a power supply of 12 Volts from NF-12-1-24 batteries produced by Magneti Marelli connected in series. It had a range of 8 km in voice mode and 12 km in telegraph mode. These capabilities were reduced when the self-propelled guns were on the move.
The radio had 2 ranges, Vicino (Eng: Near), with a maximum range of 5 km, and Lontano (Eng: Afar), with a maximum range of 12 km. Even with the Lontano range, in the voice mode it had a range of 8 km.
It was produced from 1940 by the Magneti Marelli company of Sesto San Giovanni, near Milan. and was mounted on all the Italian self-propelled guns and tanks of the M series (except for the Carro Armato M11/39) and the Carro Armato P26/40 heavy tank.
The radio was produced after the Armistice for the Germans, together with manual books in German language. The production of the Apparato Ricevente RF1CA until 1945 also contrasts the hypothesis of the use of German radios on semoventi. After the war, the turning unit of this transceiver was almost entirely copied on the US Army AN/GRR-5 receiver.
On the previous models of semoventi, the antenna radio was mounted on a support that was lowerable thanks to a crank inside the vehicle. The loader had to turn the crank until the 1.8 m antenna was fully raised or fully down. This was a slow operation and the crank occupied space inside the fighting compartment.
From 1942, a new antenna support was mounted on Italian vehicles. The first model equipped with this new antenna was the Semovente M41M da 90/53, while it was introduced in the Semovente M42 da 75/18 later. The new antenna had a 360° lowerable support, meaning that it could be folded in any direction. Usually, a hook on the left side of the front of the casemate permitted it to rest during long drives to avoid it hitting electrical cables or interfering with driving in narrow areas. It seems that, on the prototype and the production Semoventi M43 da 75/46, this support was never mounted and the crew did not have the possibility to lower the antenna.
On all the semoventi produced before the Semovente M43 chassis, the antenna support was mounted on the rear left side of the casemate’s roof, while on the Semovente M43 da 105/25, it was moved on the front left side for a different internal arrangement. On the Semovente M43 da 75/46, the antenna radio support was again moved to the rear left side of the roof. To speed up production, Ansaldo-Fossati deployed a single M43 chassis production line. When the chassis was ready, Ansaldo’s workers made a hole on the rear side on the semoventi that would have received spaced armored plates, filling the front left hole with a round armored plate welded on it.
Engine and Transmission
The petrol engine of the Semovente M43 was inherited from previous semoventi M42 and M43 and the Carro Armato M15/42. The new model, the FIAT-SPA 15TB (‘B’ for ‘Benzina’ – Petrol) Modello 1943 petrol, 12-cylinder, V-shaped, water-cooled 11,980 cm³ engine developed 190 hp at 2,400 rpm (some other sources claim a maximum output of 192 hp or even 195 hp).
It is not clear if the Germans modified the vehicle in other ways. It seems improbable that they ordered the mounting of German transmissions or other German-produced parts on the semoventi. The engine was designed by Fabbrica Italiana Automobili di Torino or FIAT (English: Italian Automobile Factory of Turin) and produced by one of its subsidiary companies, the Società Piemontese Automobili, or SPA (English: Piedmontese Automobile Company).
The engine ignition system and lighting systems, engine cooling system, and fuel circulation systems were inherited from the previous Semovente M43 da 105/25. In order to start the engine, there was a Magneti Marelli electric starter but also an inertial starter produced by the Turin-based company Onagro. The lever for the inertial starter could be inserted outside the vehicle, on the rear, or from the inside of the fighting compartment. Two crew members needed to turn the crank, reaching about 60 rotations per minute. At that point, the driver could turn the engine button on the dashboard until the first strokes of the engine. The crew members rarely ignited the engine from the inside due to the cramped space, but this could become useful when under enemy artillery fire or in areas in which the enemy could easily ambush dismounted crews.
On road, the Semovente M43 da 75/46’s maximum speed was 38 km/h, while off-road, the maximum speed was about 15 km/h. It had an on-road range of 180 km and an off-road range similar to the one of Semovente M43 da 105/25, of about 100 km.
On the Carro Armato M15/42, thanks to the increased space in the engine compartment, the fuel tanks were increased to 367 liters in main tanks, plus 40 liters in the reserve tank. This gave a total of 407 liters. On the M43 chassis, the fighting compartment was 20 cm longer, reducing the space in the engine compartment. In other words, the fuel tanks were shortened, decreasing the volume from 407 liters to 316 liters.
This was also likely due to some changes to the engine. The Carro Armato M15/42 and Semovente M42 chassis mounted the FIAT-SPA 15 TB Modello 1942 petrol engine, while the M42T chassis mounted a FIAT-SPA 15TB Modello 1943. This could be simply a wrong official designation or a 1943 development by FIAT and SPA. The modifications are unknown, but it seems that they did not modify the overall performances of the engine. They probably concerned a decrease of the weight of engine or upgraded engine fire extinguisher system due to the extremely flammable petrol. Modifications to the engine weight are plausible due the extremely modest weight of Semovente M43 da 75/46, 15.6 tonnes battle ready, lighter than the Semovente M43 da 105/25 which did not have the spaced armor.
The engine was connected to a transmission produced by FIAT, with 5 forward and one reverse gears. The transmission was mounted frontally. In order to remove it, the transmission deck’s armored plate had to be removed first.
Due to the increased size of the casemate, the rear bulkhead that divided the engine compartment from the fighting compartment was moved 20 cm back. This increased the space occupied by the engine’s flywheel cover inside the fighting compartment, increasing the heat coming from the engine in the crew’s compartment.
The heat and proximity of fuel tanks near ammunition could be a serious danger in case of fire, but during winters, it warmed up the crew members that had to leave at least an upper hatch opened during fighting to ventilate the fighting compartment.
Suspension and Tracks
The Semovente M43 da 75/46’s suspension was a semi-elliptical leaf spring type, as on all vehicles developed from Italian medium tanks. On each side, there were 4 bogies connected to a leaf-spring with 8 doubled rubber road wheels paired on 2 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 on the Semoventi M43, one of the 2 suspension units was mounted a few centimeters 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 sprocket wheels were at the front and the idlers, with modified track tension adjusters, at the back, with 3 rubber return rollers on each side. The small surface area of the tracks (about 14,750 cm²) gave a ground pressure of about 1 kg/cm², increasing risk that the vehicle would bog down in soft soils, such as mud or snow.
In a photo taken in 1944 outside the Ansaldo-Fossati plant production line, there were a Semovente M43 da 75/46 and M43 da 105/25 for comparison. The Semovente da 75/46 was equipped with Ostketten (English: Eastern Chains) on the right track. These were probably delivered by the Germans for tests. They were meant to increase surface in contact with the ground and to decrease overall pressure on the ground. Apart from this photo, no other photographic evidence suggests the use of Ostketten on Italian captured armored vehicles.
Like the Semovente M43 da 105/35, the M43 da 75/46 was equipped with a side skirt. These were only 4 mm thick and partially protected the sides of the vehicle. Their role was not to protect the semovente from anti-tank rifle rounds or shaped charges ammunition, but to prevent shrapnel from damaging the suspension units and track links. The side skirts had a cut in the back to allow crew to be able to reach the track tension adjuster without dismounting the skirt. Another 3 small holes were made to add lubricant to the return rollers without losing time by removing the side skirt.
The Semovente M43 da 75/46’s main armament was the Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934, an Italian anti-aircraft cannon developed by Ansaldo in 1932 that entered service in 1934. It appeared after an Italian Regio Esercito’s High Command request for a new anti-aircraft cannon in 1929.
Ansaldo and Odero-Terni-Orlando (OTO) not only developed some guns but also tested foreign ones, such as the 80 mm luftvärnskanon m/29 anti-aircraft gun produced by Swedish Bofors. The Bofors gun inspired the Ansaldo design office, which presented the Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei in 1932.
During trials, the Direzione Superiore del Servizio Tecnico Armi e Munizioni or DSSTAM (English: Higher Directorate of Technical Service Weapons and Ammunition), the branch of the Regio Esercito’s High Command which created artillery design requests and accepted them into service, helped Ansaldo to modify the cannon. This was done to such an extent that some sources even called the cannon the DSTAM-Ansaldo. In 1933, the gun was ready (even if it was only accepted into service in 1934), and the Regio Esercito ordered 100. Ninety-two were delivered by October 1939, while another 240 were to be built in 1940.
At the start, only the Ansaldo Pozzuoli plant (specialized in artillery production) and the Stabilimento Artiglierie di Cornigliano (English: Artillery Plant of Cornigliano), which was under Ansaldo’s control, produced the cannon. A total of 232 pieces were delivered between 1941 and 1942, while another 4 were delivered in the first 4 months of 1943, together with 108 spare barrels.
OTO and Arsenale Regio Esercito di Piacenza or AREP (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Piacenza) also produced spare parts. OTO delivered a total of 120 cannons by December 1942. The last order of the Regio Esercito’s High Command for 472 Cannoni da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934 to be delivered by the end of 1943 was never started due to the Armistice of 8th September.
When the cannon appeared in the mid-1930s, it was a great artillery piece. It had high initial muzzle velocity due to the use of powerful propellant and barrel length, sustained rate of fire, and large firing arcs thanks to a cross-platform. The gun’s breech had a system to switch between being manually-opened or semiautomatic, with a maximum rate of fire of 15 rounds per minute with a trained crew. Its muzzle velocity was 800 m/s and maximum range was 8,500 m in the anti-aircraft role and 13,000 m against ground targets. The traverse was 360° while the elevation was from 0° to 90°.
In July 1943, there were 31 batterie antiaeree da 75/46 (English: 75 mm L/46 anti-aircraft batteries) operational. The Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934 was deployed on all fronts of the war, in the Modello 1934 version, Modello 1934M version (slightly modified), and Modello 1940 static defense version. The majority of the batteries were sent to North Africa. In the Soviet Union, the few groups sent gave great results in the anti-tank role against early variants of Soviet T-34 medium tanks.
Although it was a marked improvement over the 75 mm guns of the First World War and it had cutting edge characteristics for the 1930s, the Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934 showed some weaknesses during its use. Rapid wear and tear of cannon’s bore caused its muzzle velocity to drop from 800 m/s to 750 m/s. The Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934 was quickly superseded as a positional piece for territorial anti-aircraft defense as the war continued. It was therefore time to switch to a more powerful weapon, the Cannone da 90/53 Modello 1939.
After the Armistice of 8th September 1943, the anti-aircraft gun was deployed by the Germans, who renamed it 7,5 cm Flugabwehrkanone 264/3 (italienisch) (English: 75 mm Aircraft-Defense Cannon coded 264/3 [italian]) and continued its production. Even the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army), the Italian Army allied to the Germans, equipped a pair of anti-aircraft units with this cannon. Some guns were also deployed by Italian soldiers in the Allied armies in order to defend Southern Italy from Axis air attacks.
The Cannone da 75/46 mounted on the semovente was called Kampfwagenkanone 75/46 (English: 75 mm L/46 Tank Cannon) by the Germans. On the semovente mount, the Cannone da 75/46 had an elevation of -10° to +18° and traverse was 17° to either side. The traverse decreased compared to the Semoventi M42M da 75/34 and M43 da 105/25 of 18° due to the presence of new spaced plates.
The barrel weighed 686 kg, while the gun mounted on the spherical support of the semoventi weighed 810 kg according to German reports. An interesting feature was that the vehicle had the possibility of also being equipped with the Cannone da 105/25 Modello SF just by removing the 75 mm cannon and spherical support with a winch and changing the main gun’s ammunition racks. The difference between the Cannone da 75/46 and Cannone da 105/25 was that the latter weighed just 40 kg more.
The Semoventi M42L armed with the Cannone da 105/25 weighed more than the Semoventi M42T with spaced armor and Cannone da 75/46. This was largely due to weight of 105 mm ammunition. In other words, if the Semovente M43 da 75/46 was equipped with the Cannone da 105/25, its weight would have increased by several hundred kilograms.
The Cannone da 105/25 Modello S.F. was developed by Ansaldo and produced by the Stabilimento Artiglierie di Cornigliano. It was developed on the basis of the Obice da 105/23 Modello 1942 a howitzer developed by Ansaldo as a prototype for divisional artillery, together with the Cannone da 105/40 Modello 1943. Due to delays and high costs, only the Cannone da 105/40 Modello 1943 was accepted in service, however it was only adopted from May 1943 and saw limited use. The the tank version of the Obice da 105/23 Modello 1942 was adopted on the Semovente M43 da 105/25 and, after the war, also used in Italian fortifications on the Italo-Yugoslavian border.
Inside the semoventi, the Cannone da 105/25 Modello SF had a horizontal traverse of 18° to either side, as well as a depression of -10° and an elevation of +18°. Traverse probably decreased on the Semoventi M42T due to the spaced armor, like the horizontal traverse of other cannons mounted on the same chassis.
The Cannone da 105/25 Modello SF fired the same ammunition as the Cannone da 105/28 Modello 1916, with a maximum muzzle velocity of 500 m/s with armor-piercing rounds. It was capable of piercing a Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA) plate of 80 mm at 1,000 m according to German reports.
The Main Gun’s Problems
The Germans proposed to modify the Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934, or as they called it, the 7,5 cm Fliegerabwehrkanone 264/3(i). It is unknown if they finally ordered a modification to the cannons, as planned in December 1943. The really slow production rate of the Cannoni da 75/46 for the Semoventi M43 da 75/46 could be explained by a long and difficult breech modification made in order to permit Panzerabwehrkanone 40 or PaK 40 ammunition to be fired.
The PaK 40 rounds had a length of 714 mm (75 x 714 mm R), while the Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934 round’s cartridge had a length of 580 mm (75 x 580 mm R). In order to fire PaK 40 rounds, Ansaldo had to modify the chamber, if necessary also modify the inner face of the bolt, the extractor, and probably also reinforce the breech and powder chamber if the pressures resulting from firing the PaK 40 ammunition exceed those tolerated by the Cannone da 75/46.
However, the slow rate of delivery of Italian cannons could also be explained by other hypotheses. The first one could be the slow production of spherical supports used to mount the cannons on the semoventi chassis. This does seem an unsatisfactory explanation. In fact, the Italian industry, albeit always failing in the delivery of self-propelled gun spherical supports in large quantities, could probably have fulfilled a request for so few 75 mm cannon mounts.
The last hypothesis that could explain the low delivery rate of the Cannone da 75/46 is the really low production rate of Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934. It was produced in Piacenza, Pozzuoli, and Stabilimento Artiglierie di Cornigliano, under Ansaldo’s control. After the Armistice of 1943, Pozzuoli was freed by Allied forces in late September, while Arsenale Regio Esercito di Piacenza was converted mainly for vehicle reparation and production of armored improvised vehicles. The artillery production decreased. This meant that the majority of Cannoni da 75/46 production was the responsibility of the Stabilimento Artiglierie di Cornigliano, which remained one of the few Italian artillery producers until 1945.
Main Gun Considerations
The Germans and Ansaldo probably decided to mount the Cannone da 75/46 on the Semovente M42T due to its better anti-tank performance compared to other Italian guns at their disposal.
The choice of mounting a modified anti-aircraft gun proved to be a poor choice for the Germans and it cost them a very low production rate, especially compared to the production rate of Semoventi M42L da 105/25 and Semoventi M42T da 75/34, other last ones produced on the same chassis.
In order to increase the production of better armed Semoventi M42T, the mounting on the Semoventi M42T chassis of the German Panzerabwehrkanone 40 could have been an alternative option. The weight of the vehicle would not have increased by much, as the 7.5 cm KwK40 weighed 750 kg, compared to the 686 kg of the Cannone da 75/46.
Before the Armistice, Italy and Germany signed a contract for the license production of the field version of the PaK 40 in Italy (Italian nomenclature Cannone da 75/43 Modello 1940). The production was not started before September 1943, but some production lines were assembled. It is not known why the Germans did not restart the project earlier instead of adopting the Cannone da 75/46. It would probably have been easier to start delivering German-produced PaK 40 in Italy and then make Italian industry autonomous instead of modifying the Italian anti-aircraft cannon’s production line. After the armistice, OTO produced some spare parts for the PaK 40 for the Germans until the late war.
Secondary armament consisted of a Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1938 (English: Breda Medium Machine Gun Model 1938) produced by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche (English: Italian Ernesto Breda’s Company for Mechanical Constructions). It was derived from the Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1937, the most modern Italian medium machine gun during the war.
Breda Modello 1938 was its vehicle version, with a shorter and heavier barrel, pistol grip, and top-mounted curved magazine with a capacity of 24 rounds. These modifications were made to ease the use of the machine gun inside vehicles. Breda machine guns fired a particular cartridge developed by Breda especially for machine guns, the 8 x 59 mm RB with a muzzle velocity between 790 m/s and 800 m/s, depending on the round type.
The machine gun was fixed on an anti-aircraft mount attached to a crowbar that offered an increased horizontal traverse for the machine gun in case of an aerial attack. The anti-aircraft supports mounted on the previous model of Italian self-propelled guns barely covered the frontal arc of the vehicles. A similar feature was made on Beute Sturmgeschütz L6 mit 47/32 770(i) (Semovente L40 da 47/32), on which the Germans added a crowbar support for a machine gun to increase the horizontal traverse of the machine gun.
During the German occupation of Northern Italy, the Mitragliatrici Medie Breda Modello 1938 were rechambered for German 7.92 x 57 mm Mauser cartridges, due to the similar dimensions of the bullets: 82.00 mm for the German compared to the 80.44 mm of the Italian cartridge and casing diameter of 11.95 mm compared to the 11.92 of the Italian casings. The 24-round magazine and wooden ammunition racks were left unchanged.
Beginning in 1942, Italian factories started to produce a licensed copy of the German Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung or NKAV (English: Smoke Grenade Dropping Device). It was a smoke grenade system that, through a wire connected to a camshaft, dropped a smoke grenade to the ground. Total capacity was 5 Schnellnebelkerze 39 (English: Quick Smoke Grenade 39) smoke grenades. The grenades had a length of 140 mm, a diameter of 90 mm, and a weight of 1.8 kg. They had a burning time of 4 to 7 minutes, depending on wind and in which area the SPG released the smoke grenades.
The commander had to pull the wire and the camshaft rotated, dropping a smoke grenade.
This system was mounted on the rear of the vehicle, so the smoke screen was created behind the vehicle and not around it, on the front arc.
The Germans began to stop using this system in 1942 in favor of smoke grenade launchers on the turret, because the grenades fell at the back and the tank had to reverse to hide behind. The Italians, on the other hand, apparently gave no thought to this problem and adopted it in 1942.
It seems that the Italians copied the protected variant, called Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung mit Schutzmantel (English: Smoke Grenades Dropping Device with Protective Sheath). It had a rectangular protection, even if the Italian and German protections seem different. It is not known if the Italians also produced the Schnellnebelkerze 39 smoke grenades under license or if the Italian vehicles used the grenades imported from Germany. This smoke system was quickly adopted on all the Italian armored tracked vehicles starting from the Carro Armato M15/42 and on all the semoventi on its chassis. A smaller version appeared even on the Autoblinde AB41 and AB43 medium reconnaissance armored cars.
A cylindrical support for spare smoke grenades was also transported on the vehicle. It was fixed on the rear side of the armored superstructure, behind the engine’s cooling grilles and could transport 5 more smoke grenades.
Ammunition for the Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934 transported on the vehicle was stored in 2 racks, totalling 42 rounds. One was on the left side of the floor of the fighting compartment and the second one on the floor of the right side of the fighting compartment. The left one was used by the loader as a seat, while the right one was behind the gunner and was openable from the top.
The left rack had the rounds stored in 2 5-round rows and 2 6-round rows for a total of 22 rounds, while the second rack had 2 4-round rows and 2 5-round rows, for a total of 18 rounds.
Cannone da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934 Rounds
Penetration (RHA angled 30° from vertical)
Perforante da 75/46
~ 800 m/s
Percussion Model 1909
70 mm at 500 m
55 mm at 1,500 m
Dirompente da 75/46
Percussion I.O. 36/40
335 – 345 g of TNT
~ 6.3/6.5 kg
The gun could fire other three different types of rounds, but these were anti-aircraft rounds not adopted on the Semovente
Compared to other semoventi racks, these were under the level of the vehicle’s sponsons and were difficult to hit by enemy rounds that pierced the vehicle’s armor. This problem caused many Semoventi M42M da 75/34 or Semoventi M43 da 105/25 to blow up after penetration.
If the Cannoni da 75/46 Contraerei Modello 1934 were really modified to fire the same ammunition as the PaK 40, it would probably fire all German ammunition for this type of gun.
Ammunition fired by the 7.5 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 40
Penetration (RHA angled 30° from vertical)
Panzergranate 1939 (PzGr. 39)
108 mm at 100 m; 80 mm at 1,000 m
Panzergranate 1940 (PzGr. 40)
143 mm at 100 m; 97 mm at 1,000 m
Sprenggranate 1934 (SprGr. 34)
Hohlladung pattern C grenades. (Gr.38 HL/C)
The Semovente M43 da 75/46 had a crew of 3. The driver was positioned on the left of the fighting compartment. On his left was the dashboard and on his right was the gun breech. The commander/gunner was positioned on the right of the vehicle, on the left side of the breech, while the loader/radio operator was sat on the left, behind the driver.
Some German sources state that the Germans preferred to add a fourth crew member behind the gunner, who would load the gun. The loader’s seat would be occupied by the commander/radio operator and the gunner would perform only one function. Obviously, adding a fourth crew member meant reducing the space inside the cramped fighting compartment, which was already cramped with only 3 crew members.
Very little is known about the Semovente M43 da 75/46’s service. Due to their short service, there are no reports about the operational service or German crews opinions.
Major German complaints on other Italian semoventi were about their lack of proper observation sights, insufficient frontal armor, a cramped crew compartment, and (apart from the Semovente M43 da 105/25) main armament not capable of dealing with the most modern enemy tanks. The driving capabilities were never seriously complained about while, whereas for maintenance, complaints depended on a number of factors. If the German unit that deployed Italian semoventi had veteran Italian mechanics or was located in Italy, where Italian military workshops were present, the complaints were much lesser compared to German units that deployed them outside Italy, where the experienced Italian mechanics were few, and there was a general lack of Italian spare parts.
With the Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i), in all likelihood, the insufficient armor and main armament’s anti-tank performance complaints were solved.
Not much is known about the Semoventi M43 da 75/46’s service in German hands. Neither Italian nor German sources mention to which German Panzerjäger-Abteilung (English: Tank Destroyer Battalion) the few vehicles produced were assigned to.
The prototype was assigned to a training school in northern Italy that trained German Panzerjäger and German-equipped Italian tank destroyer squads. Infantrymen were also trained to attack enemy tanks and self-propelled guns with anti-tank improvised devices, mines, anti-tank hand grenades, and rocket launchers. Unfortunately, the name of the German training unit is unknown.
Some guesses can be made as to which German units used the Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i). The 26. Panzer-Division (English: 26th Armored Division), which operated Italian self-propelled guns, created the Jägdpanzer-Abteilung 51 on 17th November 1944. The personnel of the new battalion consisted of veterans from Panzer-Regiment .26 (English: 26th Tank Regiment) and some Sd.Kfz.164 Nashorns from the Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 525 (English: 525th Heavy Tank Destroyer Battalion) were used to equip the 1. Kompagnie (English: 1st Company).
The heavy anti-tank gun platoons of the Panzergrenadier-Regiment 9. and Panzergrenadier-Regiment 67. (English: 9th and 67th Mechanized Infantry Regiments) were used to form the 3. Kompagnie (English: 3rd Company). In November 1944, the unit was operational without the 2. Kompagnie (English: 2nd Company), which was deployed only in January 1945. Some vehicles of the 2. Kompagnie may have been Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i). The 26. Panzer-Division surrendered to the Allied forces in early May 1945 in the Vicenza area, about 200 km east of Parma.
The only unit that for certain deployed the Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) was the 148. Infanterie-Division (English: 148th Infantry Division) that was deployed in Italy after mid-September 1944. On 1st October 1944, it had in its ranks 6 mechanized infantry battalions supported by the 13. Kanonen-Kompanie (English: 13th Cannon Company) and 14. Schwere-Kanonen-Kompanie (English: 14th Heavy Cannon Company). These 6 battalions and 3 companies were divided in 3 regiments: Grenadier-Regiment 281., Grenadier-Regiment 285., and Grenadier-Regiment 286..
The Artillerie-Regiment 1048. (English: 1048th Artillery Regiment) deployed a total of 3 105 mm howitzers groups and 1 150 mm heavy howitzer group with 3 batteries each. It also had Füsilier-Battalion 148. (English: 148th Rifle Battalion), with 4 squadrons, together with many other logistic units, such as the Pioneer-Battalion 1048. (English: 1048th Engineer Battalion) and the Veterinär-Kompanie 148. (English: 148th Veterinary Company). In fact, only 30% of the division was mechanized, the rest of the logistics were towed by horses.
On 3rd December 1944, the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 1048 (English: 1048th Anti-Tank Battalion) was created, composed of Panzerabwehrkanone-Batterie 1. or PaK-Batterie 1. (English: 1st Anti-Tank Battery) with anti-tank cannons, Schwere-Panzerabwehrkanone-Batterie 2. or Schwere-PaK-Batterie 2. (English: 2nd Heavy Anti-Tank Battery) equipped with 8,8 cm PaK 43 anti-tank cannons. On 19th December 1944, it received a platoon of the Festungs-Pantherturm 2. (English: 2nd Fixed Panther Tank Turrets) and then, on 28th December, it also received 6 half-track-mounted 88 mm cannons, quite surely the surviving 8.8 cm Flak 37 (Selbstfahrlafette) auf Schwere Zugkraftwagen 18t (Sd.Kfz.9) (English: 8.8 cm FlaK 18 [Self-Propelled Gun Carriage] on [Sd.Kfz.9] Heavy Traction Vehicle 18 tonnes) formerly belonging to the 26. Panzer-Division that operated in the same areas.
The last company assigned to the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 1048 was the FlaK Kompanie 3. (English: 3rd Anti-Aircraft Cannon Company). After March 1945, the Schwere PaK Batterie 2. was equipped with, as referred to by the original document, 11 7.5 cm Sturmgeschütze. These were in all likelihood of Italian origin, as also claimed by Italian historian Leonardo Sandri in La 148^ Infantrie Division sul Fronte Italiano 1944-1945: Una Documentazione. Eleven of these Beute StuGs is equal to the total production of the entire Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) until January 1945, so it is impossible that all the vehicles were Semoventi M43 da 75/46, some could have been Semoventi M43 da 75/34 or their pre-Armistice version, the Semoventi M42M da 75/34. It could also be a document error. In fact, in many cases, the official German documents referred to “in service” vehicles whilst, in reality, they had not yet been delivered to the unit. In March 1945, the 11 Sturmgeschütz had almost certainly already left the factory but they were still on their way to Panzerjäger-Abteilung 1048.
The Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) probably arrived at the German anti-tank unit between mid-March to early April 1945. They had a really short operative life with the German soldiers.
A Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7.5 cm KwK L/46 852(i) was captured by the soldiers of the 1st Infantry Regiment “Sampaio” of the Força Expedicionária Brasileira or FEB (English: Brazilian Expeditionary Force) in Caorso, 60 km from Parma.
The history behind the capture of this particular vehicle is not clear. It was probably abandoned by Panzerjäger-Abteilung 1048 due to a lack of fuel or mechanical breakdown during the retreat from Bologna, trying to reach the southern shore of the River Po to cross it in the Piacenza area and try to reach northern Italian border to return home before the surrender of the entire 148. Infanterie Division. Another plausible hypothesis was that it was surrendered peacefully by the German soldiers of the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 1048 after various failed attempts at opening a gap in the US and Brazilian encirclement in the Parma and Piacenza areas between 28th April and the morning of 29th April. The unit transferred over 600 wounded Axis soldiers between 13:00 and 14:30 on 21 ambulances to the Mantova Allied hospital and then surrendered to the Allied forces on the afternoon of 29th April 1945.
About 80 pieces of equipment, including 7,5 cm PaK 40, mortars, 105 mm and 150 mm artillery pieces, 8.8 cm half-track-mounted artillery pieces, and Sturmgeschütz, were captured. Together with these, the US and Brazilian forces captured 4,000 horses, 2,500 motor vehicles (trucks, staff cars, cargo half-tracks etc), 1,000 motorcycles, and between 13,579 and 14,779 Axis soldiers.
The only other operational service of the Semovente M43 da 75/46 was in Milan on 25th April 1945. One was captured by the Italian Partisans, probably at the Fonderia Milanese di Acciaio Vanzetti S.A. assembly plant, left abandoned by the German soldiers. This suggests that not all the semoventi in the Vanzetti plant were delivered to the German units.
The Semovente M43 da 75/46 captured in Milan was ‘graffitied’ by the Partisans, with “W la Libertà” (English: Long Live Freedom) and the acronym “C.L.N.” or Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (English: National Liberation Committee) written on to avoid friendly fire. It probably had no ammunition and no secondary armament. The Partisans added a 7.7 mm Breda-SAFAT medium machine gun on the roof. It was probably delivered to the Allies after the war ended and scrapped.
The Semoventi M43 da 75/46 produced for the Germans were painted with a single camouflage scheme. It was similar to the Italian Continentale (English: Continental) adopted in mid-1943. The standard Kaki Sahariano (English: Saharan Khaki) monochrome sand camouflage was covered by reddish brown and dark green spots.
The Regio Esercito’s Continentale camouflage scheme was upgraded, covering the Italian armored cars, medium tanks, and self-propelled guns with dark green and adding on them reddish brown spots and sand yellow stripes that bordered the reddish brown and dark green spots.
As the Semoventi M43 da 75/34 received only this type of 3-tone camouflage, it never received Italian-style camouflage schemes. The prototype, probably assigned to a training school in northern Italy, received the Balkenkreuz, the German tanks’ coat of arms, for identification on the sides and rear, and the number “22” painted on the sides. The other vehicles seem to have been without coats of arms. This was also caused, in all likelihood, by the delivery of the semoventi in the last months of 1944 and early 1945, when German troops were in a shortage of trained crews, fuel, ammunition, and paint and did not waste time painting reconnaissance coat of arms or the unit’s own coats of arms.
Semovente M43 da 75/34
In 1944, a total of 29 Semoventi M43 da 75/34 were produced for the Germans on the same upgraded and uparmored Semovente M43 da 75/46 chassis. It was essentially a Semovente M43 da 75/46 armed with a shorter and less powerful Cannone da 75/34 Modello SF, already mounted on the Semovente M42M da 75/34. All the rest of the vehicle remained unchanged compared to the Semovente da 75/46.
The Semoventi M43 da 75/34, known by the Germans as Beute Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 7,5 cm KwK L/34 851(i), were employed only by the Germans in Italy after late 1944. They supported an unknown German Panzerjäger-Abteilung in the Gothic Line, occasionally operating with Fascist soldiers loyal to Mussolini belonging to the 1ª Divisione Bersaglieri ‘Italia’ (English: 1st Bersaglieri Division).
Many sources place the total number of Semoventi M42M da 75/34 at 174 instead of 145. This is not correct, as the first number also counts the 29 Semoventi M43 da 75/34.
A Semovente M42T chassis was armed with a Cannone da 105/25 Modello SF and tested by the Germans but nothing is known about its fate after the German tests.
The Semovente M43 da 75/46 was the first Italian project that had offensive and defensive characteristics that made it capable of dealing with most of the Allied armored vehicles in the Second World War. This was mainly thanks to the German effort to upgrade some Italian vehicles.
The few vehicles produced and equipped with main guns had short operational lifes and not much is known about their service or their crew’s complaints.
The low delivery rate of the main armament provided by the Cornigliano artillery plant was the greatest problem causing the slow production rate. This forced the Germans to place the finished vehicles in depots awaiting for their main guns, which were delivered with a rate of 1 or 2 per month.
The low gun production rate was not the only criticism of the self-propelled gun. In the same period, the Germans also produced the Semovente M43 da 75/34 with a shorter and less powerful cannon as a stopgap while waiting for the ones armed with 75 mm L/46 guns.
Twenty-nine were built, and while more than those equipped with the 75/46 gun, this was insufficient to even put a dent in the thousands of armored vehicles of the Allied armies.
This low production rate, that was characteristic of the Italian industry during the Second World War, became more pronounced in the last stages of the war due to the scarcity of raw materials, Allied bombardments, and worker’s strikes.
Carro M – Carri Medi M11/39, M13/40, M14/41, M15/42, Semoventi ed Altri Derivati Volume Primo and Secondo – Antonio Tallillo, Andrea Tallillo and Daniele Guglielmi – Gruppo Modellistico Trentino di Studio e Ricerca Storica, 2012
Kingdom of Italy/Italian Social Republic (1942-1945)
Self-Propelled Gun – 146 Built (1 Prototype + 145 Production)
The Semovente M42M da 75/34 was an Italian Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) developed for the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) in 1943, but deployed mainly by the Wehrmacht after the Armistice of 8th September 1943. It was the first self-propelled gun produced by the Italian industry with enough anti-tank capabilities to deal with the most modern medium tanks of the Allied powers. After the Armistice, only a few examples of these vehicles were deployed by Mussolini’s led German puppet-state, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic).
History of the Project
The first Semovente (Semoventi plural) was the Semovente M40 da 75/18. It was a Carro Armato M13/40 equipped with a casemate armed with a Obice da 75/18 Modello 1934 (English: 75 mm L/18 Howitzer Model 1934). Its design started thanks to the input of Colonel Sergio Berlese of the Servizio Tecnico di Artiglieria (English: Artillery Technical Service), in collaboration with the Servizio Tecnico Automobilistico (English: Automobile Technical Service).
The Regio Esercito ordered 30 vehicles on 16th January 1941, followed by another 30 later. On 11th February 1941, the quickly assembled prototype was tested at the Cornigliano shooting range with great results.
After production of 60 Semoventi M40 da 75/18, the chassis was changed, switching to Carro Armato M14/41 ones. A total of 162 vehicles with the new chassis were produced until 1942, when it was once more changed. Before the Italian Armistice of September 1943, another 66 self-propelled howitzers armed with 75 mm L/18 howitzers were built on the Carro Armato M15/42. This meant that a total of 288 Semoventi da 75/18 were produced on the three chassis variants.
The Regio Esercito’s High Command knew that the 75 mm L/18 howitzer was not a great choice for an armored vehicle’s main gun. Its range was moderate, its precision at long ranges was questionable, and it did not have great anti-tank performance. Because of this, on 21st June 1941, in a document, the Regio Esercito’s High Command clarified that Italian generals preferred the Cannone da 75/34 (English: 75 mm L/34 Cannon). In June 1941, the High Command already understood that the Obice da 75/18 Modello 1934 was not suitable as the main armament of semoventi, but, despite that, the Semoventi da 75/18 were produced until 1943, when new powerful guns entered in service. This is a perfect example of the desperate situation the Italian Regio Escercito found itself in.
In 1941, a Semovente M40 chassis was equipped with a Cannone a Grande Gittata da 75/32 Modello 1937 (English: 75 mm L/34 Long Range Cannon Model 1937). This particular self-propelled gun did not interest the Italian generals due its separate charge rounds and the project was abandoned. The Ansaldo-Fossati plant of Sestri Ponente, near Genoa, had adopted the Cannone a Grande Gittata da 75/32 Modello 1937 instead of the Cannone da 75/34 because the 75/32 was directly derived from the Obice da 75/18 Modello 1934 and many parts of the two guns were common, while, at the time, the Cannone da 75/34 was not yet ready.
History of the Prototype
The order to install a Cannone da 75/34 on a Semovente hull arrived at Ansaldo in October 1942. The delay in production of this semovente was due to the slow development of the cannon and slow production of support parts to mount this gun on the semovente chassis. To exemplify this, the Semovente M42M da 75/34 was delivered only in May 1943, whilst the first Semoventi M42 da 75/18 left the production lines in December 1942, about 6 months earlier.
For the prototype’s production, the Semovente M42 chassis with the license plate Regio Esercito 5844 was modified. Due to the higher recoil of the new gun, the armored superstructure was lengthened 11 cm at the front. An easily noticeable detail is the presence of a third bolt on the frontal angled armored plate’s upper side.
Apart from these structural modifications, the spherical support for the gun was also modified and was placed in the center of the frontal armored plate. Its traverse was 18° to either side (instead of the previous 20° on left and 16° on right) and elevation was from -12° to +22°
The ammunition racks of the Semoventi da 75/18 were modified to permit the transportation of 45 75 mm rounds and 1,344 rounds for the secondary armament.
Because of all these modifications, the new chassis received a new designation: M42M. The first M stood for Medio (English: Medium), the number ‘42’ referenced the year in which it was accepted into service, and the last M meant Modificato (English: Modified) due to the longer casemate and other smaller modifications. This was also the case for the Semovente M41M da 90/53, which, due to the new superstructure and armament, was renamed.
The prototype was tested on 15th March 1943. During testing, the maximum muzzle velocity registered was 618 m/s and maximum firing range was 12,000 m, compared to the 7,000-7,500 m of the Semoventi da 75/18. This allowed the semoventi to perform the role of self propelled artillery as well as tank destroyers. Doctrinally, the Regio Esercito had developed the semoventi as support vehicles. Nevertheless, the Italians, and the Germans after the Italian Armistice, deployed the semoventi mainly as tank destroyers.
The armor was both bolted to an internal frame. This arrangement did not offer the same efficiency as a mechanically welded plate, but facilitated the replacement of an armor element in case it had to be repaired.
The frontal armor of the transmission cover was rounded and 30 mm thick. The upper transmission cover and inspection hatches were 25 mm thick and angled at 80°. The frontal plate of superstructure, including the driver’s slot, was angled at 5° and was 50 mm thick. The sides of the hull and superstructure, angled at 7°, were 25 mm thick.
The back of the superstructure was 25 mm thick angled at 0° and 12°, while the back of the hull was 25 mm thick angled at 20°.
The roof was composed of 15 mm armored plates, horizontal in the first section and then angled to 85°. On the sides of the roof, other 15 mm plates were angled at 65° on the right and to 70° on the left side.
The engine compartment roof and inspection hatches for the engine compartment were composed of 9 mm armored plates angled at 74°. The brakes’ inspection hatches were 25 mm thick, whilst the driver’s port on the front armored plate was 50 mm thick. The floor of the vehicle was a thin 6 mm, which did not protect the crew from mine explosions.
Hull and Casemate
On the left front mudguard, there was a support for the jack. On the sides of the superstructure, there were two headlights for night operations. The engine deck had two large-size inspection hatches which could be opened by 45°. Between the two inspection hatches were the sapper tools, including a shovel, a pickaxe, a crowbar, and a track removal system.
The rear of the vehicle had the horizontal radiator cooling grills and, in the center, the fuel cap. The rear had a towing ring in the center and two hooks on the sides, two spare wheels (which was then reduced to just the one placed on the right), and a license plate on the left side with a brake light. A smoke grenade box was placed on the rear armored plate.
On either side of engine deck, on the rear fenders, there were two storage boxes and the mufflers covered by a steel shield to protect them from impacts.
A total of eight racks for 20-liter cans were placed on the sides of the vehicle, four on each side, just like on other Italian self-propelled guns and tanks. In fact, from 1942 onward, the racks were factory fitted on all vehicles, as most would have gone to operate in Africa, where the cans would have increased the range of the vehicle. It should be noted, however, that on the Semoventi M42M da 75/34, the cans were not transported because they were never sent to North Africa, and it was not necessary to transport a great amount of fuel during operations in Italy, where it was deployed.
On the inside, starting from the front of the vehicle, was the transmission connected to the braking system, which had two armored inspection hatches. These could be opened from outside by means of two handles, or from the inside by means of a knob located on the right side of the vehicle, which could be used by the gunner. On the left was the driver’s seat equipped with a fold-down back for easy access. In front, it had two steering tillers, a driving port that could be closed with a lever, and a hyposcope used when the port was closed. The hyposcope had 19 x 36 cm dimensions and a vertical field of view of 30°, from +52° to +82°. On the left was the dashboard and, on the right, the gun breech.
Behind the driver was the seat for the loader. The loader had, on the left, the radio apparatus and, above him, one of two armored hatches. In case of an attack from the air, the loader would also have to use the anti-aircraft machine gun. On the right side of the fighting compartment was the gunner’s seat without a backrest. In front of his seat, the gunner had the elevation and traverse handwheels.
On the gunner’s right was the support for the anti-aircraft machine gun when not in use, a maintenance kit, and a fire extinguisher. Behind the support was a wooden rack for ammunition for the secondary armament. In order to prevent the magazines from falling on rough terrain, the rack had a closable curtain. Behind the gunner/commander were the ammunition racks for the main gun. On the rear wall were the engine fan, an engine cooling water tank, and the Magneti Marelli batteries. On the rear side of the superstructure were two pistol ports which could be closed by revolving shutters from the inside. These were used for self-defense and to check the rear side of the vehicle in order to avoid the crew having to expose themselves outside of the vehicle. The transmission shaft ran through the entire fighting compartment, dividing it in half.
Engine and Suspension
The Semovente M42M’s engine was inherited from the previous Semovente M42 da 75/18 and Carro Armato M15/42. In addition to the increase in displacement, which increased the overall performance of the vehicle, the novelty was that the new engine worked on gasoline instead of diesel fuel, which had been used by the engines on the Carro Armato M13/40, Carro Armato M14/41, and the SPGs based on their hulls. The change from diesel to gasoline was due to the fact that the Italian diesel reserves were almost completely exhausted in mid-1942.
The new FIAT-SPA 15TB Modello 1942 (‘B’ for ‘Benzina’) petrol, water-cooled 11,980 cm³ engine developed 190 hp at 2,400 rpm (some other sources claim a maximum output of 192 hp or even 195 hp). It was designed by FIAT using the FIAT-SPA 15T Modello 1941, 8-cylinder V-shaped, diesel engine, 11,980 cm³ producing 145 hp at 1,900 rpm as its base. It was produced by FIAT’s subsidiary company, the Società Piemontese Automobili, or SPA (English: Piedmontese Automobile Company).
On the Semoventi M42 and M42M, the engine system was slightly different from the Carro Armato M15/42. They had different starting and lighting systems, engine cooling system, and fuel circulation. In order to start the engine, a Magneti Marelli electric starter was used, but an inertial starter produced by the Onagro company of Turin was also available. The lever for the inertia starter could be inserted outside the vehicle, on the rear, or from the inside of the fighting compartment. Two crewmembers had to turn the crank, reaching about 60 rotations per minute. At that point, the driver could turn the engine button on the dashboard until the first strokes of the engine.
The FIAT-SPA 15TB Modello 1942 engine 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 200 km and an off-road range of 130 km, or 12 operational hours.
On the Carro Armato M15/42 and Semovente M42M da 75/34, thanks to the increased space in 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. It is not clear how many liters were transported on the Semovente M42M. In the book Carro M, Carri Medi M11/39, M13/40, M14/41, M15/42 Semoventi e altri Derivati, the authors mention that the vehicle had only 338 liters of fuel in the tanks, while Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano fino al 1943 mentions only 327 liters of fuel in its fuel tanks. This figure is also supported by Ralph Riccio in Italian Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War II.
The engine was connected to a new transmission produced by FIAT, with 5 forward and one reverse gears, one gear more than the previous vehicles.
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 further back.
The M42 chassis had 26 cm wide tracks with 86 track links per side, six more than the Carri Armati M13/40, M14/41, and Semoventi M40 and M41, 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 (14,200 cm²) caused a ground pressure of 1.03 kg/cm², increasing the risk that the vehicle would bog down in mud, snow, or sand.
The radio apparatus of the Semovete M42M da 75/34 was an Apparato Ricetrasmittente Radio Fonica 1 per Carro Armato or Apparato Ricevente RF1CA (English: Tank Phonic Radio Receiver Apparatus 1). It was a radiotelephone and radiotelegraph station with a power of 10 Watts in both voice and telegraphy in a 35 x 20 x 24.6 cm sized-box and a weight of about 18 kg. It was placed on the left side of the superstructure, behind the driver’s dashboard.
Operating frequency range was between 27 to 33.4 MHz. It had a range of 8 km in voice mode and 12 km in telegraphics mode. These figures reduced when the self-propelled guns were on the move.
It was powered by an AL-1 Dynamotor supplying 9-10 Watts. The batteries were four NF-12-1-24 Magneti Marelli, each with a voltage of 6 Volts, connected in series. The radio had two ranges, Vicino (Eng: Near), with a maximum range of 5 km, and Lontano (Eng: Afar), with a maximum range of 12 km.
On this semovente, a new antenna was mounted. Previously, the radio’s antenna was mounted on a support which could be lowered by a crank inside the vehicle. The loader had to turn the crank until the 1.8 m antenna was fully raised or fully down. This was a slow operation and the crank occupied space inside the fighting compartment. Starting on the Semovente M41M da 90/53, a new antenna support was mounted on the semoventi. The Semovente M42M’s new antenna had a 360° lowerable support, meaning that it could be folded in any direction. A hook on the left side of the front of casemate permitted it to rest during long drives to avoid it hitting electrical cables or interfering with driving in narrow areas.
The Cannone da 75/34 Modello SF [Sfera] (English: 75 mm L/34 Cannon Model [on Spherical Support]) was derived directly from the Cannone a Grande Gittata da 75/32 Modello 1937 gun designed by the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Napoli or AREN (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Naples).
In the first half of the 1930s, the divisional artillery of the Regio Esercito found itself using First World War era pieces, causing serious problems, as many artillery pieces produced before the 1920s could only be towed by horses or donkeys and not by trucks.
The new Obici da 75/18 Modello 1934 and Modello 1935 had too limited firing range to be used as conventional cannons. The request for a 75 mm long barrel cannon was answered by Ansaldo with a totally new Cannone da 75/36 (English: 75 mm L/36 Cannon) that would nonetheless never enter production. The Naples Arsenal proposed a Cannone da 75/34 obtained by mounting a new barrel, originally 40-calibers long and proposed a few years earlier as a tank gun. It was coupled with the carriage of the Obice da 75/18 Modello 1935 already in service. The Arsenale Regio Esercito di Napoli’s solution proved successful and went into production with a shortened barrel and modified muzzle brake by Ansaldo, thus being renamed Cannone a Grande Gittata da 75/32 Modello 1937.
The modifications of the semovente’s gun, compared to the field version, were limited to the cradle, which was installed on a spherical mount, specially designed by the AREN, that connected the shaft itself to the armor plates of the casemate of the armored vehicle. It was also used on the powerful Carro Armato P26/40.
The sight was mounted on the right side of the main gun, with a small openable hatch for it on the roof. It could be dismounted when not used and the hatch closed.
The secondary armament consisted of a 8 mm Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1938 (English: Breda Medium Machine Gun Model 1938). This gun was developed from the Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1937 medium machine gun after the specifications issued by Ispettorato d’Artiglieria (English: Artillery Inspectorate) in May 1933. It was a specific vehicle-mounted variant and differed from the infantry’s Modello 1937 through a shortened barrel, pistol grip, and a new 24-round top-curved magazine instead of 20-round strip clips. These modifications were made to save up space and ease shooting with them in the cramped spaces inside armored vehicles.
The theoretical rate of fire was 600 rounds per minute, while the practical rate of fire was about 350 rounds per minute. The 8 x 59 mm RB cartridges were developed by Breda exclusively for these machine guns. The 8 mm Breda had a muzzle velocity between 790 m/s and 800 m/s, depending on the round.
On the Semovente M42M da 75/34, the machine gun was mounted on an anti-aircraft support on the vehicle’s roof. When not deployed in an anti-aircraft role, the machine gun was stored on a support on the right sponson of the fighting compartment. Together with the support, in the right sponson, there was a maintenance kit for the machine gun.
Beginning in 1942, Italian factories started to produce a licensed copy of the German Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung or NKAV (English: Smoke Grenade Dropping Device). It was a smoke grenade system that, through a wire connected to a camshaft, dropped a smoke grenade to the ground. Total capacity was 5 Schnellnebelkerze 39 (English: Quick Smoke Grenade 39) smoke grenades. The commander had to pull the wire and the camshaft rotated dropping a smoke grenade. If the commander pulled the wire 5 times, all the 5 Schnellnebelkerze 39 would be released. This system was mounted on the rear of the vehicle, so the smoke screen was created behind the vehicle and not around it, on the front arc.
The Germans began to stop using this system in 1942 in favor of smoke grenade launchers on the turret, because of the problem that grenades fell at the back and the tank had to reverse to hide behind. The Italians, on the other hand, apparently gave no thought to this problem and adopted it in 1942.
It seems that the Italians copied the protected variant called Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung mit Schutzmantel (English: Smoke Grenades Dropping Device with Protective Sheath) with a rectangular protection, even if the Italian and German protections seem different. It is not known if the Italians also produced the Schnellnebelkerze 39 smoke grenades under license or if the Italian vehicles used the grenades imported from Germany. This smoke system was quickly adopted on all the Italian armored tracked vehicles starting from the Carro Armato M15/42 and on all the semoventi on its chassis and, in a smaller version, even on the Autoblinde AB41 and AB43 medium reconnaissance armored cars.
A cylindrical support for spare smoke grenades was also transported on the vehicle. It was fixed on the rear side of the armored superstructure, over the air intake armored plate, and could transport 5 more smoke grenades.
In total, there were 45 rounds for the main gun and 1,344 rounds for the anti-aircraft machine gun. The 75 mm ammunition rounds were stored in two different racks, with 22 and 23 rounds. The 22-round rack had rows of four rounds interspersed with rows of three rounds, while the 23-round rack had rows of five rounds interspersed with rows of four rounds.
The racks were openable from the top, which slowed down the reloading operations. If the gun needed to fire High-Explosive rounds, the loader had to search through the rows for the explosive rounds.
Ammunition for the Cannone da 75/34 Modello SF
Muzzle velocity (m/s)
penetration in mm of a RHA angled at 90° at
penetration in mm of a RHA angled at 60° at
Granata Dirompente da 75/32
Granata Dirompente da 75/27 Modello 1932
Granata Perforante da 75/32
Granata da 75 Effetto Pronto
Granata da 75 Effetto Pronto Speciale (early type)
Granata da 75 Effetto Pronto Speciale Modello 1942
* Unavailable data
** Muzzle velocity of the projectile fired from the L/27 gun
The machine gun rounds were increased from 1,104 (i.e. 46 magazines) on the Semoventi M41 and M42 da 75/18 to 1,344 (i.e. 56 magazines) on the Semovente M42M da 75/34. As on the previous semoventi, the machine gun rounds were transported in wooden racks mounted on the sides of the fighting compartment.
The crew of the Semovente M42M da 75/34 was composed, as on all semoventi-based on the Carri Armati M chassis, of 3 soldiers. The driver was positioned on the left of the vehicle. On his right was the gun breech. The commander/gunner was positioned on the right of the gun breech and the loader/radio operator on the left, behind the driver.
This meant that the commander had to inspect the battlefield, spot targets, aim, open fire, and, at the same time, give orders to the rest of the crew and hear all the messages that the radio operator relayed.
Similarly, the loader had to do many tasks too. Loading the gun and operating the radio equipment were the main ones, but he also manned the anti-aircraft machine gun, with the commander/gunner passing him the machine gun magazines. This meant that, when the self-propelled gun was firing with the anti-aircraft machine gun, it could not fire with the main gun, and vice versa. The loader was also the engineer of the crew, with the task of repairing the engine if the vehicle had a breakdown far from the divisional mobile workshop assigned to the unit.
In general, the better trained units were the ones equipped with self-propelled guns. The self-propelled guns were crewed by artillery personnel that had been trained in specific self-propelled gun training schools. For contrast, light tanks were crewed by cavalry personnel and medium tanks by infantry personnel.
Semoventi based on the same Carro Armato M15/42 (and previously on the Carro Armato M13/40 and Carro Armato M14/41) chassis broke down much less often than the medium tanks. This was not because of weight issues, as self-propelled guns weighed roughly as much as medium tanks and were equipped with the same engines (the Carro Armato M15/42 weighed 15 tonnes, the Semovente M42M da 75/34 weighed 15.3 tonnes). The reason why these vehicles were more efficient was because self-propelled gun crews were trained to repair military heavy trucks or prime movers to tow their artillery pieces during their basic artillery training. On the other hand, cavalry and infantry personnel instructed to operate a tank received only limited repair and maintenance training during their short tank courses.
Semoventi M42M da 75/34 Production
The first Semoventi M42M da 75/34 were only ready in May 1943. In July 1943, the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente had produced a total of 94 self-propelled guns, of which only 60 were delivered. Some of the known license plates ranged from Regio Esercito 6290 to Regio Esercito 6323.
Unfortunately, due to the confusion that followed the Armistice of September 1943, the production and delivery data for August and the early days of September 1943 are unknown.
In total, the German deployed 36 Semoventi M42M da 75/34 captured from Italian Regio Esercito forces.
The German Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (English: General Inspector of the Armed Forces) that took control of the Italian industry after the Armistice restarted the production of these self-propelled guns. Between 9th September and 31st December 1943, a total of 50 Semoventi M42M da 75/34 were produced for the Germans. In 1944, another 30 were produced by Ansaldo for the Germans, but of these vehicles, only one was on a M42M chassis. The other ones were produced on the lower and larger M43 chassis, the same as on the Semovente M43 da 75/46.
Ignoring the gap in the production tables concerning the vehicles produced and delivered between 1st August 1943 to 8th September 1943, the total production was of 146 vehicles including the prototype.
If the 39-day gap between August and September 1943 is considered, the total production numbers would surely increase, even if not in a significant way. It is impossible to accurately give an exact number. In those 39 days, Ansaldo-Fossati could have produced several dozen semoventi. By this point, the new Semovente M42M had a high production rate, at least by Italian standards. Furthermore, during this period, the Ansaldo-Fossati plant was not hit by Allied bombardments, which would have slowed down production. After the Armistice, when the Germans restarted production, the Ansaldo-Fossati plant was hit several times by the British and US bombers that caused semoventi production to be suspended for some days. The most significant bombing raids occurred in the nights between 29th and 30th October 1943, 30th and 31st October 1943, and 9th and 10th November 1943.
In many sources, the total number of Semoventi M42M da 75/34 is stated as 174. This is not correct, as this figure also counts the 29 Semoventi M43 da 75/34.
Semoventi M42M da 75/34 Deliveries
Before the Armistice, 24 Semoventi M42M da 75/34 were assigned to the XIX Battaglione Carri Armati M15/42 (English: 19th M15/42 Tank Battalion).
Some were delivered to the 31º Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) of Siena. In summer 1943, the Regiment had in its ranks the XV Battaglione Carri and the XIX Battaglione Carri, in which there were only medium tanks, and 6a Compagnia, 7a Compagnia, and 8a Compagnia (English: 6th, 7th and 8th Companies) which were equipped with Semoventi M42M. Due to the limited number of vehicles delivered to the Regio Esercito, it is probable that only some platoons were equipped with long-barreled semoventi or that the full organic was never reached due to the Armistice.
Other Semoventi M42M da 75/34 were assigned to 32º Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 32nd Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) of Verona. It had in its ranks the 1a Compagnia, 2a Compagnia, and 3a Compagnia (English: 1st, 2nd and 3rd Companies). As with the companies of the 31º Reggimento Fanteria Carrista, not all the platoons were equipped with Semoventi M42M or the companies’ ranks were only partially filled with Semoventi M42M.
On 1st July 1943, the XXX Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri (English: 30th Anti-Tank Self-Propelled Gun Battalion) was formed under the command of Major Aldo Riscica. It was assigned to the 30ª Divisione di Fanteria ‘Sabauda’ (English: 30th Infantry Division) with a semoventi company assigned to each of its infantry regiments for infantry support and anti-tank roles. It probably had an organic strength of 18 Semoventi M42M da 75/34.
For the 135a Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ (English: 135th Armored Division), the three company CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri (English: 135th Anti-Tank Self-Propelled Gun Battalion) was created.
At least a Semovente M42M da 75/34, with license plate Regio Esercito 6310, was assigned to the Reggimento di Cavalleria ‘Cavalleggeri di Alessandria’ (English: Cavalry Regiment) on 12th July 1943 and was seen in training with Italian soldiers.
The 135a Divisione Cavalleria Corazzata ‘Ariete’ (English: 135th Armored Cavalry Division) was formed on 1st April 1943 in Ferrara. The command of the unit was given to the Brigade General Raffaele Cadorna, former chief of the Pinerolo Cavalry School and son of Luigi Cadorna, the Italian general who won the Italian campaign of the First World War.
After a brief period of training and vehicle deliveries, in late-May or June 1943, the unit was bolstered by the CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri that had crewmembers taken from the 32º Reggimento Fanteria Carrista.
The division was later renamed 135a Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ and had in it ranks:
In the end, the Division never received its full complement of the planned 260-270 tanks and self-propelled guns for all its armored regiments. Instead, it only received 40 tanks and self-propelled guns, 50 armored cars (out of 70 planned), and 70 artillery pieces. Other sources claim that the total organic strength was of 247 armored vehicles and 84 artillery pieces, but that, on 8th September 1943, the Division was equipped with 176 armored vehicles and 70 artillery pieces.
Some sources claim that the CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri was composed of 12 Semoventi M42M da 75/34 in two companies instead of the 18 in three companies, as stated by other sources. This may mean that not all the self-propelled guns were delivered to the battalion or, maybe, that the vehicles were delivered in two batches on two different occasions.
The CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri took part in some of the training that occurred in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Emilia Romagna regions until 26th July 1943.
On 25th July 1943, the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, ordered the arrest of Benito Mussolini and disbanded his government in favor of a monarchic one, which continued being allied with the Germans.
Before the arrest of the Italian dictator, Rome’s defense (from Allied landings or paratrooper attacks) was assured by the 1ª Divisione Corazzata Camicie Nere ‘M’ (English: 1st Black Shirt Armored Division) that was considered loyal to Mussolini (the Camicie Nere were the most loyal units of the Fascist Army). The new government immediately understood that this Division, deployed on the north side of Rome, could easily carry out a coup d’etat to re-establish the fascist regime.
For these reasons, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, the new Italian Prime Minister, renamed it the 136ª Divisione Legionaria Corazzata ‘Centauro’ (English: 136th Legionnaire Armored Division), ordered its removal from its defensive position near Rome, put pro-monarchic commanders in charge, and expelled the most extremist soldiers. To replace it, the 135a Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete II’ was ordered on 26th July 1943 to reach the capital city. The ‘Ariete II’ Division was tasked with defending Rome from Allied landings or paratrooper attacks and from Italian soldiers loyal to Benito Mussolini.
The CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri was placed in the Cesano area, north of Rome, where it continued the training with the semoventi.
When the news of the Armistice’s signing was made public by the Ente Italiano per le Audizioni Radiofoniche or EIAR (English: Italian Body for Radio Broadcasting) at 19:42 of 8th September 1943, Italian units were left confused, as they had not received orders on how to proceed. The CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri continued being placed in the area of Cesano. The Battalion was not yet ready for combat and it received only a minor task, to create a defensive line between Osteria Nuova and the Cesano train station. At18:00 of 9th September 1943, the CXXXV Battaglione Semoventi Controcarri retreated with other units of the division to Tivoli, where the Division surrendered to the Germans the next day.
Repubblica Sociale Italiana
After the Armistice, Benito Mussolini was freed by the Germans. He immediately created a new state in the Italian territories not yet under Allied control, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic). This was essentially a puppet state under German control. Its army was the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (English: National Republican Army) that was supported by its military police, the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR (English: National Republican Guard).
The Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ (English: Armored Squadrons Group) of the ENR received a Semovente M42M da 75/34 in Autumn 1944. It was a former Regio Esercito vehicle, with the original license plate Regio Esercito 6303 and the letters Ro Eto deleted by the soldiers loyal to Mussolini.
The Semovente had a brief service life. It was a former Regio Esercito vehicle that was probably captured damaged by the Germans in the days after the Armistice, after its original crew had sabotaged it. It remained under repairs until around autumn 1944. When the vehicle was delivered to the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’, it had some performance problems that negatively influenced the opinion of its users. Due to mechanical problems, the vehicle was not deployed like other armored vehicles in service with the unit.
In mid-April 1945, the majority of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’s’ armored vehicles moved from Mariano del Friuli to Ruppa to fight the Yugoslav partisans. The Semovente M42M da 75/34 was not part of this unit, as it was probably under repair in Mairano. The fate of the only Semovente M42M of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana is unknown. It was probably still under repair when the unit surrendered to the partisans.
A document of the High Command of the new fascist government dated 25th February 1945 lists the vehicles in service with the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) of the GNR. In this list, 24 Semoventi M42M da 75/34 are said to be “in the process of being withdrawn from German service” but nothing more is known. They were never delivered to the Italian armored unit. The semoventi were probably assigned to a German Panzerjäger-Abteilung (English: Anti-Tank Battalion) operating in Italy.
The Italian Partisans took possession of a Semovente M42M da 75/34 in the last days of the war. In late April 1945, in anticipation of the Allied forces arriving and to prevent the Germans from demolishing important targets in North Italy’s most important cities, Italian Partisans carried out a major insurrection organized by the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale or CLN (English: National Liberation Committee). On 25th April 1945, they entered the cities of Turin, Milan, Genoa and many others, starting to fight the last Nazi-Fascist forces.
Before the partisan insurrection, in Turin, some Partisans infiltrated factories dressed as workers to gather support from the workforce and prepare them to fight against the Fascist forces. One of the factories targeted was the Società Piemontese Automobili plant on Corso Ferrucci 122.
In the latter stages of the war, due to the major damage at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente, part of the assembly of Italian armored vehicles had been moved to SPA in Turin. A Semovente M42M da 75/34 and a pair of Carri Armati M15/42 were in the factory, awaiting repairs. The Partisans and workers finished the assembly and deployed the vehicles in the city’s liberation.
On the afternoon of 26th April 1945, the factory was hit by Nazi-Fascist tank fire that damaged it. The workers fought tenaciously, but the enemy armored vehicles penetrated the main courtyard of the factory. A rain of Molotov cocktails and hand grenades made the enemy forces fall back, leaving behind a burning armored vehicle.
The assembly of the vehicles was finished at 21:00, after the first enemy attack, while the Nazi-Fascist forces prepared for a second attack.
The Axis arrived shortly after 21:00 with two tanks (listed by the Partisan and factory official diary sources as “heavy”, even though they were probably medium tanks), an armored car and some trucks of the Black Brigades. They started to fire on the factory with the vehicle’s guns. The workers and the Partisans were in a desperate situation and low on ammunition. A worker then took a Carro Armato M15/42 and drove out of the factory at high speed. The enemy forces were taken by surprise and retreated, presuming that there were many other tanks ready to fight in the factory. Actually, Società Piemontese Automobili only assembled the tanks and had no ammunition for them in its depots. The three vehicles may have been able to move, but they had no rounds for the main guns or machine guns and only a small amount of fuel.
If the Partisan Semovente M42M da 75/34 was deployed in other actions is not known. Considering the scarcity of 75 mm rounds for the Cannone da 75/34, it is unlikely it saw much action against the Fascist forces. Once the Partisans liberated Turin, the Semovente M42M da 75/34 was paraded through the city’s streets on 2nd May 1945, alongside other vehicles deployed by the Partisans to free the city or captured during the fighting.
In German service, the Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/34 851(Italienisch) (English: Captured Assault Gun M42 with 75/34 Code 851 [Italian]), as the Germans renamed it, was deployed mainly in Italy, even if some German units deployed the Sturmgeschütz M42 in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
The German judgment on the Italian long-barreled self-propelled gun was better than the ones on the Beute Sturmgeschütz M41 and M42 mit 75/18 850(i) (Semoventi M41 and M42 da 75/18). The Cannone da 75/34 was considered capable of dealing with the majority of Allied medium tanks at short ranges, such as in an ambush position. Thanks to their small dimensions and limited weight, Beute Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/34 851(i) were deployed by Germans to quickly ambush advancing Allied columns and then move to hide to avoid the Allied planes called to intervene in the area. Even though it was a desperate defensive strategy, it was successful, and many German units successfully slowed down the Allied advance through Italy.
In total, the German forces captured 36 Semoventi M42M da 75/34 that had already been produced for the Regio Esercito. After September 1943, the production was restarted and a total of 51 Sturmgeschütz M42 mit 75/34 were produced and delivered to the Germans.
Semovente M43 da 75/34
In 1944, a total of 29 Semoventi da 75/34 were produced for the Germans on the M43T chassis (where the T stands for Tedesco – German). It was essentially a Semovente M43 da 75/46 armed with a Cannone da 75/34 Modello SF. The engine compartment remained unchanged. The main differences between the M42 and M43 chassis was that the new chassis was 4 cm longer, reaching a length of 5.10 m (18 cm more than the M40 and M41 chassis), 17 cm wider (2.40 m compared to 2.23 m of the M42), and 10 cm lower (1.75 m compared to 1.85 m of the M42). Finally, the flameproof armor plate separating the engine compartment from the fighting compartment was moved back 20 cm, increasing the space for the crew.
These modifications were initially intended for the Semovente M43 da 105/25 armed with a large howitzer with greater recoil, but were also adapted for the Semovente M43 da 75/34 and for the Semovente M43 da 75/46.
In these two self-propelled guns, the superstructure’s shape was changed because of the addition of 25 mm armored plates on the front and sides.
In the first period of their production, the Semoventi M42M da 75/34 were delivered by Ansaldo-Fossati in a Kaki Sahariano (English: Saharan Khaki) desert camouflage, which was the standard one until early 1943. An example is the Semovente M42M da 75/34 seen during training in Friuli-Venezia Giulia which spots this camouflage.
After only a few vehicles were delivered, the camouflage was then changed by a new Regio Esercito High Command circular. The new 3-tone Continentale (English: Continental) camouflage was painted on all to-be-delivered vehicles. The Continentale consisted of a Kaki Sahariano base with reddish brown and dark green spots.
There are no images of Semoventi M42M da 75/34 of the Regio Esercito with any insignia or coat of arms, but, as on all Italian vehicles, a 63 cm diameter white circle was painted over the vehicle’s fighting compartment hatches for air recognition.
The Semovente of the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ was delivered to the unit in the standard Kaki Sahariano camouflage, but was probably repainted in late 1944 with the unit’s camouflage. It consisted of reddish brown and dark green vertical lines.
The Semovente M42M da 75/34 assembled by the Partisans was also in the standard Kaki Sahariano. This camouflage remained the standard color of the armored vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ that operated in the city. To avoid friendly fire, the Partisans painted Communist symbols, such as a hammer and sickle, on the vehicle, together with the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale and Società Piemontese Automobili acronym and also names of fallen comrades, such as ‘Piero’. The word ‘Nembo’ was also written in white on the gun barrel and rear armored plate, and it probably referred to the 184ª Divisione Paracadutisti ‘Nembo’ (English: 184th Paratrooper Division), but the exact reason is actually unknown.
The Semovente M42M da 75/34 was one of the last Italian projects that had time to be produced before the Armistice. It was a vehicle of questionable capabilities. It was built on an inadequate chassis that was cramped in the inside and subject to frequent breakdowns. One of its main drawbacks was its small crew, who were forced to carry out too many tasks, limiting the effectiveness of the Semovente M42M da 75/34 as a weapon of war. On the other hand, its main armament was adequate to deal with many Allied medium tanks, something which its predecessors had been unable to.
It was also produced in high numbers, at least by Italian standards, with over 145 vehicles built. These actually barely saw service with a few Italian units before the Armistice. After this, a dozen German divisions deployed in Italy and in the Balkans would use it for the rest of the conflict.
Semovente M42M da 75/34 Specification
???? x 2.28 x 1.85 m
Weight, battle ready
3 (Commander/gunner, driver, and loader/radio operator)
FIAT-SPA 15TB M42, petrol, water-cooled 11,980 cm³, 190 hp at 2400 rpm with 327 liters
1 Cannone da 75/34 Modello SF with 45 rounds and 1 Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1938 with 1,344 rounds
50 mm front and 25 mm sides and rear
1 prototype and at least 145 serial vehicles
Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Volume Secondo, Tomo II – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano – Ufficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito – 2002
Carro M – Carri Medi M11/39, M13/40, M14/41, M15/42, Semoventi ed Altri Derivati Volume Primo and Secondo – Antonio Tallillo, Andrea Tallillo and Daniele Guglielmi – Gruppo Modellistico Trentino di Studio e Ricerca Storica, 2012
Repubblica Sociale Italiana (1943-1945)
Medium Tank – 710 Built, Less Than 25 In RSI Service
The Carro Armato M13/40 was the most widely produced Italian tank during the Second World War, with a total of 710 examples produced between early 1940 and mid 1941. It was used mainly by the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) in the North African campaign.
After the Italian Armistice of 8th September 1943, some Carri Armati M13/40s remained on the Italian mainland for training or other tasks and were taken over by soldiers of the German Wehrmacht and by Fascist soldiers still loyal to Mussolini. In their hands, these tanks would be deployed against both partisans and the advancing Allied forces.
It is known that at least 11 were used by Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (English: Italian Social Republic) units, along with 14 more medium tanks. Unfortunately, for the other 14 tanks, the sources do not specify which precise model they are, referring to them as ‘Carri M’ (English: Medium Tanks). Based on the Second World War era documents, it is only possible to confirm that they were Carri Armati M13/40s or Carri Armati M14/41s.
Italian Peninsula after the Armistice
After the end of the North African Campaign, Fascism began to lose support among the Italian population, exhausted by the Allied bombings, in crisis due to the embargoes and with most of the men deployed in war. Citizens no longer believed in Benito Mussolini’s promises.
On 10th July 1943, the Allied troops began the invasion of Italy with landings in Sicily. With these landings, even more support was lost by the Fascists, who had failed to organize a defense to protect their own country.
Thanks to the critical situation, the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, along with some Fascist politicians who had lost confidence in Mussolini and his ideology, carried out a coup on 25th June 1943, 15 days after the allies landed in Sicily. Mussolini was arrested and transferred to many places to maintain his position secret from the Italians still loyal to him and from the German secret services.
The same day of Mussolini’s arrest, the King created a new monarchic government with General Marshal Pietro Badoglio as Prime Minister. Almost immediately, Badoglio’s government tried to arrange an armistice with the Allied forces. This Armistice was signed on 3rd September 1943 and made public only at 1942 hrs. on 8th September 1943.
Between 9th and 23rd September, the Germans occupied all the territories under Italian control, capturing over a million of Italian soldiers and killing about 20,000. Thousands of tonnes of military equipment were captured, including 977 Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs).
However, some of the Italian soldiers, still loyal to Mussolini, immediately surrendered to the Germans without fighting or joined them against the Yugoslavian partisans in the Balkans and against the Allied troops in the Southern part of the peninsula. In fact, on 3rd September 1943, the Allied troops had disembarked on the Italian Peninsula.
Repubblica Sociale Italiana
On 12th September 1943, Mussolini was freed from his last prison. He had been jailed in a hotel on the Gran Sasso, a 2,912 m high mountain about 120 km from Rome. Thanks to a unit of German Fallschirmjäger (English: Paratroopers) that landed with two Fieseler Fi 156 ‘Storch’ liaison planes, he was freed and left the mountain to go to Munich, Germany.
On 14th September 1943, he met Adolf Hitler in Rastenburg where, for 2 days, they spoke about the future of the northern part of Italy, which was still under German control.
On 17th September 1943, Mussolini spoke for the first time on Radio Munich, saying to the Italian population that he was alive and that a new Fascist government would be created in the part of the Italian peninsula not yet occupied by the Allied forces.
On 23rd September 1943, Mussolini returned to Italy and the Repubblica Sociale Italiana was officially created. In Salò, a small city near Brescia, Lombardia region, many offices and headquarters of the new republic were created. For this reason, in Italy, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana is also known as Repubblica di Salò (English: Salò Republic).
The New Armies
The new Repubblica Sociale Italiana’s army was the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (English: National Republican Army). This was composed, during its 20 months of existence, of a total of 300,000 soldiers. Mussolini and Hitler had planned to form 25 divisions of which 5 armored divisions and 10 motorized divisions.
During the 20 years of Fascist government in Italy, all the paramilitary and police corps in Italy were substituted with militias: harbor militia, railway militia, etcetera.
After the Armistice, all these militias were united and renamed Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR (English: National Republican Guard). It was composed of over 140,000 militiamen and soldiers that mostly fought partisan units or as Police duty units in the main cities.
The two armies were supported by the Squadre d’Azione delle Camicie Nere (English: Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts).
The Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts were simply known as the ‘Brigate Nere’ (English: Black Brigades). They were under the control of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana and were born from the necessity for small units to be located in the small cities of Italy as garrisons to stop partisan formations.
The reason for the constitution of the Black Brigades is to be found mainly in the attempt to preserve the life and property of the republican fascists and to constitute auxiliary units, well rooted in the territory where they operated (most of the members were born and lived in the cities where they operated) and to be used in the fight against the partisans.
During their existence, the Black Brigades were also used to help bigger units in anti-partisan operations, to maintain public order in the cities and to prevent partisan sabotage against sensible targets in the cities.
The Carro Armato M13/40, which, after 14th August 1942, was renamed in official designations into M40, was the first Italian medium tank equipped with the main armament in a rotating turret during the war. It was developed from the Carro Armato M11/39, with which shared many parts of the chassis and the suspension.
The Carro Armato M11/39 was developed in the 1930s with the task of fighting in the Italian mountains. In fact, the Italian High Command in the 1920s and 1930s thought that, in case a second Great War broke out, it would fight like during the first one, in the mountains of northern Italy.
For these reasons, the Carro Armato M11/39 had the 37 mm main armament on the right hand of the frontal hull armored plate and the secondary armament in a rotating one-man turret.
The new Carro Armato M13/40 reversed the gun positions, with a new 47 mm main gun coupled with a coaxial machine gun in the turret, with a depression of -15°, and an elevation of +25° and 2 coupled machine guns in a spherical support on the right side of the casemate.
The armor was 30 mm thick on the front of the casemate, 25 mm on sides and rear and 14 mm roof and floor. The horse-shoe-shaped turret had 40 mm thick armored plates on the gun mantlet and 25 mm on side and rear.
The crew was composed of 4 soldiers. The driver was on the left side of the hull, the machine gunner/radio operator on the right, the loader on the left side of the turret, and the commander/gunner on the right side.
Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano
The new RSI High Command, composed of the new War Minister, Marshal of Italy Rodolfo Graziani, and Chief of General Staff General Gastone Gambara, already Regio Esercito’s generals.
During a private meeting with Adolf Hitler in Rastenburg on 13th October 1943, Marshal Graziani spoke with the German dictator about Italian armored units. The German Generals had no more confidence in the Italians but, thanks to Graziani, Hitler agreed to train the Italian tank crews in Germany and in Italy, but with German instructors.
Three days after, on 16th October, in the same Prussian city, Italian General Secretary of the Ministry of War, Colonel Emilio Canevari, met German General Walther Buhle, Chief of the Army Staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), to discuss about Italian armored units.
Incredibly, they planned to train enough Italian crew members at the Panzertruppenschule (English: Tank Troop School) Wünsdorf near Bergen to equip 4 different units (not known if battalions or companies or other types), which would then be assigned to 4 different Italian infantry divisions. They also planned to do this a second time, creating another 4 armored units which would then be assigned to other divisions, and a 9th one to be equipped with German armored fighting vehicles by the end of 1944.
After a brainstorming with the German Heeresgruppe B on 26th October 1943, the Italian High Command ordered the Console (English: Consul) General Alessandro Lusana, commander of the 1ª Divisione Corazzata Camicie Nere ‘M’ (English: 1st Black Shirt Armored Division), also known as the 1ª Divisione Corazzata Legionaria ‘M’ (English: 1st Legionary Armored Division, where ‘M’ stands for Benito Mussolini) to send 268 tank crew members, mechanics and specialists to San Michele, 38 km from Verona. In the letter, the Italian High Command urged Console Generale Lusana to send the soldiers as quickly as possible, and that his men should be in San Michele by 30th October. After this decision, the plan to train Italian crew members in the Panzertruppenschule of Wünsdorf was aborted.
The document for the creation of the school, written by Heeresgruppe B, arrived to Colonel Canavari only on 29th October 1943. In that document, the Germans listed all the Italian personnel that they needed to open the Reparto Addestramento (English: Training Unit) of the Scuola Carristi (English: Tank Crew School) of San Michele. Food, equipment, uniforms, barracks, and canteens would be provided by the Wehrmacht.
In total, 286 soldiers (of 268 planned) of the 1ª Divisione Corazzata Camicie Nere ‘M’ arrived in San Michele from Rome, of which 173 were tank crew members, 15 mechanics and 20 radio operators. The others were officers and specialists with other tasks.
However, it is unclear to which unit the 286 soldiers belonged. In fact, on that date, the 1ª Divisione Corazzata Camicie Nere ‘M’ was already renamed Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ and was transferred to Montichiari, near Brescia, and only the 1st Armored Division’s command had remained in Rome, in the militia’s headquarters at Caserma Mussolini (English: Mussolini Barracks) in Viale Romania.
Between late 1943 and the early weeks of 1944, many other Italian tank crew members arrived in San Michele, while many others were sent to Verona, where a former Regio Esercito tank unit had its headquarters. These men would be used for other training in the future.
The High Command planned to create three companies at the training school: an Armored Car Training Company, a Light Tank Training Company and a Tank Hunter Training Company.
1° Deposito Carristi
On 20th February 1944, the RSI High Command renamed the old 32° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 32nd Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) of Verona into the 1° Deposito Carristi (English: 1st Tank Crew Depot) in order to replace the old Monarchic names.
In the same document, the High Command ordered the disbanding of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) of Siena by 29th February 1944. All the soldiers and materiel from the former 31st Regiment were then moved to Verona. However, a Lieutenant Colonel, a Captain, 6 Lieutenants, 41 Second Lieutenants, 17 NCOs and 30 crew members volunteered for the training school of San Michele on 5th February 1944.
After April 1944, the Scuola Carristi of San Michele ceased to exist. Probably all the men and tanks (of which no numbers and models are known) were given to the 1° Deposito Carristi.
The new 1° Deposito Carristi on 14th April 1944 was theoretically composed (unfortunately, lack of documents do not allow us to understand if they were completed or not) of a Depot Command, Logistic office, Administration office and an Enlistment and rookies office, with a total of 14 officers, 16 NCOs and 46 soldiers.
The commander of the 1° Deposito Carristi was, at first, Lieutenant Colonel Enrico dell’Uva but, between March and May 1944, the Lt. Colonel left his position to Lieutenant Colonel Pietro Calini.
On 23rd February, a document was sent from the Ufficio Operazioni e Servizi of the Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito (English: Operations and Services Office of the Army General Staff) to all the Fascist Comandi Militari Regionali (English: Military Regional Commands). This asked them to send all the already trained tank drivers, tank commanders, radio operators and tank mechanics under their command to the 1° Deposito Carristi.
This meant that, in February 1944, the High Command was in such a desperate situation that they had to take all the tank crew members already trained before the Armistice in order to equip the armored units. However, on 28th February 1944 General Gastone Gambara of the Ufficio Operazioni e Servizi of the Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito sent a phonic message to the Comando Militare del Veneto (English: Veneto’s Military Command).
The Italian general ordered the soldiers of the 1° Deposito Carristi to be sent at the Centro Costruzione Grandi Unità (English: Division’s Building Center) of Vercelli to form tank destroyer self-propelled guns companies. In mid May 1944 6 officers and 106 crew members under Captain Giovanni dalla Fontana were sent to the Centro Costruzione Grandi Unità and to be trained and assigned at the 1ª Divisione Bersaglieri ‘Italia’ and to the 2ª Divisione Granatieri ‘Littorio’. Another 4 officers were sent to Sennelager, in Germany but they returned to Verona a month after.
When it was created the 1° Deposito Carristi had in its ranks: 2 Carri Armati M13/40s, 1 Semovente M43 da 105/25 and an unknown number of trucks in various efficiency status.
The 1° Deposito Carristi needed more equipment and sent soldiers to search for equipment in many former Regio Esercito depots, trying to find any kind of abandoned military stuff.
Military Equipment recovered by the 1° Deposito Carristi
20 tonnes of equipment and a damaged Carro Armato L3 light tank
433° Battaglione Carrista
4 Carri M (probably medium tanks), previously sabotaged
Centro Addestramento Carristi
10.7 tonnes of equipment including: Renault R35 hull and Somua S35 spare parts
With this new equipment, in May 1944, the 1° Deposito Carristi had 3 Carri Armati M13/40s and 3 Carri Armati M15/42s. All were non-operational and, on 17th May 1944, Lt. Col. Calini wrote a letter to the 203° Comando Militare Regionale (English: 203rd Military Regional Command) asking for permission to purchase material for repairs, since the production of Italian tanks was under German control after 8th September 1943. The Germans no longer trusted the Italian soldiers and did not share spare parts or armored vehicles with the Italian Repubblica Sociale Italiana.
On 31st May 1944, the 203° Comando Militare Regionale authorized the purchase of resources on the civilian market, but at the same time, ordered that all salvageable material be recovered from the Regio Esercito depots abandoned the previous year in order to save money. Thanks to this “4 Carri Armati M13/40s could be prepared” even if the military command probably meant 4 medium tanks, in fact the 1° Deposito Carristi would never have 4 Carri Armati M13/40s in its ranks.
From a report written on 17th June 1944 by Lieutenant Colonel Amedeo Reggio, the presence of 2 Carri Armati M13/40s and a Carro Armato L3 tank in running condition is confirmed. He also mentioned that those tanks were sometimes used in support of GNR units in the region for anti-partisan operations, but also that, if the War Ministry needed them, the tanks could be made available.
Reggio complained about the lack of fuel and lubricants, which could be bought on the civilian market (but he needed the approval of the Military Command), and for lack of spare parts and specialized mechanics to repair the other tanks. Another serious problem was the lack of ammunition for the tanks, especially for the 47/40 cannons of the Carri Armati M15/42s and for the 105/25 howitzer of the semovente they had.
With the equipment in its ranks the 1° Deposito Carristi was composed of 1° Battaglione Addestramento (English: 1st Training Battalion). It had an unspecified number of training companies, the only known was the 1ª Compagnia Addestramento (English: 1st Training Company) but, due the presence of 3 Compagnia Deposito Carristi (English: Tank Crew Depot Companies) numbered from 4ª to 6ª, it is logical to assume that the training companies were 3 in total, probably a light tanks one, medium tank one and a self-propelled guns one.
In total, on 17th June 1944, the 1° Deposito Carristi had in its depots:
(¹ of these 9 trucks 4 were in running conditions, 5 non-operational, ² of these only one non-operational)
However, Lt. Col. Reggio pointed out that all vehicles in running condition needed repairs or maintenance in order to be 100% operational.
During its existence the 1° Deposito Carristi delivered trained crew members or tank mechanics to various Italian and German armored units, including: the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’, the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’, 1ª Divisione Bersaglieri ‘Italia’ and to the 26. Panzer Division.
1° Deposito Carristi Ranks
14th April 1944
1st May 1944
30th May 1944
The repair of many vehicles was really slow due the fact that many mechanics were enlisted in other armored units and sent to other Italian cities leaving only few well trained mechanics in Verona.
The High Command of the Fascist Army answered on 15 July 1944, accepting all requests of Lt. Col. Reggio. The 203° Comando Militare Regionale was ordered to purchase fuel and parts for vehicle repairs. It was then ordered to give priority to refurbishing the medium tanks and the self-propelled gun.
Two days laters, the Ufficio Operazioni e Addestramento (English: Operations and Training Office) ordered the Ufficio Operazioni e Servizi of the Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito to provide the 1° Deposito Carristi with 1,000 47 mm rounds for the 47 mm L.40 cannons and 100 rounds for the Semovente M43 da 105/25 main gun.
Anyway, on 27th June 1944, 10 days after Lt. Col. Reggio’s report, the High Command ordered the delivery (when operational) of 2 Carri Armati M13/40s with their crews to Sorbolo (near Parma), at the dependencies of the Centro Addestramento Reparti Speciali (English: Special Forces Training Center). 1 Carro Armato M13/40 would be delivered to the Squadrone Autonomo di Cavalleria (English: Autonomous Cavalry Squadron), while the last medium tank (which the Army General Staff called Carro Armato M13/40) would remain at the 1° Deposito Carristi to perfect the training of the crews.
On 31st August 1944, the Army General Staff ordered the disbanding of the 1° Deposito Carristi.
The remaining vehicles were assigned to a newly formed Sezione Carristi (English: Tank Crew Section) of the 27° Deposito Misto Provinciale (English: 27th Provincial Mixed Depot) always in Verona. This unit was equipped, in January 1945 with:
The Sezione Carristi was composed of 2 officers, 3 NCOs and 4 soldiers. To the 27° Deposito Misto Provinciale was also assigned the workshop of the 1° Deposito Carristi that was particularly effective in reparations and maintenance.
On 1st October 1944 the 1° Deposito Carristi’s workshop and the Deposito C (English: C Depot) of the 27° Deposito Misto Provinciale went to form the Officina Autonoma Carristi (English: Autonomous Tank Crew Workshop) composed of 4 officers, 17 NCOs and 34 soldiers and tank crew members.
Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’
On 20th September 1944, the Ufficio Operazioni e Servizi of the Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito wrote a report about the spare parts needed for the reparation of tanks. These were significantly less than the ones ordered by Lt. Col. Reggio on 17th June, meaning that the 1° Deposito Carristi had done a great job in the restoration of the tanks, managing to find 4 new guns for the medium tanks and also to repair a serious problem with the electrical system of the self-propelled gun all by himself.
In the same report, the military office suggested to create a Compagnia Autonoma Carri (English: Tank Autonomous Company) with three platoons equipped as follows:
The office also suggested the ranks for this company, with 1 command platoon and 3 tank platoons.
Of these 16 tanks, 8 would be taken from the former 1° Deposito Carristi. Anyway, it is not clear why the office mentioned 5 Carri Armati M13/40s when the 1° Deposito Carristi had only 3 Carri Armati M13/40s and 3 Carri Armati M15/42s. They probably confused the medium tanks models.
On 26th September 1944, Captain Gian Carlo Zuccaro, who had been instructed in previous days by the Army High Command to form the autonomous company, wrote a letter to the 210° Comando Militare Regionale (English: 210th Regional Military Command) of Alessandria, in Piedmont, to deliver its Carro Armato M13/40 for the creation of the Reparto Autonomo Carri (English: Tank Autonomous Unit).
This was done to concentrate all the available tanks under the dependencies of a single unit and not individually with small units scattered throughout the peninsula still in Italo-German hands. From this letter, it is possible to infer that the Compagnia Autonoma Carri’s suggestion was accepted and its theoretical strength was expanded to include multiple tank companies.
Capt. Zuccaro had already been trying for months to create an armored unit for the RSI without the knowledge of the Germans. The cover name he had given the unit, in order to confuse the German authorities, was Battaglione Carri dell’Autodrappello Ministeriale delle Forze Armate (English: Armed Forces’ Ministerial Tank Battalion Unit).
On the same day, Capt. Zuccaro wrote a letter to the 27° Comando Militare Provinciale to deliver the Officina Autonoma (English: Autonomous Workshop) that, at that moment, was being retrained to become a new tank unit. He asked to stop the training and to send all the soldiers and materials to his command.
Whatever Capt. Zuccaro asked in his letters what was done and, after 1st October 1944, the workshop unit was renamed Officina Autonoma Carristi (English: Tank Crew Autonomous Workshop).
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ (English: Armored Group) was created in Polpenazze del Garda near Brescia on 13th September 1944 by Captain Gian Carlo Zuccaro. It had all the tanks that should have been assigned to the Reparto Autonomo Carri, which was never created. It was never deployed in active service apart from a few skirmishes on 24th and 25th April 1945. The personnel of the unit were 6 officers, 9 NCOs, and 38 crew members and soldiers in January 1945, increased to 8 officers, 22 NCOs, and 58 crew members and soldiers on 31th March 1945. The small number of men in the armored unit is explained for one reason: Commander Zuccaro wanted only volunteers in the ‘Leoncello’, and at the same time, these volunteers had to be staunch fascists, loyal to Mussolini and Italy. In many cases, letters from volunteers were rejected the very day they arrived, if Zuccaro did not think the soldiers were adequately fascists. Due to the presence of only volunteers, many soldiers enlisted had not received tank training, many had already fought in other units such as Carabinieri, i.e. military police that never trained or operated with tanks.
Due to the absence of barracks or military buildings in Polpenazze, the crew members and soldiers of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ were hosted by the inhabitants of the small city in their houses while the NCOs and officers lived in an abandoned mansion. They rented a depot as their military canteen and holded the armored vehicles in barns or parked along the few civilian cars and trucks on the street sides.
The search for new tanks continued and, on 18th March 1945, the unit was equipped with 1 Semovente M43 da 105/25, 1 Carro Armato M15/42, 4 Carri Armati M13/40s, one Carro Armato L6/40, and 7 Carri Armati L3s. This meant that the unit never reached Zuccaro’s planned ranks of 16 armored vehicles but only reached the ranks of 14 armored vehicles, 3 trucks, 2 staff cars, 2 motorcycles, and some Cannoni-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935s (English: 20 mm L.65 Breda Automatic Cannons Model 1935). This number is also confirmed by Lieutenant Carlo Sessa in a document dated 16th April 1945.
The Carri Armati M13/40s were assigned to the I Squadrone Carri M (English: 1st M Tanks Squadron) under Lieutenant Carlo Sessa command, the 7 Carri Armati L3 and probably also the Carro Armato L6/40 were assigned to the II Squadrone Carri L (English: 2nd L Tanks Squadron) under Second Lieutenant Lucio Furio Orano while the Carro Armato M15/42, the Semovente M43 da 105/25 together with the unarmored vehicles and the automatic cannons were assigned to the Squadrone Comando (English: Command Squadron) under Lieutenant Giacomo Cossu.
A small section of the unit detached in Milan, in the last days of war also deployed 2 Carri Armati P26/40s. It was the only Italian unit that deployed such a heavy tank.
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’, placed in Polpenazze to defend the ministries of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana trained for the whole duration of its existence awaiting for its deployment against the Allied forces. In fact, Zuccaro wanted to fight the Allied forces that slowly advanced in Italy and refused many times the deployment of the ‘Leoncello’ in anti-partisan operations. The trainings with mixed vehicles were hold in the hills near Polpenazze and probably in the nearby Lonigo where the Germans had placed the Panzer-Ausbildungs-Abteilung Süd (English: Tank Training Division South) created to train the German soldiers to operate on Italian vehicles.
On 23rd April 1945, the Armored Group ‘Leoncello’ received an order from General Graziani to reach Monza, where many ministries of the Fascist government were placed after the Allied advance along the Italian peninsula.
Capt. Zuccaro organized the unit for the march and, on the morning of 24th April, departed with his own staff car, a Bianchi S6 armed with four heavy machine guns, to plan the road trip to reach Monza. While his car was moving toward Milan with 2 Carri Armati L3s, he was attacked first by a US reconnaissance unit near Sant’Eufemia della Fonte and then by a US plane (a North American P51 or a Lockheed P38) in the city of Rovato. The plane damaged and forced Zuccaro to abandon a light tank but was itself shot down by the anti-aircraft fire from Zuccaro’s car.
Cap. Zuccaro was then forced to continue by foot the march and met an US tank column near Palazzo sull’Oglio. An Italo-American US soldier on a Willy MB Jeep asked him for road information and Zuccaro got into the jeep in which he arrived in Palazzolo from where he then reached Milan alone.
Part of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ left Polpenazze on the night of 24th April to avoid air attacks. It had the new task of reaching Milan (which was being liberated by the partisans in those hours) with 5 medium tanks, the self-propelled gun and 3 Carri Armati L3 light tanks towed by the medium tanks to save fuel. At least 2 Carri Armati L3s, the only Carro Armato L6/40 of the unit and the Officina Autonoma Carristi remained in Polpenazze.
The tragi-comic story of the column started during the march, when one of the medium tank drivers felt sick and lost control of the vehicle, which skidded and ended up in a small canal on the roadside. The unit had to stop and tow it outside the canal, and when the tank was recovered, the march was restarted.
After a while, one of the iron chains connecting a Carro Armato M13/40 with the Carro Armato L3 it was towing broke, and the light tank fell off a small bridge, probably in the same canal as before. The driver (the only soldier inside the tank at the time) survived, jumping outside the tank a few seconds before the crash.
Near Chiari, meanwhile, some Germans were loading some train wagons with stolen stuff of all kinds. The tanks of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ arrived when the Germans were departing. The commander of the Italian column, Lieutenant Carlo Sessa, threatened the Germans that they would open fire if they did not return everything to the civilians. The Germans unloaded everything and left for Germany on the train. Lt. Sessa allowed his men to take some packages of linen and sheets that could have been useful in the following days. The packages were loaded onto the engine decks of the medium tanks. After that, the tanks restarted the march.
Near Rovato, the column was attacked by some Allied planes. It is known that at least oneM13/40 was damaged by the attack and probably also the last two 2 Carri Armati L3 tanks, which were, in fact, abandoned. The crew of the Carro Armato M13/40 tried desperately to repair their tank to join the rest of the ‘Leoncello’. It seems that the other tanks were not damaged because the majority of the bullets fired by the Allied planes hit the linen and sheet packages being carried on the engine decks.
Arriving at Cernusco sul Naviglio, Lt. Sessa called the Milan headquarters from a public phone to receive orders. The Milan command informed him of the situation and suggested that he contact the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale or CLN (English: National Liberation Committee), the partisan command, to surrender.
Lieutenant Sessa contacted former Alpini Major Lucioni, commander of the Partisan forces in Cernusco and the surrender was made official. All the Fascist soldiers of the column received civilian clothes by the Partisans and were free to return to their homes apart from Sessa who was arrested.
The damaged Carro Armato M13/40 tank that was abandoned was then repaired in a few hours and restarted the march. On board there was also the driver of the Carro Armato L3 light tank that had fallen some hours before in the canal. Near Chari, it was attacked by a US plane; to avoid destruction, the driver hid under some trees at the side of the road and the aircraft gave up the attack.
After a few kilometers the engine broke again and the crew understood that they could not repair it for lack of parts and waited for other Axis units. Nothing happened on 25th April 1945, but at dawn on 26th April, some farmers informed the crew that the war in Italy was over. The crew split up and each soldier went his own way. Some of them reached Polpenazze and informed the soldiers remaining in the city of the situation and together went to the CLN of the city to peacefully surrender and deliver their weapons and tanks to the Partisans.
Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’
The Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ (English: Armored Squadrons Group) was born in January 1934 as the 1° Gruppo Carri Veloci ‘San Giusto’ (English: 1st Fast Tank Group) in Parma with cavalrymen of the former 1° Gruppo Squadroni a Cavallo (English: 1st Horse-Mounted Squadrons Group) from the 19° Reggimento ‘Cavalleggeri Guide’ (English: 19th Regiment).
It was composed of three gruppi carri veloci (English: fast tank groups), later renamed gruppi carri L (English: light tank groups) and some cavalry squadrons.
In 1941, it was deployed with Carri Armati L3/33s and Carri Armati L3/35s during the Yugoslavian Campaign and remained in the Balkans with anti-partisan tasks until 8th September 1943. When the news of the Armistice arrived at the unit, it had a headquarters, a Squadrone Comando (English: Command Squadron) and Squadroni Carri L (English: Light Tank Squadrons). All were equipped with Carri Armati L3 light tanks.
The majority of the unit disbanded in the days after the Armistice, apart from the 2° Squadrone Carri L (English: 2nd L Tanks Squadron) under the command of Captain Agostino Tonegutti. On 9th September 1943, with its soldiers and 15 light tanks (of which 4 found abandoned during the march), it reached Rijeka from Susak and Crikvenica. Arriving in the city, they helped to stop the Yugoslavian Partisan attack that was besieging the city for days.
Tonegutti’s unit remained in Rijeka until February 1944, when the German command ordered him to reach Gorizia, also near the Yugoslavian border. The Germans provided the unit with Italian soldiers (some from the 1° Deposito Carristi of Verona) and armored vehicles. In Gorizia, they received another 80 soldiers and the 1° Gruppo Carri L ‘San Giusto’ had the following armored vehicles:
These were all the armored vehicles the unit had during its operational life. Never were they all operational all at once.
Thanks to the new vehicles, it was renamed Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ and organized into three squadrons:
The unit had at its disposal a total of 8 officers, 23 NCOs, and 80 soldiers, while in late 1944 the ranks were increased to 100-130 soldiers and 8 officers. In early 1945, due to about 20 losses, the unit remained with 6 officers. It was under the command of the German Befehlshaber in der Operationszone Adriatisches Küstenland (English: Commander in the Adriatic Coast Operational Zone), General Ludwig Kübler, even if it theoretically remained under Italian orders. In fact, it was the only armored cavalry unit of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana. During the reorganization of late 1944 the unit recovered from various sources 4 FIAT-SPA 38R light lorries, 1 FIAT 621P 3-axle medium truck, 2 SPA Dovunque 35 heavy duty trucks, 2 FIAT 666NM heavy duty trucks, 3 SPA mountain light lorries, and some staff cars.
The Germans usually called it the Italienische Panzer-Schwadron “Tonegutti” (English: Italian Armored Squadron) even after its renaming in Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’. The German designation clearly refers to the Italian as a squadron, in fact it was a company-sized (or squadron-sized in Italian cavalry nomenclature) force that maintained the squadrons group designation for its military traditions.
In Gorizia the unit was rarely deployed and its mechanics repaired many vehicles to bring them on marching conditions and maintained 2 Littorine Blindate armored locomotives that were not assigned to the unit.
In April 1944, the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ moved to Merano del Friuli, 12 km from Goriza and on the Udine – Monfalcone – Trieste main road abandoning in Gorizia the Renault R35 and the armored truck armed with flamethrower due the lack of spare parts for the first and probably for continuous maintenance needed by the armored truck.
In Merano del Friuli Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ was first trained reaching fully operable capabilities and then deployed in active service to protect the main road from partisan ambushes, escorting the military supply convoys and in anti-partisan operations near the Gorizia countryside, in Friuli Venezia Giulia’s east part. On some occasions, some units were employed for the protection of isolated guarrisons, bridges, or military depots.
The bloodiest fighting in which the unit took part was the one in Dobraule di Santa Croce, on the road between Gorizia and Aidussina, in the Vipacco Valley, on 31st May 1944.
During the escort of a military convoy, the unit was attacked by partisans and lost 1 Carro Armato M14/41, 2 Autoblinde AB41 medium reconnaissance armored cars, and two FIAT 665NM Scudati, even if the loss of life was more constrained, with only 3 deaths.
On 21st January 1945, a section of medium tanks broke the Yugoslavian encirclement to the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ of the Xª Divisione MAS (English: 10th MAS Division) in Tarnova. On 17th January, three medium tanks were transferred to the area between Rijeka and Postumia to support the German forces that tried to fill the gaps in the Axis defensive line.
On 28th March 1945 General Archimede Mischi wrote a report on the unit that he had passed in review 6 days before. In his reports he claimed a total of 137 soldiers in the ranks of the unit. A report dated 8th April 1945 has a full list of all the armored vehicles of the unit. Some of these were likely under repair and were not operational at the time.
16 Carri Armati L3/33s and Carri Armati L3/35s (probably the same of February 1944)
4 Carri Armati M13/40s and Carri Armati M14/41s
1 Semovente M41 da 75/18
2 Semoventi M42 da 75/18s
1 Semovente M42M da 75/34
2 Semoventi L40 da 47/32s
2 Autoblindo AB41s
In mid April 1945, the situation for the Nazi-Fascist troops in the Balkans was becoming disperate and the Germans called the Italienische Panzer-Schwadron “Tonegutti” for support.
In total, 8 Carri Armati L3s, 3 Carri Armati M (Carri Armati M13/40s and Carri Armati M14/41s) and 2 Semoventi M42 da 75/18s with 4 officers (with Tonegutti himself), 56 NCOs, and soldiers were sent to Ruppa (nowadays Rupa in Croatia), about 50 km Southeast of Triest on railway. Their mission was to protect the city from the 4th Yugoslavian Army. From 18th April to 23th April 1945 the vehicles were deployed in patrol actions and many were attacked by Allied planes but without losses.
On 24th April, while the column was moving from Fontana del Conte (nowadays Knežak in Slovenia) to Massun, North of Ruppa, a Carro Armato L3 tank drove over an anti-tank mine which exploded and killed the crew and another light tank fell in a canal. The explosion attracted the attention of the Yugoslavs, who attacked the column with mortar fire and bursts of small arms fire. Under heavy fire, the remaining tanks were forced to retreat from the area while the semoventi shooted the majority of their 75 mm ammunition trying to slow down the partisans.
On the evening of 25th April 1945, the ‘San Giusto’ unit that had been sent to Ruppa had lost 3 Carri Armati L3 tanks, 2 to mines, and 1 to mortar shells. Another Carro Armato L3 was damaged by machine gun fire, while a medium tank and a self-propelled gun were damaged by air attacks.
Given the desperate situation and the impossibility of slowing down the Yugoslav partisans, the unit sent to Ruppa departed on 27th April 1945 first to Trieste and then to Mariano del Friuli, where the rest of the unit was headquartered.
They arrived in the city only on 28th April morning, discovering that the rest of the unit had peacefully surrendered to the partisans the day before and that the partisans had used some Carri Armati L3 tanks and an Autoblinda AB41 (the only operational vehicles that had remained in the barracks) against the German forces in Cividale del Friuli.
The still-equipped forces arrived from Ruppa then decided to disband, abandoning their tanks on the road on the same day.
Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani
The Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani or RAP (English: Anti Partisan Group) was created in August 1944 as an anti-partisan unit. Its main task was to counter partisan actions and to patrol the areas where the partisans concentrated.
It was created in Brescia, where it received 2 Carri Armati M13/40s. These were the two tanks of the 1° Deposito Carristi destined for the Centro Addestramento Reparti Speciali on 27th June 1944. 8 of the 13 tank crew officers of the RAP were from the already disbanded 1° Deposito Carristi of Verona.
After the organization of the unit, it left Brescia and was deployed in Turin, where it was headquartered in many barracks of the city.
In November 1944 the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani was composed of:
The Reparto Autonomo di Cavalleria (English: Cavalry Autonomous Department) was created in Bergamo and was composed of soldiers and crew members of various ENR units. The unit slowly phagocytes all the units of the Gruppo Esplorante (English: Exploring Group), where the armored vehicles were deployed. It was transferred in Turin in November 1944 and was headquartered in the Scuola di Applicazione (English: Training School) in Via Arsenale.
The 1a Compagnia Carri M had in its ranks 1 Carro Armato M13/40 medium tank received by the 1° Deposito Carristi. The 2a Compagnia Carri L was equipped with 10 Carri Armati Leggeri L3.
The commander of the 1a Compagnia Carri M was Lieutenant Ascanio Caradonna. Of the about 20 officers of the unit, 12 were trained in an unknown German Panzertruppenschule (English: Armored Troops School) and, for that reason, were praized in December 1944 by Oberleutnant (English: Senior Lieutenant) Glaser for their training.
Between November 1944 and January 1945 the 1a Compagnia Carri M was disbanded for the lack of medium tanks and the 2a Compagnia Carri L was renamed 1a Compagnia Carri L.
In December 1944 the RAP wrote to the German Aufstellungsstab Süd (English: Positioning Staff South) asking for the delivery of Italian armored vehicles.
After an inspection from Oberleutnant Glaser that after praized the crew members positively reviewed the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani, the Aufstellungsstab Süd delivered to the Italian unit some Italian armored vehicles.
The Germans put at the disposal of the unit some tanks abandoned at the Deposito di Caselle (English: Caselle’s Depot) in Caselle, near Turin.
The Germans would have had to spend too much time repairing them, so they donated them to the RAP, who could try to repair some and use the others for parts. The tanks that were made available by the Germans for the unit were:
7 Carri Armati L3
1 Carro Armato M13/40
2 Semoventi L40 da 47/32
1 Autoblindo AB41
2 Semoventi da 75/18 (exact model unknown)
All the vehicles were in bad conditions and necessitated to be heavily overhauled to return to combat valuable status.
On 10th January the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani had 6 serviceable Carri Armati L3 and 8 vehicles.
On 30th January 1945, the armored company was composed of 21 officers, 2 NCOs, 24 soldiers, and 5 female auxiliaries. On 5th April 1945, there were 16 officers, 5 NCOs, 27 soldiers, and 1 female auxiliary. The other soldiers were missing in action or had deserted.
Some of the vehicles delivered by the Germans were repaired and pressed into service with the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani. On 25th February 1945, in a report from the National Republican Army General Staff, the following vehicles were listed as in service with the RAP:
1 Autoblindo AB41
17 Carri Armati L3 (of which 7 under repair)
1 Carro Armato L6/40
2 Carri Armati M13/40
However, it seems that the Carro Armato L6/40 would have been a Semovente L40 da 47/32 that was wrongly identified, as some photographic sources reveal.
On the same document, the National Republican Army General Staff ordered the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani to deliver all its medium tanks and the Autoblindo AB41 to the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, while the ‘Leonessa’ had to deliver all its light tanks to the RAP.
This was done to concentrate all the medium tanks and self-propelled guns in a single bigger unit able to fight against Allied forces, while the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani was created to fight the badly equipped partisans which were only equipped with light and obsolete vehicles.
It seems that the delivery was started before the Great Partisan Uprising of late April 1945. In fact, on 6th March 1945, the partisans captured a Lancia Lince scout car during an ambush near Cisterna d’Asti, a small city near Turin. This small scout car was deployed by the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani even if it was formerly a ‘Leonessa’ vehicle.
Anyway, the transfer was never finished. In fact, on 23rd March 1945, the AB41 armored car was still in the ranks of the RAP. On 28th April 1945, when the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani left Turin, it abandoned many of its tanks in its barracks, of which at least one was a Carro Armato M13/40.
However, during an unknown period, in order to allow the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani crews to receive adequate training, the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ assigned some of its tank crew officers to the RAP. One of these officers was put in charge of the Carro Armato M13/40 given his extensive previous experience. The only serviceable Carro Armato M13/40’s story is unknown, as is its fate.
Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana
Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was the biggest and best equipped unit of the entire Repubblica Sociale Italiana.
It was created from officers and soldiers (the majority of them tank crew members) from the disbanded 1ª Divisione Corazzata Legionaria ‘M’. After the Armistice, on 21st September 1943, the Division created the new armored group in the Caserma Mussolini of Rome. They had already been disarmed by the German 2. Fallschirmjäger-Division ‘Ramke’ (English: 2nd Paratrooper Division) on 12th or 13th September in Tivoli, near Rome.
The soldiers put back the Fascist insignia on the lapel of the uniform (removed after the arrest of Mussolini on 25th July 1943) and tried to find new military equipment. They found 2 Carri Armati M13/40 and some lorries abandoned after 10th September in the Forte Tiburtino fortress, the headquarters of the former 4º Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 4th Tank Crew Infantry Regiment). The 2 tanks were from the 3° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 3rd Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) that arrived in Rome shortly before the armistice to equip the IX Battaglione Carri M under creation.
On 17th September 1943, Lieutenant General Renzo Montagna, the former commander of the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale or MVSN (English: Voluntary Militia for National Security) was put in charge. The former 1ª Divisione Corazzata Legionaria ‘M’ was part of the MVSN before the Armistice, so returned under its control.
Lt. Gen. Montagna mentioned in a letter that the units under his control had recovered a total of about 40 medium tanks and dozens of other vehicles in the streets of Rome. This not seems an exaggerated number, in fact before the armistice, in Summer 1943 the 4º Reggimento Fanteria Carrista alone had at its disposal 31 tanks (probably all Carri Armati M), 11 semoventi and 20 camionette of which the majority deployed during the disparate defense of Rome.
The 2 medium tanks were immediately reused after an order of Lt. Gen. Montagna. They were to guard the Piazza Colonna, were the Ente Italiano per le Audizioni Radiofoniche or EIAR (English: Italian Body for Radio Broadcasting) and the Partito Fascista Repubblicano or PFR (English: Republican Fascist Party) were headquartered in Palazzo Wedekind.
On 29th September, the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was transferred to Montichiari, near Brescia, with the few armored vehicles that it had recovered in Rome. The command of the former 1ª Divisione Corazzata Legionaria ‘M’ remained in Rome until November 1943 and then joined a small group of officers who prepared the new headquarters in Rovato, near Brescia.
The unit started to reorganize and a lot of new volunteers joined the unit. Among these were also 5 officers that were part of the 132ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’ (English: 132nd Armored Division) before the Armistice, two of them already decorated with medals for bravery.
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was able to create 3 companies. However, the armored ones were almost immediately disbanded due to the scarcity of armored vehicles in the unit’s ranks.
On 8th December 1943, due to the few tanks present in the unit’s ranks, the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale High Command planned to transform the unit into a public order company. After a fierce resistance of the officers to maintain the status of armored unit, General Renato Ricci, the new commander of the MVSN, amazed by the tenacity of the officers of the ‘Leonessa’ ,granted the unit two months to reorganize and find armored vehicles to use.
The officer in command of the armored group, Lieutenant Colonel Priamo Switch, ordered some officers to recover as many armored vehicles as possible from anywhere on the RSI territories.
The most successful officers were Tenant Giovanni Ferraris and Tenant Loffredo Loffredi who, in less than two months, found dozens of tanks, armored cars, trucks and other equipment in Bologna, Brescia, Milano, Siena, Torino, Vercelli and Verona.
Some tanks were found in the 32° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 32th Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) barracks and depots in Verona, thanks to the suggestions of former 32° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista members that joined the unit. Spare parts were taken from the depots of the Breda factory in Turin (which produced only spare parts), as Tenant Ferraris had some friends among the factory managers.
Everything that was found was sent to Montichiari, where the workshop of the unit commanded by Lieutenant Soncini and Lieutenant Dante, supported by civilians and workers from a nearby factory of the Officine Meccaniche or OM (English: Mechanic Workshops), repaired them. They were able to repair dozens of vehicles: motorbikes, staff cars, trucks, armored cars and tanks, allowing the unit to remain an armored group.
On 9th February 1944, Gen. Ricci arrived in Brescia to participate in the ceremony for the official Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ loyalty oath. After the ceremony, all the running condition vehicles of the unit paraded through the streets of Brescia. At least one was a Carro Armato M13/40 of the 1st series.
On 1st March 1944, the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ moved to Turin with the 1ª Compagnia Arditi Autocarrata (English: 1st Motorized Arditi Company), the 2ª Compagnia Guastatori (English: 2nd Saboteurs Company) and the 3ª Compagnia (English: 3rd Company). The moving was complete on 5th March and the group was headquartered in three different Turin barracks: the Caserma Alessandro La Marmora in Via Asti, the Caserma Vittorio Dabormida in Corso Stupinigi, Caserma Luigi Riva of Via Cernaia the and Caserma Podgora in Piazza Carlo Emanuele.
The 1ª Compagnia Arditi Autocarrata was deployed in the Caserma Luigi Riva, headquarter of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, while the 2ª Compagnia Guastatori was deployed in the Caserma Podgora.
The majority of the armored vehicles of the unit (unfortunately, there is no data to say how many there were) were deployed with the 2ª Compagnia Guastatori, even if it seems that the tanks were not assigned to the companies.
From Second World War-era documents about the operations of ‘Leonessa’, it is known that the armored vehicles were not assigned to a particular company but that they were essentially assigned to a company before the start of a mission. Obviously, the more dangerous the mission, the more armored vehicles were assigned to the company.
Together with the tanks, the crews were also assigned at the mission’s start. In fact, the armored group’s command decided to maintain the same soldiers for each tank as long as possible in order to create cohesion between the various members of the crew. More importantly, in this way, the driver knew all the characteristics of his vehicle and knew how best to repair it.
A group of veterans of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ wrote a list of all the vehicles of the armored group in the book Gruppo Corazzato Leonessa 1943–1945 – RSI. They did not specify if this is the list of vehicles in service at a certain data of the armored group’s life or if this is the full list of vehicles that the armored group had in service during its 20-month long service.
35 Carri Armati M (M13/40, M14/41, M15/42, and at least 2 M42 command tanks)
8 Autoblindo S40 and S26 (improvised vehicles, unknown models)
60 Lancia 3Ro heavy duty trucks
5 SPA Dovunque 41 heavy duty trucks
12 FIAT 634N heavy duty trucks
13 FIAT 666 heavy duty trucks
25 FIAT 626 medium trucks
10 OM Taurus medium trucks
4 Bianchi Miles medium trucks
9 FIAT-SPA 38R light trucks
8 FIAT-SPA TL37 light prime movers
48 Staff and civilian cars
8 Mobile kitchens
2 Mobile workshops
4 Cannoni da 75/27 Modello 1911s
The only original list of vehicles in service with the armored group was written on 25th February 1945 in a document of the National Republican Army General Staff. It states that the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ had in its ranks:
10 Carri Armati M15/42s
10 Carri Armati M13/40s and Carri Armati M14/41s
Unknown number of Carri Armati M13/40s and Carri Armati M14/41s under repair
This is surely an incomplete list that does not mention all the trucks in service with the armored group, but allows to understand the number of losses that the partisans inflicted on the Fascist forces.
The first anti-partisan action of the unit was on 21st March 1944, when it participated with a medium tank and an Autoblindo AB41 armored car that were temporarily assigned to the Füsilier-Bataillon 29 “Debica” (English: 29th Rifle Battalion) of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS “Italia” (English: 29th Grenadier Division of the SS) with about 500 soldiers under German SS General Peter Hansen.
The armored vehicles were deployed in the Lucerna Valley, where Italian communist partisans of the IV Brigata ‘Pisacane’ (English: 4th Brigade) were active. During a patrol, the vehicles were divided from the rest of the SS soldiers due to a landslide caused by the explosion of a partisan mine. The partisans then started to throw hand grenades and Molotov cocktails on the medium tank and the Autoblindo AB41. The Autoblindo AB41, hit by a hand grenade, fell off the road into a nearby river, killing the three crew members inside, while another 4 soldiers and an NCO were captured.
To celebrate its service in the Piedmontese capital city, on 23rd May 1944, a parade was organized by the High Command of Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ and the city’s mayor.
The parade counted 9 Carri Armati L3s, 1 Carro Armato L6/40, 2 Autoblinde AB41s, 2 Carrozzerie Speciali su SPA-Viberti AS43s, 2 Carri Armati M13/40s, another medium tank and some trucks. It departed from the Porta Nuova train station, passed through Piazza Carlo Felice, Via Roma and then arrived in Piazza Castello, Turin’s main square.
From Piazza Castello, the armored vehicles and trucks full of militia men turned back to Porta Nuova, from which the column disbanded and the troops returned to their barracks.
On 28th May, just returned from an anti-partisan operation in which 33 partisans and 3 former prisoners of war escaped from a military camp were captured, the ‘Leonessa’ was deployed in Operation Hamburg that took place in Biella, Caluso Cavaglia, Chatillon, Dondena, Gressoney, Rivara, and Ronco.
In total, two tanks and two armored cars (models unknown) and a company-strength unit of the ‘Leonessa’ were deployed. Together with the armored group soldiers were other units: the GNR from Vercelli, from other Turin units, a company of the GNR border police, a unit from the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ (English: Mobile Autonomous Legion) and some German soldiers.
In June 1944, the unit was reorganized with the 1ª Compagnia Carri (English: 1st Tank Company), the 2ª Compagnia Autoblindo (English: 2nd Armored Car Company) and the 3ª Compagnia Arditi (English: 3rd Arditi Company).
Between 26th June and 8th July 1944, the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was deployed in an anti-partisan operation in Avigliana, 22 km from Turin. During the operation, 3 Carri Armati M13/40s were deployed, of which one was deployed in the city after the operation and remained in the city probably as a deterrent against other partisan attacks. Nothing is known about its service in Avigliana or how long the garrison of Avigliana remained operational.
After the same Val di Susa anti-partisan operation, at least 1 Carro Armato M13/40 was deployed to protect the Fixed Aircraft Spotting Post of Lanzo. This tank was deployed after a partisan operation, when the garrison of the 2ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico (English: 2nd Public Order Company) commanded by Captain Giuseppe Bertoni was attacked by partisan forces. As reported by Captain Bertoni in his report, the armored vehicles of the ‘Leonessa’ left the barracks, attacking the partisans and forcing them to retreat.
The Carro Armato M13/40 medium tank was certainly engaged in combat at least once against the partisans. The garrison was disbanded at the end of 1944.
On 25th July 1944, Gen. Ricci organized a big parade in Milan to celebrate the first anniversary of the first fall of Fascism in Italy. A total of 5,000 soldiers and 275 female auxiliaries took part in the parade, including Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ armored vehicles.
On 25th September 1944, a Carro Armato M15/42, a Carro Armato M13/40, 2 Carri Armati L6/40s (probably a light tank and an SPG), an Autoprotetta and a platoon of the 1ª Compagnia of the ‘Leonessa’ were deployed in Giaveno, in Val di Susa, under the command of Major Antonio Braguti.
During the mission, some soldiers from the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani and from the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ were also present. Together with the soldiers and vehicles of the armored group, they patrolled the villages of Fratta, Giaveno, and Maddalena di Val Sangone.
On 15th January 1945, 1 Carro Armato M13/40 was sent to support a convoy of German vehicles in Villanova D’Asti, which was hit by a partisan attack. The tank returned to its barracks in Turin the same night.
On 21th February 1945, 2 Carri Armati M13/40s, 2 armored cars and 2 autoprotette of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ were deployed in an anti-guerrilla operation between Villanova D’Asti and Mononio. Together with these armored vehicles, the XXIX Battaglione ‘M’ (English: 29th ‘M’ Battalion), the 1ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico (English: 1st Public Order Company) of Turin and some soldiers from the Xª Divisione MAS participated. Only a single partisan was killed during the operation.
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was deployed after April 1944 to protect the Roberto Incerti Villar or RIV ball bearing factory in San Raffaele Cimena, near Chivasso. Some machinery tools were transferred from Turin to San Raffaele to continue the production. In fact, in February 1944, the RIV plant at Via Nizza 148 in Turin was badly damaged by Allied bombardments. The San Raffaele Cimena area was really quiet until 6th February 1945, when about 40 partisans attacked 21 ‘Leonessa’ soldiers, killing 2 and wounding 3 of them.
For this reason, after 3rd March 1945, a Carro Armato M13/40 was deployed by the armored group’s garrison in the village. In total, on 3rd March, the garrison had at its disposal 6 officers, 88 NCOs and militia men, 2 Carri Armati L3 light tanks, and 1 Carro Armato M13/40.
On 16th March 1945, the ranks of the garrison were reinforced with another Carro Armato M13/40 tank, but on the 29th, the ranks of the garrison were modified with 3 M15/42 medium tanks, 3 L3 light tanks, 5 officers, 50 NCOs and militia men. The garrison was probably disbanded and the soldiers returned to Turin between 15th and 20th April 1945.
On 23th March 1945, the unit took part in its last parade, on the occasion of the anniversary of the foundation of the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale in Turin. Its tanks now paraded in Via Po, arriving in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, where Alessandro Pavolini, secretary of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano, took part at the ceremony.
At 1630 hrs. on 17th April 1945, Lt. Col. Swich had a small briefing with the officers of the unit present in Turin to inform them that the CNL had proclaimed a worker’s strike on 18th April. The unit patrolled the city roads all the night and day after but without partisan attacks. On this occasion, almost all the vehicles were deployed.
On 24th April 1945, General Adami Rossi, Commander of the 206° Comando Provinciale Regionale, ordered the creation of 22 checkpoints in the Turin countryside to prevent partisan attacks. All the roadblocks were patrolled by militia men from the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’.
On 25th April, the day of the Great Partisan Insurrection, the 1ª and 2ª Compagnia of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, 2 companies of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani, a platoon of the Xª Divisione MAS, the XXIX Battaglione ‘M’, a Battaglione Ordine Pubblico of the GNR of Turin and the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ were present in Turin.
The ‘Leonessa’ headquarter was in the Via Asti Barracks, together with the Battaglione Ordine Pubblico. The 1ª Compagnia, under the command of Lieutenant Tommaso Stabile, was in the Caserma Luigi Riva with a company of the Black Brigade, while the 2ª Compagnia, under the command of Lieutenant Nicola Sanfelice, was in the Caserma Podgora together with the RAP companies.
Lt. Col. Swich had ordered 2 Carri Armati M13/40s to Piazza Castello with an armored car and about 15 militiamen to defend the prefecture of the city in that square. The Carro Armato M14/41 commanded by Brigadier Leonardo Mazzoleni was placed in Piazza Gran Madre di Dio to protect the bridge over the Po river. Two companies of the Battaglione Ordine Pubblico, the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani companies and the majority of the ‘Leonessa’ soldiers were deployed to reinforce the roadblocks and checkpoints and to patrol the city roads.
On 25th April 1945, the day was calm due to the fact that, in Turin, the CLN had delayed the attack by one day, to the 26th April. The Fascist soldiers tended to their guns and the engines of their tanks.
On 26th April, the partisans started their attack, occupying Porta Nuova, Dora, and Stura train stations, 8 of the 10 FIAT plants in the city (FIAT Lingotto and FIAT Mirafiori remained in Fascist hands), Lancia Veicoli Industriali, the RIV plant, the city hall and the Gazzetta del Popolo newspaper headquarter.
The EIAR headquarter was also attacked by the partisans but the soldiers and vehicles of the ‘Leonessa’ deployed near the radio broadcasting building, with a medium tank and two armored cars, forced the partisans to retreat.
Some counter attacks were undertaken and the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was able to retake control of the majority of the production plants and train stations occupied by the partisan on the same day.
In the city hall, before being arrested by the partisans, the Podestà (English: Major) Michele Fassio called for reinforcements. Immediately, a medium tank and an armored car commanded by Second Lieutenant Stornelli of the 1ª Compagnia, together with some soldiers under the command of Captain Milanaccio, were deployed from the Caserma Luigi Riva to reoccupy the city hall.
The small unit reached the city hall where the partisans, hearing the engine noises, barricaded themselves inside the building. The door of the city hall was destroyed by the tank’s main gun, the major freed and the vehicles and men of the 1ª Compagnia returned to the Via Asti barracks.
In the afternoon, the Lamarmora barracks was surrounded but the partisans could not force the Fascists to retreat due to the heavy armament of the defenders. Lieutenant Marchegiani, commander of a medium tank, opened fire against the windows of a building near Porta Nuova train station, while partisans opened fire against a hotel from where civilian German inhabitants were rescued. After several machine gun bursts, the partisans retreated, abandoning the building.
The Caserma Luigi Riva was attacked around 14:00 of 26th April by partisans and auxiliary police (who joined the partisans that morning) from the Corso Vinzaglio police barracks, near the Porta Susa train station. The partisans also fired mortar shells against the building, but their lack of training did not permit them to deal heavy damage.
According to the testimony of Lt. Tommaso Stabile, at 18:00, 4 medium tanks, 3 armored cars, a platoon from the ‘Leonessa’ and a platoon from the ‘Ather Capelli’ left from the Caserma Luigi Riva. This group attacked the partisans and auxiliary police officers, who tried to resist. After a few hours, the Fascist armored cars destroyed the partisan 20 mm automatic cannons and the 47 mm guns of the tanks destroyed the barrack’s doors, allowing the Fascist troops to enter.
After the loss of 10 partisans and police officers, the rebels disbanded, retreating through the Pietro Micca tunnel which had been dug in 1706 by the Piedmontese Army to destroy French forces that had surrounded the city. One of the four tanks advanced until Porta Susa, 600 meters from the Caserma Luigi Riva’s entrance.
On 27th April 1945, almost all the plants and other targets occupied by the partisans the previous day were recaptured by Fascist forces. During the morning, 5 medium tanks and 2 armored cars were deployed to patrol the roads in the perimeter: Corso Vinzaglio, Via Cernaia, Piazza Castello, and Porta Susa train station.
At 15:00 on 27th April 1945, there was a briefing between all the Fascist commanders in Turin. They planned to activate the Esigenza Z2B Improvviso (English: Requirement Z2B Sudden) secret plan. This was a planned retreat of all Fascist forces to the Valtellina Valley, where they would wait for the Allied forces to surrender to them, avoiding falling into partisan hands.
The units were ordered to start moving toward Piazza Castello, where the Fascist column would depart from during the night.
All the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ militia men reached Turin’s main square, where Lt. Col. Swich ordered the tanks to position themselves in front and rear to defend the column in case of attacks.
At 0128 hrs. on 28th April 1945, about 5,000 Fascists, the few remaining Germans and some civilians (soldier’s families or persons who had collaborated with the Fascists) left the city towards Lombardia. The tanks in the front of the column opened a break in a barricade near the Dora train station and then reached the road to Chivasso.
On the dawn of 28th April 1945, the column left the highway to avoid Allied air attacks and continued the march on small roads, without the few German soldiers that had joined the column that night. The Germans tried to reach Germany or other foreign units continuing to march in the Northern direction.
After stopping their march for the night near Livorno Ferraris, the Fascist forces of the column were informed of Benito Mussolini’s execution. The officers then decided that it was useless to reach Valtellina and preferred to deploy the over 5,000 soldiers under their command in the village of Strambino Romano, where they created a headquarters and waited until 5th May 1945, when the Allied troops arrived in the area. At that point, the Fascist troops in Strambino Romano numbered between 15,000 and 20,000. All surrendered without fighting to the Allied troops.
Carro Armato M13/40 assigned to the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’
The first 2 tanks assigned to the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’ (English: 2nd Cyclist Assault Battalion) operating in Val d’Ossola area were 2 Carri Armati M13/40s that were temporary assigned to the Fascist unit from the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ with their crews under command of Adjutant Ferdinando Baradello. They were headquartered in Omegna but it seems that they were not used in early September 1944.
The Repubblica dell’Ossola (English: Ossola Republic) was a partisan republic that arose in northern Italy on 10th September 1944. This was a small (1,600 km²) territory freed by partisan troops.
In early October 1944, the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ temporarily assigned a total of 3 medium tanks and 10 armored cars more and their crew members to some units deployed in the area of Repubblica dell’Ossola to launch a fierce attack on the partisans, forcing them to disband.
At least 2 more tanks were assigned to the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’ of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, one Carro Armato M13/40 and one Carro Armato M14/41 commanded by Lieutenant Oberdan Marchegiani. They were deployed to the south of the republic. It had the task of destroying the partisan first line in Ornavasso and then reaching Domodossola as soon as possible, the capital city of the self proclaimed republic.
The attack on the Repubblica dell’Ossola was codenamed Operazione Avanti (English: Operation Ahead). The operation was planned by Monza High Command and the command was assigned to German Colonel Ludwig Buch.
Anyway, the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’ was supported by the Füsilier-Bataillon 29 “Debica” and some other small units, forming Kampfgruppe ‘Noveck’. It started the attack on the partisan republic on 10th October 1944. The book Il Battaglione SS ‘Debica’ written by Leonardo Sandri claims that the SS soldiers arrived at Gravellona Toce on 10th October and that the anti-partisan actions started on 11th October, a day after.
The same book claims that, during the operation, apart from the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’ and the Füsilier-Bataillon 29 ‘Debica’, a company of the Scuola Allievi Ufficiali (English: Officer Rookies School) of the GNR of Varese and a company of the Battaglione Paracadutisti ‘Mazzarini’ (English: Paratrooper Battalion) were also deployed for a total of about 3,500 soldiers. The Italian troops were supported by a 8.8 cm FlaK gun, two 75 mm mountain howitzers, two 75 mm anti-tank guns, two 47 mm anti-tank guns, a German armored train and 2 Carri Armati M13/40s. This confirms the presence of 2 Carri Armati M13/40s even if they had to be at least 5. Probably the book Il Battaglione SS ‘Debica’ was listing only the forces that supported the ‘Debica’ and not all the Axis forces deployed to attack the Partisan’s republic. The last tank detached to the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was a Carro Armato M15/42 that was assigned together with a Carro Armato M13/40 and the Carro Armato M14/41 to the Il Battaglione SS ‘Debica’ after the Operazione Avanti.
On the first day, the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’ tried to break up the defensive line of the Divisione Partigiana ‘Valtoce’ (English: Partisan Division) on the right side of the Toce river, trying to enter in the city of Ornavasso. The Füsilier-Bataillon 29 ‘Debica’, on the left side of the river, tried to break the line of the Divisione Partigiana ‘Val d’Ossola’, trying to capture Mergozzo.
The 2 medium tanks were supporting the 1ª Compagnia, 3ª Compagnia and 4ª Compagnia of the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’ on the valley floor, while the 2ª Compagnia tried to circumvent the partisan defensive line, climbing the narrow streets of Monte Massone, covered by woods.
Luckily for the partisans, their reinforcements arrived quickly and they could start a counter attack before the 2ª Compagnia arrived in position. When the partisans attacked, the 2 tanks left the road to avoid being easily detected, but got stuck, probably in a mud field. The Fascist forces were forced to retreat with the tanks. On that day, the partisans resisted the attack.
At dawn of the next day, 2 tanks, supported by infantry, having learnt the ground, reached the partisan positions near Ornavasso, forcing the partisans to leave them.
The Fascist forces then advanced more into the partisan republic territory, but were blocked about 2 km north from Ornavasso, where the partisans had dug anti-tank ditches and entrenched themselves in a First World War-era bunker of the Liena Cadorna (English: The Cadorna Line). The Fascist forces were forced to stop their advance, fighting against the partisans barricaded in the fortress until 12th October 1944.
The night between 12th and 13th October, two companies of the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’ encircled the partisan forces from Monte Massone and deployed unnoticed on the right side of the partisan line, waiting to ambush the partisan reinforcements.
On the morning of 13th October, the remaining two companies of the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’ along with the medium tanks attacked the partisan positions in the Linea Cadorna again. When the soldiers of the Divisione Partigiana ‘Valtoce’ from the rearguard arrived in the area, the two companies hidden on the mountain ambushed them, causing many losses.
The partisans were forced to abandon the battle and retreated, pursued by Fascist forces and tried to reach Switzerland, a neutral territory, where they could have been saved. On 14th October afternoon, the reconnaissance squads of the Fascist forces arrived at Domodossola, the capital city of the partisan republic.
On 16th October 1944, the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’ and the Carro Armato M13/40 commanded by Lt. Marchegiani dispersed the last weak partisan defense in Varzo. After liberating the city, two companies of the battalion and the tank continued the advance, trying to arrive as soon as possible to the Swiss border and block the retreat of the last partisans in the area.
An interesting story about that day was mentioned by the commander of the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’, Lieutenant Ajmone Finestra, in his book Dal Fronte Jugoslavo alla Val d’Ossola. In it, he mentions that the Carro Armato M13/40 challenged the Swiss border guards when it arrived at the Swiss border, rolling towards the roadblock at high speed. The Swiss border guards tried to place an anti-tank gun in position as a deterrent, but before the gun was ready, the tank arrived near the borderline, turned around and went back.
After the end of the operations, one of the 2 Carri Armati M13/40s detached to the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’ in August returned back to Turin with Lt. Marchegiani. A single Carro Armato M13/40 was put under command of 1° Aiutante (English: Adjutant of 1st Class) Ferdinando Baradello, with driver Adjutant Stevani, while the other two crew members were Legionnaires Bianchi and Ciardi. It remained in Omegna under the command of the 2ª Compagnia of the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’. The other 3 tanks as seen before followed the Il Battaglione SS ‘Debica’.
In January 1945, thanks to the Carro Armato M13/40, the Fascist forces reached the goal of capturing an entire batch of Allied equipment launched from a cargo plane in the Val d’Ossola for the partisans.
On 14th and 15th March, the 2ª Compagnia of the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’ was attacked at Omegna. The troops, supported by the Carro Armato M13/40 of 1° Aiutante Ferdinando Boradello, broke through the encirclement and tried to reach Quarna, where a mixed garrison composed of Battaglione ‘Castagnacci’ of the Xª Divisione MAS and a black brigade were encircled. When the tank arrived, the Fascist troops had already surrendered.
On 17th March 1945, the car of Lieutenant Ajmone Finestra was ambushed by partisans while traveling with two soldiers from Omegna to Baveno. Miraculously escaping from death, the three fascist soldiers barricaded themselves behind the car, refusing to surrender. Meanwhile, the rifle shots attracted the attention of the fascist soldiers in Omegna, who sent the tank on the road.
Rescuing the officer and the two soldiers, the tank was again attacked by partisans near Omegna. This was an unsuccessful attack that cost the partisans 5 men.
On 22nd March 1945, a tank and an armored car took part in an anti-partisan operation in Varallo Sesia, while the Carro Armato M13/40 of Adjutant of 1st Class Boradello was deployed with the same task in Gravellona Toce area.
During the same month, 1° Aiutante Ferdinando Boradello was transferred and Adjutant Stevani took his place as tank commander. From March to late April 1945, the tank was deployed to support the units of the ‘Venezia Giulia’ battalion, black brigades, militia men and German forces in the cities of Cireggio, Lucerna, Luzzogno and Omegna. Their opponents were the 2ª Divisione ‘Garibaldi’ communist partisans and the autonomous of Divisione ‘Beltrami’.
The tank was again deployed in Intra, near Omegna, against the partisans on 21st April 1945. During the night between 23rd and 24th April 1945, the 2ª Compagnia of the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’ received the order to withdraw from Omegna to Baveno. On the morning of 24th April, the company left the city in column formation, with the tank at the rear. The partisans from the valley’s sides opened fire, blocking the Fascist company for some hours.
In the end, the column succeeded retreating to Gravellona Toce, where it met the rest of the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’ and other Italian and German units arriving from Domodossola. Together, they reached Baveno; the column was named ‘Stamm’ Column for the name of the German commander of the SS-Polizei-Regiment 20.
On 25th April 1945, there were 450 soldiers of the II Battaglione Ciclisti d’Assalto ‘Venezia Giulia’, 150 of the XXIX Brigata Nera ‘Ettore Muti’, plus some more Italian and German soldiers. In total, there was the Carro Armato M13/40 of Adjutant Stevani, two German armored cars and 700 soldiers ready to move toward Stresa under command of Major Fagioli and German Captain Stamm.
The column moved on the road to Belgiate, breaking all the Partisan roadblocks and entering Stresa and then Belgiate. During the late afternoon of 25th April, the column reached Meina, while the partisans in the area reached Arona to block the column.
During the night, the Carro Armato M13/40 and the German armored cars attacked Arona where the partisans opened fire with heavy guns. The muzzle flashes of the partisan bursts were targeted by the Fascist 75 mm WW1-era artillery pieces and by German 20 mm FlaK bursts.
Before dawn, some troops encircled the partisans. Supported by the medium tank and the two armored cars, the partisans came under heavy fire and were forced to leave Arona. After entering Arona, the Fascists freed it immediately and settled in Castelletto Ticino for 2 days awaiting ferries to cross the Ticino river.
On 28th April 1945, the ferries did not arrive and they tried to reach Milan but the road was blocked. They tried to go to Novara, but the road to that city was blocked. The Fascists were then reached by the Bishop of Novara, who went to confer with them, giving them news of the great partisan insurrection and that Milan and Novara were now in partisan hands.
The fascists came to an agreement with the partisans that allowed them to go to Novara where they would wait in the Caserma Cavalli in Novara for the arrival of the Allied troops.
They arrived in Novara on 29th April and parked the Carro Armato M13/40 of Adjutant Stavani outside the barracks. The unit surrendered to soldiers of the US 34th Infantry Division on 1st May 1945.
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in the Piacenza countryside
Piacenza is one of the biggest cities of the region of Emiglia-Romagna, located in the center north of the Italian peninsula. Piacenza was the capital of the homonymous province, with a population (in 1936) of 64,210 inhabitants. It was an important city for the Italian economy, with a well organized agriculture. The city also had some small companies specialized in the bodywork of cars and trucks and in the production of truck trailers. Machinery tools were also important in Piacenza, with many companies specialized in the production of lathes and other components. However, the most important companies in the area were the Azienda Generale Italiana Petroli (English: General Italian Oil Company) the only one in Italy that extracted oil until 19th April 1945, and the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Piacenza or AREP (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Piacenza). Until the armistice of September 1943, it was used mainly to produce and repair artillery pieces. After the armistice, it was renamed Arsenale di Piacenza and the workers started working for the Wehrmacht.
After the Armistice of September 1943, the German forces transformed the city into a headquarters for their units in the region. The Plazkommandantur was placed in Via Santa Franca, under Colonel Blecher’s command. Under his command were a number of units deployed in the city. In Via Cavour 64 was a Waffen-SS unit and a Sicherheitspolizei or SIPO (English: Security Police) and in Via Garibaldi 7 was another SIPO unit.
The Todt Organization, a German civil and military engineering organization responsible for a huge range of engineering projects in all the occupied territories, also had some units in Piacenza. In Piazza Cavalli 94 was its volunteer enlisting center, while in the Caserma (English: Barrack) of Via Emilia Pavese were the dormitories for the Todt workers.
The San Damiano airbase near the city was also under German control (even before the Armistice). There were also the Train Station, the bridges, the arsenal and the most important company of the city, the Officine Massarenti, specialized in the extraction of the little oil found in the Piacenza countryside.
To prevent this important city from falling into the hands of the partisans or Allied paratroopers, the garrison of Piacenza was reinforced by some Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ units. At the beginning, only 2 armored cars (other sources claim 1 armored car and an autoprotetta) and 50 soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Giovanni Ferraris arrived in the city on 20th August 1944. They were headquartered in the Caserma Paride Biselli. The first actions of the unit were essentially escort missions.
In the same period, part of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS ‘Italia’ was deployed in the area. It was at the orders of SS-Obersturmbannführer Franz Binz’s Kampfgruppe ‘Binz’ command along with a 29th Division regiment.
The unit was extensively used in the area and, in the months after, many other soldiers and vehicles were deployed in the Piacenza countryside. On 17th March 1945, a German report gave a list of vehicles deployed by the 3ª Compagnia and 4ª Compagnia of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in the area of Piacenza:
In Montecchio (where the AGIP oil wells were located), these were commanded by Lieutenant Loffredo Loffredi.
Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ equipment in the area of Piacenza
Montechino garrison; Lieutenant Loffredo Loffredi
Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1937
Medium Machine gun
Fucile Mitragliatore Breda Modello 1930
Light machine gun
Moschetti Automatici Beretta (MAB)
Carro Armato M15/42
Carro Armato M13/40
Carro Armato L3
2; 1 non-operational
3; 1 non-operational
7; 5 non-operational
Rallio Garrison; Lieutenant Francesco Motta
Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1937
Medium machine gun
Mitragliatrice Media Breda Modello 1938
Medium machine gun
Mitragliatrice Media FIAT-Revelli Modello 1914/1935
Medium machine gun
Fucile Mitragliatore Breda Modello 1930
Light machine gun
Moschetti Automatici Beretta
Carro Armato L3
3; 2 non-operational
Moto Guzzi Alce
Moto Bianchi 500 M
Piacenza; Captain Giovanni Bodda
Carro Armato M13/40
Carri Armati L6/40
Armored personnel carrier
Moto Guzzi Alce
Unluckily, the sources do not mention when the Carri Armati M13/40 were deployed in Piacenza. It is probable that they arrived in February 1945, after some heavy clashes with partisans. In Piacenza was also located the II Battaglione SS ‘Debica’ with the 3 Carri Armati M detached from the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ after the Operazione Avanti. It seems that the tanks were only theoretically assigned to the Italian SS unit, in fact it seems that not all 3 were operational in Piacenza.
On 12th April, the situation was slightly changed by the arrival of a Carro Armato M14/41 in the Montechino garrison, which had also repaired its Carro Armato L3. The Rallio garrison had received 1 running condition Carro Armato M13/40 (probably from the Montechino garrison). It had an operational Carro Armato L3 and another one under repairs.
The Piacenza headquarter had at its disposal 1 Carro Armato M13/40, 1 Carro Armato L6/40 and an Autoblinda AB41 under repairs, while an Autoblinda AB41 and 2 Semoventi L40 da 47/32 (they arrived on 20th April) were combat ready.
On 15th April, the 3 operational medium tanks (an M13, an M14, and an M15) were assigned to the I. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon of the Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment SS 81. of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS ‘Italia’. The light tanks were assigned to the II. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon ‘Nettuno’ from the same regiment, while the Autoblinde AB41 remained under Capt. Bodda’s command. The operational one, under the command of Legionnaire Medoro Minetti, was used to support the withdrawal of the Fascist garrisons in Montechino and Rallio.
The armored vehicles placed in Rallio were transported to Rivergaro and placed with the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ soldiers as garrison in the city, together with the Battaglione ‘Mantova’ of the V Brigata Nera Mobile ‘Quagliata’.
The German and Italian officers in Piacenza concentrated all the units under their command in Piacenza, apart from the I. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon and II. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon ‘Nettuno’. On 16th April, these latter units attacked Gropparello and Perino, inflicting heavy losses on the partisans.
During the next few days, the Brazilian forces of the Força Expedicionária Brasileira (English: Brazilian Expeditionary Force) and US troops entered Bologna and advanced further north.
The partisans tried to enter the city of Piacenza from all directions. The I. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon retreated from Gropparello with their three medium tanks on 24th April. Two tanks were commanded by Vice Brigadier Donati and Vice Brigadier Martini, while the third one was probably Lieutenant Rinetti’s. The unit reached Pontenure, deploying on a defensive line along the Nure river, with the headquarters of the unit placed in a nearby farm on the Via Emilia.
On 25th April morning, 1 Semovente L40 da 47/32 under Second Lieutenant Giancarlo Fazioli left the Piacenza barracks of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, leaving the city and taking the Via Emilia with 7 or 8 soldiers and a German officer. Their task was to reach the Allied reconnaissance units to counter them and slow down the Allied advance.
After crossing the II. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon ‘Nettuno’ defensive line, south of Piacenza, it met Allied forces near Montale, 6 km south of Piacenza, and after firing some 47 mm rounds in the direction of the Allied forces, retreated before becoming an easy target for Allied artillery.
On the same day, I. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon exchanged some light gun bursts with a platoon of A Company of the 755th Tank battalion of the US Army, which supported some troops of the 135th Infantry Division. The skirmish cost the life of a single Italian soldier.
After the skirmish, German commander SS-Obersturmbannführer Franz Binz, who commanded the Italian SS, ordered the battalion to retreat and to entrench itself in a defensive line closer to Piacenza. The I. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon ‘Debica’ was located in the south-east part of Piacenza, in the city of Montale.
The 1. Kompanie (English: 1st Company), under the command of Waffen-SS Obersturmführer Giorgio Giorgi, was placed on the left side of the defensive line, the 2. Kompanie (English: 2nd Company), under the command of Waffen-SS Obersturmführer Vittorio Passéra, was on the right side, while the Abteilung-Schwere-Waffen (English: Heavy Weapons Section) of the 4. Kompanie (English: 4th Company) under Waffen-SS Obersturmführer Franco Lanza was a few hundred meters behind them with the support guns. The heavy equipment of the unit consisted of 81 mm mortars and some Cannoni da 47/32 Modello 1935 or 1939 anti-tank guns.
A few months before, the unit was equipped with 6 75 mm mountain howitzers, 6 Cannoni da 47/32 Modello 1935 or 1939 anti-tank guns, and three 20 mm automatic cannons, but it is not clear if some were lost in the previous weeks and how many were deployed in Montale.
On the morning of 26th April, the US soldiers of the 135th Infantry Division, supported by Sherman tanks of A Company, A platoon of B Company, and some M7 Priests of the 755th Tank battalion, stormed the defensive line of the Italian SS soldiers. Arriving within range of the German produced Panzerfausts (used for the first time by the units in combat) in the hands of the Italian soldiers, the US tanks were easily knocked out, while the Italian tanks and guns on the rear guard started heavy suppression fire in the direction of the US forces.
During the attack, the US soldiers were forced to retreat, leaving the task of breaking through the Italian lines to the Shermans. Some minutes after the start of the battle, the three medium tanks of the ‘Leonessa’ assigned to the Kampfgruppe ‘Binz’ arrived in the area, starting to fire at the US tanks. Some sources claim that there was probably also a Semovente L40 da 47/32 with them.
During the 20 minute-long battle, 2 Shermans and an M7 Priest were destroyed, while many others were damaged by mortar shells, Panzerfausts, and 47 mm armor piercing rounds and subsequently abandoned.
During the fighting, Waffen-SS Obersturmführer Giorgio Giorgi, a pair of NCOs and at least 4 soldiers of Kampfgruppe ‘Binz’ were killed. To these losses need to be added a squad of soldiers of the 2. Kompanie that was barricaded in a farm and was attacked by one of the Shermans. After a brief skirmish, the Italian soldiers surrendered. Corporal Major Rosario Carli was shot by US troops after surrendering because he refused to hand over personal items and for responding to the beating he suffered.
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ suffered the loss of a driver and of Second Lieutenant Arnaldo Rinetti, the last Italian tank crew member killed in action during the Second World War. The information about his death is not so clear. Many sources claim different variants of which, in the past years, some were refuted.
At least two tanks were commanded by Vice Brigadier Donati and Lieutenant Rinetti. If the Semovente L40 da 47/32 was really deployed in the battle, it seems that the vehicle commander was Legionnaire Mimmo Bontempelli.
During the battle, one of the medium tanks was hit, probably by a US 75 mm armor piercing round. Which Italian tank was hit is nowadays a mystery. Lieutenant Loffredi, during an interview reported in the book …Come il Diamante, stated that, during the retreat after the battle, the Carro Armato M13/40 was present, commanded by Vice Brigadier Donati, while all the other sources claim that the vehicle targeted by the American shell was a Carro Armato M13/40. However, the armor piercing round penetrated an unspecified frontal part of the tank, killing the driver, cutting his legs and lightly wounding the commander who got out of the vehicle with slight burns. The crew tried to restart the vehicle, but it probably suffered a mechanical failure.
Lt. Rinetti did not abandon the burning tank and continued to fire with the main gun even if the vehicle was immobile. From the testimony of a veteran of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS ‘Italia’, it seems that, from the crew, 3 crew members exited. Lt. Rinetti was probably killed by a splinter of armor after a second shot hit his tank a few minutes later.
A source claims that he was killed by partisans after surrender, a hypothesis refuted because there were no partisans in the area. Another interesting hypothesis was the one that claimed that Lt. Rinetti was killed by the breech of the 47 mm gun during recoil.
This hypothesis is plausible as Italian medium tanks were cramped vehicles and, with a fifth crew member, the space inside would be really limited but. However, it needs to be noticed that, during the same day, Vice Brigadier Casoni was hit in the face by the 47 mm gun breech during recoil and, after the battle, he went to the Piacenza military infirmary to be treated.
The source which states that Lt. Rinetti died from the gun recoil was probably a confusion, created perhaps by a veteran who unwittingly mixed the two stories.
Another source claims that Lt. Rinetti was captured by US troops and transported to a prisoner camp, where he was shot by partisans to take revenge for all their fellow comrades killed by the ‘Leonessa’ tanks in the last months of war in the Piacenza area. However, this claim appears to have no supporting sources.
Anyway, the US Army had already won the battle and another heavy tribute of life was not necessary. For this reason, the fight was brief and, for the rest of the day, the Allied forces maintained the Italian positions under heavy artillery fire. This was also done to prevent the Italian soldiers from capturing the damaged Sherman and Priests abandoned on the battlefield.
The I. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon ‘Debica’ retreated from Montale and was redeployed between Via Emilia and Mortizza, where one of the two river ferries used to reach the northern shore of the Po river was stationed.
During the battle between the I. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon ‘Debica’ and the US soldiers, the partisans had infiltrated the city and the Fascist forces of the city fought back, supported by the soldiers of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, the operational Autoblindo AB41 of Vice Brigadier Campanini, a tank (model unspecified but probably the Carro Armato L6/40 or a Carro Armato L3) and an automatic cannon.
On the night of 26th April, all the ‘Leonessa’s’ guns, ammunition and fuel depots were destroyed to prevent partisan capture. The non-operational vehicles were also destroyed, including the Autoblindo AB41 of Lt. Minetti.
The vehicles that survived destruction in Piacenza were:
2 Semoventi L40 da 47/32
1 Carro Armato L6/40 under repair
1 Carro Armato M13/40 of unknown status
1 Autoblindo AB41
2 medium tanks assigned to the I. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon ‘Debica’ (model unknown).
1 Carro Armato L3 assigned to the II. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon ‘Nettuno’.
During the night, the majority of German and Italian units crossed the Po river under the cover of darkness. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ and the ‘Debica’ and ‘Nettuno’ battalions remained on the southern shore of the river to defend the city.
The Allied troops could easily enter the city and destroy the ferries with their armored forces, but they had made an agreement in the past days with the partisans. The partisans would free the city and then the Allied troops could enter. This decision favored the Fascist soldiers in the city that, with a few tanks, could slow down the partisan liberation.
On 27th April, the partisans suffered heavy losses and a total of 18 partisans lost their lives during two different clashes with the Fascists. Two medium tanks were under ‘Debica’s’ command, along with the last L3 of ‘Nettuno’. The Semoventi L40 da 47/32 were protecting the pier of Mortizza’s ferry for the duration of the day.
The I. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon ‘Debica’ was not employed in action on 27th April and, at dawn on 28th April, was transferred to the northern shore of the Po river from Mortizza. During the crossing, some shells fell near the ferry without causing losses. The two medium tanks were probably too heavy for the Mortizza ferry and, on 27th April, they left the Italian SS unit to reach the other ferry pier in San Rocco al Porto, less than 5 km from Mortizza ferry.
The tanks waited all day and, on the morning of 28th April 1945, one of the two tanks was transferred to the other shore.
The second tank, claimed by Lt. Giancarlo Grazioli to be a Carro Armato M13/40, remained on the southern shore to defend the pier but was destroyed by artillery fire during the same day at an unknown hour.
The remaining 20 soldiers of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ and 20 soldiers of the 162. Infanterie-Division ‘Turkistan’ were taken from the command of Lieutenant of 1st Class Loffredi and transferred to Lieutenant Romolo Paroletti.
Lt. Paroletti divided the soldiers in squads of 10 soldiers (5 Italian and 5 Turkmeni) that entrenched on the main roads of Piacenza: the State Road for Cremona, Via Emilia Parmense, Via Emilia Pavese, and State Road 45.
The soldiers were well equipped. They took all the Italian firearms that remained in the city, such as heavy and light machine guns and submachine guns, dozens of hand grenades and also some really rare Italian anti-tank hand grenades.
The Turkmeni were also equipped with 8.8 cm Raketenwerfer 43 ‘Puppchen’ anti-tank rocket launchers.
The night of 28th April passed calmly, with Lieutenant Paroletti in a medium tank that patrolled the city roads.
Lt. Paroletti mentioned that the tank was a Carro Armato M14/41. If this information is true, it probably means that the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ mechanics in Piacenza had repaired the second Carro Armato M13/40 before the partisan insurrection and US attack.
Unfortunately, this information cannot be confirmed. However, the book …Come il Diamante reports that an Carro Armato M13/40 was left to defend the San Rocco pier.
Three or 4 medium tanks had left the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ barracks in Piacenza on 26th April 1945. A Carro Armato M13/40 was knocked out in Montale, while the rest retreated. The Carro Armato M15/42 crossed the Po river on 28th April, the last Carro Armato M13/40 was destroyed by artillery fire on 28th April while the last tank, a Carro Armato M14/41, was used to patrol the city of Piacenza.
During the night of 28th April 1945, the Carro Armato M14/41 was connected to an old WW1-era FIAT 18BL which the tank towed through all the city, taking all the Italian and Fascist soldiers still in Piacenza. Shortly after 0400 hrs., the soldiers reached San Rocco al Porto. The troops dismounted from the vehicles and crossed the Po river with the ferry.
Arriving on the northern shore, the ferry was destroyed and the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ veterans claimed that they were able to see US tanks already on the southern shore. The Carro Armato M14/41 that Lieutenant Paroletti used all night on patrol was ferried with the soldiers, while the old truck was abandoned near the shore, where dozens of damaged vehicles lay abandoned by the Axis forces.
While the soldiers were leaving the southern shore, a Carro Armato L6/40 tank reached their position at maximum speed. It was the Carro Armato L6/40 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ deployed in Piacenza which, during the last days, was blocked in the barracks for maintenance. During the night, the crew had repaired it and was ready to transport it on the other shore but the Germans refused this, probably due to the lack of time. For the transport of the light tank, the ferry had to do 2 river crossings, wasting time, fuel (which probably they did not have) and increasing the risk that US or partisan forces would attack the ferry.
Lieutenant Romolo Paroletti ordered the sabotage of the tank and, when the ferry was on its way to cross the river with the medium tank loaded on, he ordered firing a pair of 47 mm rounds to totally destroy it.
On the morning of 28th April, the survivors of Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ and the Kampfgruppe ‘Binz’ restarted their march in the northern direction towards Erba to reach the rest of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS ‘Italia’.
Their real task was to reach Travagliato, near Brescia, to join the Kommandostab Ersatz Einheiten der italienischen Waffenverbände der SS (English: SS Italian Armed Forces Reserve Unit Command) under SS-Sturmbannführer Luis Thaler. Together, they were then meant to reach the Alto Adige region passing through Val Camonica.
For unknown reasons, only some soldiers of the 162. Infanterie-Division ‘Turkistan’ reached Travagliato.
On 28th April 1945, the soldiers of Kampfgruppe ‘Binz’ entered Santo Stefano Lodigiano, already liberated by the partisans. The partisans, seeing the Italian Fascist soldiers, preferred to retreat from the city and hid themselves in a nearby forest. The Italians freed hundreds of Fascist soldiers captured during the partisan attack of the previous days and also a dozen trucks.
The column restarted the march with a total of about 2,000 soldiers, including about 100 Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’s’ soldiers under Lieutenant Loffredi’s command. Together with them were about a hundred trucks, cars and motorbikes, 3 tanks (2 Carri Armati M15/42s and a Carro Armato M14/41), the Semovente L40 da 47/32 and an Autoblindo AB41 armored car. There were also some 75 mm howitzers, 4 Cannoni da 47/32 and some 20 mm automatic cannons.
The Semovente L40 da 47/32 of Second Lieutenant Giancarlo Fazioli fell into a canal near the road on the same day due to the ground collapsing under its weight. It was recovered after a few hours with a pair of oxen pulling it out of the canal.
In order to avoid US air strikes, the column was divided into three sections, with the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ vehicles in the front section, the II. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon ‘Nettuno’ in the center section, and the I. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon ‘Debica’ at the rear of the column.
For about half an hour, the reconnaissance groups of the column had a skirmish with partisan forces in Guardamiglio, where the partisans had a 20 mm automatic cannon on top of a bell tower and opened fire on the forward units of the column. After the fighting, the column was attacked by 3 Republic P-47 ‘Thunderbolts’ US ground attack planes.
During the attack, the last Lancia 3Ro of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was damaged by 0.50 in. machine gun rounds, while the quick reaction of the Fascist soldiers damaged an US plane. Hauptmann Noweck, with a German 20 mm FlaK, shot down one of the planes.
The Lancia was towed by a medium tank and the column quickly restarted to move, reaching Codogno, where the column was ready to fight the partisans in the city. These had captured some German soldiers of another unit.
The unit commander and SS-Obersturmbannführer Franz Binz started discussions with the partisans and, in the evening, they managed to convince the partisans to free the Germans, or they would shell the city with artillery fire.
At midnight, the column stopped. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ stayed in Livraga, the II. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon ‘Nettuno’ in Ospedaletto, and the I. Waffen-Grenadier Bataillon ‘Debica’ stayed in Somaglia. The Semovente L40 da 47/32 crew slept in Brembio, near Livraga, where the Fascist soldiers entered the city pub where there were also some partisans. Before entering the city, in order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, the partisans and fascists agreed to a ceasefire for the night.
On 29th April 1945, the march restarted on secondary roads to avoid the US planes. Around noon, the column reached Sesto San Giovanni, where some partisan commanders from Lodi arrived to have the column surrender.
German Commander Franz Binz strongly refused to surrender, intending to reach the city of Erba at all costs. During these hours, the Semovente L40 da 47/32 commanded by Lt. Fazioli was assigned to the ‘Debica’ battalion.
The soldiers under Lieutenant Loffredi’s command were composed of about 80 GNR soldiers of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, 9 German sailors from the ferry, one female auxiliary, 4 militiamen, probably from the XIII Brigata Nera ‘Turchetti’, the Carro Armato M13/40 (the other one was abandoned due to mechanical failure), the Autoblindo AB41 and 2 trucks, of which one damaged. All the soldiers were well armed. Some hours before, they learned of the death of Benito Mussolini and the majority of the ‘Turchetti’ militiamen decided to return to their homes.
In Locate Triulzi, Lieutenant Loffredi’s forces, which now served as the vanguard of the column with about 600 ‘Nettuno’ soldiers, met some partisans. After a furious discussion between Lt. Loffredi and the partisan commander of the area, the partisans left the small city without shooting a single bullet.
During the night, at 2300 hrs., part of the column tried to advance but was blocked by a roadblock in Zizzolo and surrendered to the partisans.
On the morning of 30th April, the column restarted the march but was blocked again in Melzo by the partisans. After a few hours, they reached an agreement. They restarted the march but they were shortly after reached by US tanks from the 34th Infantry Division. SS-Obersturmbannführer Franz Binz finally surrendered to the Allied forces.
The troops under Lieutenant Loffredi had taken another road the night before and were not blocked in Melzo. They moved toward San Giuliano Milanese, Caleppio and Truccazzano, finally approaching Trecella, where they took a break to repair the Carro Armato M13/40 that still worked, but not at its best. Lt. Loffredi, along with some officers, reached the school of Trecella, where they spoke with an US NCO, trying to gain time while the crew repaired the tank.
When the tank was ready to move again, the force was encircled by at least 6 M18 Hellcat tanks, so Lt. Loffredi was forced to surrender.
From a postwar letter of Lt. Loffredi, it is claimed that the last tank was an Carro Armato M13/40 and that the US tank crew found it ready, permitting the crew to restart the engine with the crank, laughing a lot for all the operation. All the soldiers under Lt. Loffredi were taken prisoner without any problems.
Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Milan
In mid October 1944, the Compagnia Addestramento (English: Training Company) of the ‘Leonessa’ was transferred to the former Reggimento ‘Savoia cavalleria’ barracks in Via Monti with training tasks. Shortly after, it became part of the combat ready unit.
It was commanded by Major Egidio Zerbio. It was first planned to become an independent battalion but, due to the lack of men and vehicles, it remained under Leonessa’s command with logistic and support tasks. It supported the troops deployed in Piacenza and defended the Oleoblitz, the last refinery of Italy to produce fuel from the oil that came from Piacenza.
The unit remained a training unit and trained new crew members that were assigned to different Gruppo Corazzato companies around northern Italy after the courses.
The crew members were trained to drive armored cars in the city streets. For the tank driving lessons, the fields filled with US bomb craters near the barracks were used.
For training duties, a Carro Armato M13/40 and a Carro Armato M14/41 arrived from Turin. These were shortly accompanied by 2 Carri Armati L3 light tanks and a Semovente L40 da 47/32 recovered from some depots in Milan and repaired by the workshop of the unit in Milan.
In early 1945, Lieutenant Barone found 5 or 6 Italian medium tanks in Chiari. These arrived in Milan by railway. In the book I Mezzi Corazzati Italiani della Guerra Civile 1943-1945, the writer mentions a German document reported that the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ recovered about 30 damaged medium tanks from the Germans, who were in the process of scrapping them.
In the same book, Paolo Crippa states that only 5 of these tanks were repairable. This could suggest that the vehicles found by Lieutenant Barone were part of this batch. This also clarifies why the depot of the Distaccamento di Milano (English: Milan Detachment), as it was called, was full of spare parts. They were probably recovered from badly damaged tanks. The tanks were probably sent to Turin after repairs.
On 16th December 1944, the Distaccamento di Milano participated in the last speech of Mussolini at the Lyric Theater. Mussolini then climbed on the turret of a Carro Armato M15/42 tank outside the theater to make a second shorter speech. On the same day, Mussolini visited the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ barracks in Milan, where 2 Carri Armati M15/42 and 2 Autoblinde AB41 were lined up.
This means that the Carro Armato M13/40 was under repair, or the tank was assigned to another company. The first hypothesis makes more sense because the unit was created only in mid October 1944 and needed time to train the crews. It seems improbable that, in just 2 months, the tank was reassigned.
However, on 25th April 1945, Lieutenant Morandi participated with a medium tank in supporting the Fascist units in Sesto San Giovanni. With some soldiers, he then reached the Fiera Campionaria depot in Milan to take some freshly built armored vehicles not yet assigned to the Axis forces. They recovered 2 Autoblinde AB43 medium reconnaissance armored cars.
The same night, the company prepared to leave Milan and reach Valtellina. The Distaccamento di Milano was deployed with its armored vehicles in the front and rear of the column of Fascist forces leaving Milan.
The column left Milan at about 0600 hrs. on 26th April and the march for the valley was eventful, with some air attacks (without significant damage) and some machine gun fire from a partisan motorcycle that quickly retreated under the fire of the 47 mm cannon of the semovente.
During their way to Como, a Carro Armato M13/40 of the Distaccamento di Milano had a mechanical failure and Lt. Morandi shot some pistol rounds into the engine to make it unrepairable. One of the Autoblinde AB43s also had a failure of the fuel ignition system, but the failure was shortly repaired and the armored car reached Como. On the afternoon of 26th April, the Distaccamento di Milano arrived in Caserma De Cristoforis in Como. There, it surrendered to the partisans, as Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana’s High Commander, General Niccolò Nicchiarelli, had ordered.
The number of vehicles in service with the Distaccamento di Milano is uncertain. When it was transferred to Milan, it had only a Carro Armato M13/40 and a Carro Armato M14/41. Two months later, it had at least 2 Carri Armati M15/42, 2 Autoblinde AB41 armored cars, a Carro Armato L3 light tank, and probably a Carro Armato M13/40.
Before departing from Milan on 25th April night or 26th April early morning, Vincenzo Costa, one of the soldiers of the unit, wrote a list mentioning that the column that was leaving Milan had 10 tanks and 4 armored cars. The number of armored cars coincided with those present in the unit 4 months earlier (2 Autoblinde AB41 + 2 Autoblinde AB43 taken the day before), while the number of tanks had increased, although some may have been Carro Armato L3 light tanks from other Milanese units.
Comando Provinciale della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana
The Reparto Corazzato (English: Armored Department) of the Compagnia Comando (English: Command Company) of the Comando Provinciale della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: Provincial Command of the Republican National Guard) in Varese had in its ranks a Carro Armato M13/40 and an Autoblinda AB41 armored car recovered shortly after the Armistice by Captain Giacomo Michaud from the countryside of Varese.
These were probably used only to defend the Varese’s command building and escort some convoys without fighting until September 1944. In September 1944, the High Command of the National Republican Army ordered the Provincial Command to send its armored vehicles in the Val d’Ossola area against the partisan brigades.
The vehicles, under Capt. Michaud’s command, arrived at Laveno and were embarked on a ferry, arriving in Cannobio on 9th September. However, only the Carro Armato M13/40 was disembarked while the Autoblinda AB41 that suffered from mechanical failure and returned to Varese.
The Carro Armato M13/40 took part in the Operazione ‘Avanti’ against the Ossola Republic, but in another sector of the battlefield. It departed from Cannobio and advanced east to Domodossola supporting 2 Nazi-Fascist columns. It was deployed in the area and then in Val Formazza against Partisan units until late October 1944. In that period it was heavily damaged, while the Cap. Michaud was badly wounded.
The Carro Armato M13/40 returned to the workshop in Varese but could not be repaired due to a lack of spare parts. Together with the unrepaired Autoblinda AB41, it was sent probably to Genoa or Turin. There they were repaired by specialized workshops and then were assigned to other unknown units.
XXI Brigata Nera ‘Stefano Rizzardi’
In a document from the Undersecretary of the Ministry of the Interior Giorgio Pini, in January 1945, the XXI Brigata Nera ‘Stefano Rizzardi’ (English: 21st Black Brigade) of Verona had a Carro Armato M13/40. The unit was named after Bersagliere Stefano Rizzardi, who died on 26th October 1943 and was the first Italian soldier awarded the Memorial Gold Medal for Military Valor.
Unfortunately, little information is known about the black brigade of Verona. In August 1944, the commander was Luigi Sioli and the total brigade force was about 150 soldiers.
The tank, used to patrol the streets of the city of Verona, was probably taken from the depot of the former 27° Deposito Misto Reggimentale when it was disbanded.
About the service of the former Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ tanks, the Partisan commander Giacomo Cibra, nicknamed ‘Nino’ that commanded the 5° Squadra Volante (English: 5th Flying Squad) of the 11ª Brigata Partigiana ‘Matteotti’ (English: 11th Partisan Brigade).
In his book written after the war Cibra explained that, on 24th April 1945 night, while the majority of the Partisans attacked the Axis forces at Carugate, his detachment remained in Pioltello stopped a Nazi-Fascist column of vehicles in Cerusco sul Naviglio, near the tram station.
The Axis soldiers, aware of the imminent end of the war, surrendered weapons and vehicles peacefully. Cibra explained that created a column composed of 2 tanks (2 Carri Armati M13/40 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’), a German armored car, 2 trucks full of partisans, and a staff car in which Cibra himself took his seat.
The column, after small skirmishes along the journey, reached Milan, entering in the northeastern boulevard Corso Buenos Aires.
As they advanced on the boulevard, at the height of Porta Venezia, in the downtown they met a car full of fascist soldiers that opened fire against the Partisan column.
One of the two tanks, probably while the driver tried to stop it to open fire, broke a track hitting at high speed a sidewalk and was abandoned.
The other tank, nicknamed ‘TEMPESTA’ (English: Storm), was deployed first to patrol some streets of the city and, on 26th April 1945 it was deployed in the final Partisan assault on Piazza 4 Novembre, where was located the Milanese headquarter of the Xa Divisione MAS.
On 27th April 1945 the tank nicknamed ‘TEMPESTA’ was transported to Pioltello, city of origin of most of the partisans of the 11ª Brigata Partigiana ‘Matteotti’ after the end of the battle in Milan. It was shown in the great partisan parade in Pioltello on 1st May 1945.
Always from Cibra’s testimony, the damaged tank was transported to Cernusco sul Naviglio where it was repaired in a local workshop with spare track links that Cibra had recovered somewhere in Milan.
Another Carro Armato M13/40 was taken on 25th April 1945 by the partisans of the 183ª Brigata Partigiana ‘Garibaldi’ (English: 183th Partisan Brigade) in Saronno. The tank was damaged by a Panzerfaust hit and the partisans took it to a Elettro Meccanica Societa Anonima or CEMSA (English: Caproni Electro Mechanical Limited Company) workshop. There, the tank was repaired by two Soviet prisoners of war that joined the Italian communist partisans after escaping from a fascist prison camp.
It was put in service again to patrol the streets of the city of Saronno during the partisan uprising and then publicly shown after the war for some time in the city.
At least one Carro Armato M13/40 was captured by the partisans in the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani barrack of Turin. Partisan’s War Diary declares that the vehicle was used during the fighting to liberate the city. It seems not clear if this statement is correct, in fact, if the vehicle had been in a condition to march, the Fascist forces would have taken him with them and not abandoned a working vehicle in enemy hands.
Some Italian sources, about the Comando Provinciale della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana of Varese, only the armored car was sent back to Turin or Genoa for reparations while the tank remained in Varese where it was delivered peacefully by the Fascist to the Partisans at the war’s end on 25th April 1945. In the image of this vehicle it seems a Carro Armato M13/40 of 1st series or a Carro Armato M14/41; unfortunately the bad quality of the image and the presence of Partisans in front of it, did not permit a clear identification.
Camouflage and Markings
The Carri Armati M13/40s used in the first months of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana usually maintained the common monochrome Kaki Sahariano (English: Saharan Khaki) desert camouflage used by the majority of former Regio Esercito vehicles.
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ medium tanks (4 Carri Armati M13/40 and a Carro Armato M15/42) received three different camouflage schemes: at least 1 Carro Armato M13/40 was painted with a green-gray camouflage (probably the one applied at Ansaldo), while some other Carri Armati M13/40 received some medium brown and dark green spots camouflage. The Carro Armato M15/42 (and maybe also some Carri Armati M13/40s) were in Kaki Sahariano camouflage.
On the sides of the turret, at the front, lions were painted standing on two legs in a white rectangle. The lion was the symbol of the ‘Leoncello’. At the center of the turret was a tricolor Italian flag. Above the tricolor was painted a Roman numeral, indicating the number of the squadron, in this case the I Squadrone Carri M. Under the tricolor, in Arabic numerals, the number of the tank in the squadron was painted. These symbols were also painted on the turret rear, while on the front hull armored plate, between the driver and machine gunner’s positions, was only an Italian flag. Each tank also received a name painted near the driver’s slot. The names were painted in white capital letters.
The 2nd tank of the squadron was painted in green-gray camouflage and was named ‘TEMPESTA’ (English: Storm). The 3rd tank of the same squadron had the three tone camouflage but its name is not known.
The Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ tanks were painted in standard Kaki Sahariano camouflage and received the unit’s coat of arms on the front of the casemate.
The coat of arms changed with the evolution of the unit. The earliest one was a simple Italian flag. After Spring 1944, the black silhouette of an Italian medium tank was added on the flag. After late 1944, the flag was repainted as waving with the black silhouette of an Italian self-propelled gun.
At least one of the Carro Armato M13/40 medium tanks of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani was painted with a particular three-tone camouflage similar to the Continentale (English: Continental) applied by Ansaldo on the tanks ready to be delivered. The Continentale had dark green and reddish brown spots on the original Kaki Sahariano camouflage.
In this case, it seems that the unit totally covered the Kaki Sahariano original paint with two different shades of dark green spots and then they outlined the border of the spots with slight Kaki Sahariano lines.
The medium tanks of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ were painted in usual Kaki Sahariano camouflage with the unit’s symbol, a red ‘m’ with a lictorial beam (symbol of the Fascist party) intersected by a lictorian beam. Under it was the acronym GNR painted in red. These coats of arms were painted on the turret sides and rear and were the only symbols painted on the Carri Armati M13/40 of which there are available images. The tanks also had a license plate with the acronym GNR. These plates were probably the original Regio Esercito ones but with the acronym RE covered. This hypothesis is supported because one of the license plates, ‘Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana 4340’, was probably the former ‘Regio Esercito 4340’.
After late 1944, the camouflage was modified on almost all the medium tanks, even if at least one Carro Armato M13/40 deployed in Turin was not repainted. The vehicles were now also painted with a camouflage similar to the Continentale, with dark green and medium brown spots, sometimes covering the coat of arms on the turret sides and sometimes maintaining them.
The Carro Armato M13/40 was already an obsolete vehicle when it was substituted by the Carro Armato M14/41 in 1941. Its main problem was the underpowered engine that did not permit it a good speed or good off road characteristics.
However, when used to stop the partisan maneuvers, the old Carri Armati M13/40 proved to be a more than adequate vehicle. Fighting the partisans, who did not have anti-tank weapons such as cannons, anti-tank guns, or rocket launchers, medium tanks were virtually unstoppable.
The absence of sand also favored the tank, which suffered fewer mechanical failures on the Italian mainland. This also permitted the crews to operate on mountain streets where partisans operated without overstressing the engines.
Carro Armato M13/40 Specification
4.915 x 2.280 x 2.370 m
Weight, battle ready
4 (driver, machine gunner, gunner/commander, and loader)
FIAT-SPA 8T Modello 1940 diesel, 8-cylinder, 11,140 cm³ 125 hp at 1’800 rpm
one Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935 with 87 rounds, four 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 medium machine guns with 2,592 rounds
Hull: 30 mm front, 25 mm sides and rear. Turret: 30 mm front, 25 mm sides and rear.
710 built until mid 1941, less than 25 in RSI service.
I Mezzi Corazzati Italiani della Guerra Civile 1943-1945 – Paolo Crippa – TankMasterSpecial Italian and English Edition Volume 5
I Carristi di Mussolini: Il Gruppo Corazzato “Leonessa” dalla MSVN alla RSI – Paolo Crippa – Witness to war Volume 3
… Come il Diamante. I Carristi Italiani 1943-45 – Marco Nava and Sergio Corbatti – Laran Editions
Dal Fronte Jugoslavo alla Val d’Ossola, Cronache di guerriglia e guerra civile. 1941-1945 – Ajmone Finestra – Mursia
Il Battaglione SS “Debica”: Una documentazione: SS-Freiwilligen Bataillon “Debica” – Leonardo Sandri – eBook
La “repubblica” dell’Ossola – Paolo Bologna
Storia dei Reparti Corazzati della Repubblica Sociale Italiana 1943-1945 – Paolo Crippa – Marvia Edizioni
I Sbarbàa e i Tosànn che Fecero la Repubblica, Fatti, Storie, Documenti dal Primo Dopoguerra alla Liberazione a Pioltello – Giacomo Cibra – Lupetti
Italian Social Republic (1944-1945)
Improvised Armored Truck – 1 Converted
The FIAT 666N Blindato (English: Armored) was an Italian improvised heavy armored truck used by the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico (English: 630th Public Order Company) of Piacenza, a unit assigned to the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Guard), the Italian military police.
This armored behemoth was obviously used not used for public duties, as the name of the unit would suggest, but as an armored personnel carrier and armored car in anti-partisan operations in the city of Piacenza and its country-side, where it became famous with the partisans for its sturdiness and invulnerability to small arms.
After the end of the North African Campaign with the defeat of the Axis troops in May 1943, the popular discontent with Fascism increased. The King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, took the opportunity to regain power.
With the collaboration of some fascist generals, Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, was deposed and a Monarchist government was created. In less than 2 months, an armistice with the Allied powers was in place.
On 8 September 1943, the signing of the armistice between the Kingdom of Italy and the Allied powers was made public, to the great surprise of the Italian soldiers that were left unaware of the situation up to that point.
The Germans immediately launched Fall Achse (English: Operation Axis), an already planned operation to capture the remaining Italian troops, equipment and territory. This operation lasted from 8 September to 23 September 1943, and saw them occupy all the territories under Italian control in Italy, including the northern and central parts of the Italian peninsula still in the hands of the Axis forces.
Mussolini was freed from a secret prison on 12 September 1943 by a task force of Fallschirmjäger (English: Paratroopers) under Waffen-SS command and transferred to Germany. There, he met Adolf Hitler and decided to found a new republic in the Italian territories not yet occupied by the Allies.
On 23 September 1943, Mussolini returned to Italy, founding the new Repubblica Sociale Italiana with two new military corps, the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army) and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR (English: National Republican Guard), a paramilitary corps with public order and military police tasks. However, some units under GNR command, such as the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group), were well equipped and trained and acted as normal army units.
These corps were formed from Italian prisoners of war in German prisoner camps, and from not already enlisted young Italians, or Italian workers not necessary to the military economy of the nation.
Apart from some well-equipped and trained units, the majority of the Italian military forces were composed of poorly trained and equipped soldiers, mainly used by the Axis command in anti-partisan operations, or to support German troops on Italian soil.
The necessity of these units located in the small cities of Italy as garrisons to combat the partisan formations were realized and, for that the compagnie di ordine pubblico (English: public order companies), small police units composed of fascist militiamen badly equipped by the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, were deployed on the whole Italian peninsula not yet liberated by the Allied forces.
During their service, the compagnie di ordine pubblico were also used to help other GNR units in anti-partisan operations, to maintain public order in the cities and prevent partisan sabotages.
The Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana was born after the proposal of Renato Ricci to merge all of the paramilitary units of the RSI (Carabinieri, militias, Polizia dell’Africa Italiana) into one large corps.
In the first half of 1944, the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana could rely on about 130,000 militiamen, soldiers, auxiliaries, police officers and Fiamme Bianche (English: White Flames), the name given to the young fascists between 14 to 18 years old (about 12,000), and were rarely deployed in active service.
The 130,000 men deployed by the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana were assigned to 10 regional inspectorates, 58 provincial commands, 5 militia territorial defense regiments, 5 battaglioni ordine pubblico (English: public order battalions), 53 compagnie ordine pubblico, 6 territorial battalions and other non-military units, such as investigation units, special police inspectorates, training and juvenile units.
Piacenza and the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico
Piacenza is one of the biggest cities of the region of Emiglia-Romagna, located in the center north of the Italian peninsula. Piacenza was the capital of the homonymous province, with a population (in 1936) of 64,210 inhabitants. It was an important city for the Italian economy, with a well organized agriculture. The city also had some small companies specialized in the bodywork of cars and trucks and in the production of truck trailers. Machinery tools were also important in Piacenza, with many companies specialized in the production of lathes and other components.
The city had one of the oldest arsenals of the Kingdom of Italy: the Arsenale Regio Esercito di Piacenza or AREP (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Piacenza). Until the armistice of September 1943, it was used mainly to produce and repair artillery pieces. After the armistice, it was renamed Arsenale di Piacenza and the workers restarted working for the Wehrmacht.
During the war, in the Piacenza province, about 2,400 soldiers, militiamen and partisans lost their lives. About ¼ of them were from Piacenza. Another 5,000 Italian soldiers from the province were forced to enlist as workers in Germany and disappeared for 2 years after the Armistice.
Another great problem was the Allied bombardments. During the war, from 2 May 1944 onward, about 30 formations of Allied 4-engine bombers attacked the city, plus about 60 other attacks of smaller formations or singular planes. During the bombardments, 266 civilians died and 10,000 civilians evacuated from the city. In total, 205 buildings were totally destroyed by Allied bombs, 116 heavily damaged and some hundreds slightly damaged.
After the Armistice of September 1943, the German forces transformed the city into a headquarters for their units in the region. The Plazkommandantur was placed in Via Santa Franca, under Colonel Blecher’s command. Under its command were a number of units deployed in the city. In Via Cavour 64 was a Waffen-SS unit and the Sicherheitspolizei or SIPO (English: Security Police) and in Via Garibaldi 7 was another SIPO unit.
The Todt Organization, a German civil and military engineering organization responsible for a huge range of engineering projects in all the occupied territories, also had some units in Piacenza. In Piazza Cavalli 94 was its volunteer enlisting center, while in the Caserma (English: Barrack) of Via Emilia Pavese were the dormitories for the Todt workers.
The San Damiano airbase near the city was also under German control (even if it was under German control before the Armistice). There were also the Train Station, the bridges, the arsenal and the most important company of the city, the Officine Massarenti, specialized in the extraction of the little oil found in the Piacenza countryside.
The Repubblica Sociale Italiana forces in the city were composed of the 83ª Legione della Milizia (English: 83rd Militia Legion) and the Corpo dei Carabinieri Reali (English: Corps of the Royal Carabinieri) that were stationed in Palazzo Farnese in Piazza Cittadella.
In the Piazza Cittadella barracks, there were also other RSI units, such as the Compagnia della Morte (English: Company of Death) under Major Ambrogio Gianneschi’s command. Units of the 4ª Divisione Alpina ‘Monterosa’ (English: 4th Alpine Division) and the 3ª Divisione di Fanteria di Marina ‘San Marco’ (English: 3rd Marine Infantry Division) were headquartered in Piacenza’s main square during their deployment in the region.
The 3ª Compagnia Arditi and 4ª Compagnia Mista (English: 3rd Arditi Company and 4th Mixed Company) of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ were headquartered in the city after January 1945. The Distaccamento Operativo di Piacenza (English: Operative Detachment of Piacenza), with 7 officers, 113 militiamen, one M15/42 medium tank, one L6/40 light tank, three L3 light tanks, 2 AB41 armored cars, two APCs, 13 motorbikes, a staff car and two trucks was also stationed there.
A small unit of the Xª Flottiglia MAS, units of the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ (English: Autonomous Mobile Legion) and finally the Battaglione ‘Vendetta’ and Battaglione ‘Debica’ assigned to the Kampfgruppe Binz of Colonel Franz Binz belonging to the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS ‘Italia’ had its headquarters in the city during its deployment in the province.
In August 1944, the XXVIIIª Brigata Nera (English: 28th Black Brigade) was named after Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Astorri (born 3rd March 1901 and deceased on 26 July 1944). He was a militiaman of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico killed during an anti-partisan operation in Chiosi di Bobbiano, 35 km south of Piacenza. The unit had, on 14 January 1945, a total of 17 officers, 42 NCOs and 182 militiamen and auxiliaries divided into two companies. It was equipped with three medium trucks, a light truck, a staff car and a Lancia 3Ro armored truck probably received from another GNR unit. In January 1945, the Black Brigade was equipped with 3 medium machine guns, 6 light machine guns and 220 rifles.
The XXXVIª Brigata Nera ‘Benito Mussolini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade), founded on 22 June 1944 in Lucca, was extensively employed in the Piacenza province. After the Allied offensives south of Florence, Lucca was evacuated on 4 July 1944. The Black Brigade retreated first to Bagni di Lucca, then to other locations until November 1944, when it was deployed in Piacenza. In December 1944, it was composed of 137 officers, NCOs, militiamen and auxiliaries. Its equipment was composed of an improvised armored truck: a Lancia 3Ro Blindato with an armored trailer, a Lancia 1500 Berlina Semiblindata civil car and some other medium trucks. The XXXVIª Brigata Nera was renamed ‘Natale Piacentini’ in December 1944, after the death of the militiaman on 24 November 1944.
In the enormous Caserma Generale Antonio Cantore, on an area of 22,200 m² in Stradone Farnese 35, the 630ª Comando Provinciale della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: 630th National Republican Guard’s Provincial Command) was headquartered, with a total of more than 500 militiamen, police officers and auxiliaries assigned to 42 garrisons in the Piacenza province. In Summer 1944, this number was diminished due partisan attacks to 22 garrisons and 527 members.
Under direct control of the 630ª Comando Provinciale della GNR was the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico, stationed in the Caserma Generale Antonio Cantore and the Caserma Paride Biselli of Via Beverora 54.
The 630ª Compagnia OP was commanded by Captain Mayer, who had served in the Balkans for two years before the Armistice, learning how to counter Yugoslav partisans. When he became commander of this GNR unit, he exploited his knowledge of anti-guerrilla warfare to counter the Italian partisans.
In fact, as part of the important task of infantry transport and anti-partisan operations, the improvised armored vehicles of the unit effectively carried out convoy escort missions and supply missions to isolated garrisons in the Piacenza province. They also counterattacked the partisans during the sieges of some isolated garrisons, permitting the soldiers to maintain the positions or, in the worst cases, open a breach in the partisan line, allowing the besieged fascists to escape.
This was done also with Regio Esercito improvised armored trucks used in the Balkans before the Armistice, such as the Renault ADR Blindato, from which Captain Mayer probably took inspiration.
The first vehicle that Cpt. Mayer’s attempt to transform into an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) was an old Ceirano 47CM produced by Giovanni Ceirano Fabbrica Automobili (English: Giovanni Ceirano Car Factory) company after 1927.
It was not an easy task. In fact, the arsenal now worked almost exclusively for German orders and Mayer had to insist with the German command, which in the end allowed some workers to work on the armor of the truck.
It is unknown the exact number and the model of trucks that the company deployed in early 1944, but it is logical to suppose that the vehicle was chosen for its obsolescence as a transport truck. In fact, it had a maximum speed on road, empty, of 40 km/h and a limited payload.
The vehicle was armored by the Arsenale di Piacenza and delivered to the unit in April 1944 and commonly called Ceirano 47CM Blindato. The armored vehicles of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico were all assigned to the Sezione Autoblindo (English: Armored Car Section).
The Ceirano 47CM Blindato could transport 12 fully equipped soldiers plus driver and vehicle commander and had slits from which the soldiers transported could open fire with personal weapons. It was extensively used by the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico in anti-partisan operations in the Piacenza countryside.
Cpt. Mayer had also ordered a light armored vehicle, based on the Guzzi Ercole 500 three-wheeled motorbike. This particular vehicle was totally armored and used to patrol the city’s roads after curfew. A Guzzi 500 liaison motorbike was equipped with a frontal armored shield and a Breda Modello 1930 light machine gun.
According to the testimony of a veteran, reported in the book ‘…Come il Diamante! I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45’ written by Sergio Corbatti and Marco Nava, the unit had another APC, probably on a Lancia 3Ro heavy-duty truck chassis. Giorgio Cassinari, in the book ‘Piacenza nella Resistenza’, also claims the presence of a Lancia 3Ro with armored plates used by the unit. Unfortunately, no iconographic sources exist of these vehicles.
The FIAT 666N (N for Nafta – Diesel), produced by Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino or FIAT (English: Italian Automobiles Factory, Turin), was the first cab-over-engine heavy truck of the company, which usually specialized in producing conventional-cab trucks.
The Kingdom of Italy was forced in 1937 to pass a law that specified the main characteristics required for all civilian or military trucks that were produced. This was done for three main reasons:
Firstly, Italy was a rapidly growing nation with numerous companies producing dozens of different models of trucks. A standardization would lead companies to produce vehicles that were similar to each other and with common parts, increasing the production capacity.
Secondly, there was also the problem of embargoes placed on Italy and the policy of autarky, or the aspiration of Italian leaders to be economically independent from foreign countries. Unified truck standards would certainly help to avoid wasting resources.
Thirdly, and probably the most important reason, was the fact that, in case of war, civilian trucks could be requisitioned for war needs.
The third reason however, brought an obvious problem. Despite the excellent characteristics of the trucks, many Italian drivers were skeptical about purchasing the Autocarri Unificati, since the Regio Esercito could requisition them for military purposes at any time. The term Autocarri Unificati (English: Unified Trucks) was the name by which these particular vehicles built under the new rules were called.
With Regio Decreto (English: Royal Decree) N° 1809 of 14 July 1937, the so-called Autocarri Unificati were born. For heavy trucks, the maximum weight was not to exceed 12,000 kg, of which at least 6,000 kg had to be payload, with a minimum road speed of 45 km/h.
As for light trucks, the ground clearance was to be at least 200 mm, the maximum truck weight was to be 4,000 kg, and the payload 3,000 kg.
The FIAT 666N was a heavy-duty truck. The civilian version was developed in 1938 under the Regio Decreto N° 1809 rules. Its prototype was ready at the end of 1938 and was presented to Benito Mussolini on 15 May 1939, on the occasion of the inauguration of the FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin.
This factory building covered 300,000 m² on an area of over one million square meters, with a total of 22,000 workers on several shifts. All 50,000 FIAT workers of Turin were present for Mirafiori’s inauguration. The AB40 prototypes were also presented then.
The military version, the FIAT 666NM (NM for Nafta Militare – Diesel; Military), was presented to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (English: Center for Motorization Studies), the Italian department which would examine new vehicles, for evaluation on 19 September 1940.
It differed from the civilian version through the addition of acetylene headlights, a bulb horn, support for rifles on the cab’s roof and manually operated turn signals on the sides of the windscreen. The first military order for 1,000 FIAT 666NM trucks was issued on 10 January 1941. Another 1,500 were ordered on 23 July 1941, 1,000 on 5 March 1942, and 700 on 16 June 1943.
In total, about 8,000 FIAT 666s left the assembly lines of the Mirafiori plant, including the post-war direct-injection 666N7 and FIAT 665NM 4×4 versions.
The Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) ordered 796 trucks on 23rd October 1941. This truck was used on the Eastern Front, in North Africa, in Italy, and in the Balkans.
After the Armistice of 8th September 1943, between November 1943 and December 1944, 79 FIAT 666NMs and 2 FIAT 665NMs were delivered to the Wehrmacht.
The FIAT 666 was produced in a wide range of variants, such as standard truck and fuel carrier for civilian service, while for military service, recovery trucks, fuel and water carriers, mobile workshops, petrol engine variants, and many others were produced.
Engine and Suspension
Propulsion was provided by a FIAT Tipo 366 6-cylinder in-line diesel engine. It had overhead valves, with a displacement of 9,365 cm³ and FIAT-produced injectors. The maximum output power was 110 hp at 2,000 rpm on the civil FIAT 666N, the FIAT 666NM for the Regia Aeronautica, and on the FIAT 665NM. The maximum output power on the Regio Esercito’s FIAT 666NM was limited to delivering 95 hp (70.84 Kw) at 1,700 rpm. The Ricardo type direct-injection chamber created lots of problems in the cold Russian steppes, which forced the crews to mix the diesel fuel with gasoline in order to allow the engine to start.
The maximum speed on-road was 48.3 km/h (30 mph) for the power-limited FIAT 666NM, 56.8 km/h for the FIAT 666N and FIAT 666NM and 57 km/h for the FIAT 665 NM. The fuel was kept in a 135 liter tank (255 liters for the FIAT 665NM) located on the right side of the chassis, which offered a 750 km on-road range (465 km for the FIAT 666N).
A FIAT 6-75-2510 diaphragm pump then pumped the fuel into a 5.5-liter tank located behind the cab’s dashboard. This ensured trouble-free feeding thanks to a gravity injection pump. The lubricant oil tank had a capacity of 12 liters, while the water-cooling tank had a capacity of 50 liters.
Air was drawn through two filters mounted at the back of the engine. Up until engine number 000530, they used cartridge filters, after which they were replaced with oil bath filters.
As on the FIAT 626 medium truck, the engine could be extracted through the cab’s front after the removal of the grille thanks to rollers mounted on the two supports of the engine, rolling on guides fixed to the frame.
Brakes and Electric Systems
The single dry plate clutch was connected to the gearbox via a cardan shaft. This could be removed independently of the gearbox and engine simply by removing the rear casing. This meant that maintenance and disassembly were easier.
The transmission, thanks to the reductor, had eight gears and two reverse gears. The drum brakes were hydraulic and had a pedal-operated air brake booster. The compressed air tank, with a capacity of 55 liters, was located on the left of the frame. It had a pressure of 5.5 bar. On the NM version, the rear axle was equipped with a differential.
There was a 12-volt electrical circuit used to power the headlights and dashboard, and a 24-volt circuit for starting the engine. The two 12V Magneti Marelli batteries were housed in a box on the left side of the chassis, behind the air tank.
The cargo bay measured 4.75 meters long by 2.20 meters wide, with a height of 600 mm on the civilian version and 650 mm on the military version. It was designed to carry up to 6 tonnes of cargo but could carry, without much difficulty, an L6/40 light tank (weighing 6.84 tonnes).
The cab had the steering wheel and the driver on the right, while the vehicle’s commander was placed on the left. The cab’s doors opened backwards. Due to the slow production rates, some early FIAT 666NMs were equipped with civilian FIAT 666N cabs.
In spite of its respectable dimensions and its large load capacity, the FIAT 666 heavy-duty truck, with a chassis weight of 1 tonne and about 5 tonnes of additional structure weight, for a total weight of 6 tonnes in the FIAT 666NM variant and 7.2 tonnes in the FIAT 665NM version, could travel at more than 56 km/h with a 12 tonne trailer attached. Fully loaded, it could climb 26º slopes. Thanks to its short wheelbase and cab layout, it was comfortable traveling on mountain roads.
The FIAT 666NM had a wheel rim size of 20 x 8” (50.8 x 20.32 cm). Like the other vehicles, it could use a wide variety of tires developed and produced by the Pirelli company in Milan.
It was considered a short range heavy duty truck. In fact, the companies that bodyworked the chassis never used long cabs with berths inside. The only FIAT vehicle with berths was the FIAT 634N, the first truck in Europe with the possibility to be equipped with two or three berths. As an example, the second company to provide a berth in the cabin was Renault with its three-axle Renault AFKD, with a load capacity of 10 tonnes, which entered service only in 1936. The third was Lancia with the Lancia 3Ro in 1938.
Armored Superstructure, Turret and Internal Structure
The FIAT 666N modifications were carried out by the Arsenale di Piacenza in 1944. Captain Mayer had decided to modify another vehicle after the creation of the XXVIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Pippo Astorri’ (English: 28th Black Brigade) on 25th April 1944. This was because, with the new brigade, the militiamen needed more armored vehicles to support their operations.
Another company that participated in the development of the Arsenale di Piacenza was Officine Carenzi, which carried out the majority of the modifications. It was a small company founded by Giuseppe Carenzi in 1929, specialized in bodyworks for trucks with fuel tanks and the production of cargo trailers. This company, with a few hundred workers, also started the production of ballistic armor plates during the war.
The turret was developed by a German tank crew officer that was assigned by the German command to the Officine Massarenti of Piacenza. His task was to design some rotating coastal cannon platforms. Finishing his work, he started to supervise the work of the company workers, trying to delay his return to the front lines. When the cannon platforms project was quite ready, he tried to delay his return, starting to work on the armored 360° traversing turret for the FIAT 666N. However, it is unclear if he voluntarily proposed himself to design the turret or if it was the Italian command that asked him to work on this project.
A standard FIAT 666N used by Piacenza’s garbage company was requisitioned. This is why it received the nickname ‘Tullòn ‘dla Vërdura’, Piacenza dialect for ‘Vegetable Garbage Can’. The cab and cargo bay were removed, leaving only the chassis, powerpack, seats, and probably the dashboard.
Some armor plates were forged by the Officine Carenzi but, to speed up the production and to save money, Arsenale di Piacenza provided some cannon shields that were welded onto the structure to the small company.
In the books ‘Siamo Ribelli, Storie e Canzoni della Resistenza’ written by Italian author Ermanno Maianai and ‘Italia 43-45, I Blindati di Circostanza della Guerra Civile’ written by Paolo Crippa, it is claimed that the thickness of the armored plates of the FIAT 666N Blindato was 9 mm.
The book ‘…Come il Diamante! I Carristi Italiani 1943-’45’ claims that the armored plates of the armored car were enough to protect the vehicle against 20 mm rounds, becoming virtually invulnerable to the partisan’s light weapons.
It apparently could withstand the 12.7 mm rounds. In fact, on one occasion, the vehicle was hit by several heavy machine bursts and only the radiator and the wheels were damaged, permitting the vehicle to return to Piacenza for repairs.
On the vehicle’s sides were four loopholes through which the crew could see the battlefield and use small arms, such as SMGs and rifles. Two cylindrical supports were also mounted on each side. These were mounted after the delivery, during a visit to the Arsenale di Piacenza. These supports were taken from the Arsenale di Piacenza, which also produced supports and armored pieces for bunkers, or from the Todt Organization which had the task of building bunkers on the Italian peninsula.
These particular supports were probably used for light and medium machine guns. They guaranteed more protection and a higher traverse than the loopholes. Ermanno Maianai also claims that the vehicle had loopholes on the rear side.
The armored driving compartment was connected to the central fighting compartment and the driver and vehicle commander could enter the vehicle through two armored doors that opened forward, as on other vehicles, or through the rear armored door. The forward opening doors guaranteed more protection to the crew in case of an emergency exit from the vehicle.
The turret was cylindrical, with a 360° traverse an unknown depression and elevation. It probably could be elevated enough to engage flying targets, like the Lancia 3Ro produced a few months after.
The main armament was a 20 mm automatic cannon, probably recovered from Arsenale di Piacenza. Due to the homemade design and production, the vehicle lacked a coaxial machine gun.
The rear of the vehicle had an armored door for access to the central fighting compartment. At least 8 fully equipped militiamen could be transported on the rear of the vehicle, but this number was probably higher.
As an example, the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVIª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ of Piacenza could transport at least 8 militiamen plus its crew of 7 soldiers. The FIAT 666N Blindato probably had a crew composed of four soldiers; the commander was placed on the left of the armored cab while the driver was on the right. The front of the armored car was well angled to deflect enemy bullets. The two crew members placed in the driving compartment had two openable loopholes for driving and surveying the battlefield.
The rest of the crew was composed of a gunner that manned the heavy machine gun in the turret and probably a loader that handed the magazines to the gunner seated in the turret and to the machine gunner on the sides.
For the militiamen transported in the vehicle, some wooden benches were probably placed along the sides. Four of them operated the lateral machine guns while four more could open fire through the loopholes.
The vehicle was painted in a three tone-camouflage, the most common painted by the RSI forces called Continentale (English: Continental). It had a Kaki Sahariano base with reddish-brown and dark green spots painted on it. Unfortunately, from the only photo available, it is impossible to identify numbers or symbols painted on the sides. In fact, many improvised armored vehicles used by Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana received the symbols of the cities where they were created on the sides. In the case of Piacenza, the symbol was a female wolf.
An interesting method used by the Repubblica Sociale Italiana’ soldiers to empathize with the resistance of their improvised armored cars was to paint a white ring around bullet hits. Even if the existing photo of the vehicle was taken in August 1944, less than a month after the delivery, as many as 6 or 7 rings are clearly visible.
The main armament of the FIAT 666N Blindato was a Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1939 20 mm L/70 anti-aircraft automatic cannon.
Developed in the late 1920s by Engineer Alfredo Scotti as an aeronautical gun, it was never used for this. In 1932, Scotti sold the patent, which was bought by the Swiss company Oerlikon. Scotti’s design was probably studied by engineer Marc Birkigt before developing the 20 mm Hispano-Suiza H.S. 404. In 1935, the Regio Esercito made a request for a new multipurpose automatic cannon capable of engaging flying targets. At the same time, it had to be able to deal with light armored vehicles. Scotti and the Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche responded to the request with the Cannone Scotti da 20/70 and the Cannone Breda da 20/65 Mod. 1935. After tests, the Breda gun was chosen, while the Royal Army gave a negative review of Scotti’s gun.
In 1938, the Isotta-Fraschini company in Milan bought the patent of the gun and started to update the project. This was presented a year later as the Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1939. The new gun was bought by the Italian Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) and Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy), with a fixed mounting for airfield defense and as an anti-aircraft gun on some Italian warships.
When the war started, the Regio Esercito showed interest in the gun, mainly because Breda could not satisfy the army’s requests and because the Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini gun was less expensive and faster to produce. For the Regio Esercito, the Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1941 was produced with a wheeled carriage. It was also produced under license by the Officine Meccaniche company or OM (English: Mechanical Workshops), which was known as the Scotti-OM 20/70 Mod. 1941.
The gun was gas-operated and had a theoretical rate of fire of about 500 rounds per minute. However, this dropped to 250 rounds per minute in practice. Its maximum firing range was 5,500 meters against ground targets and 2,000 m against flying targets.
The gun fired the 20 x 138 mm B ‘Long Solothurn’ cartridge. This was the most common 20 mm round, used on 20 mm guns of the Axis forces in Europe, such as the German FlaK 38, Finnish Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle, and Italian automatic cannons. The gun was fed by eight 20 mm round feed strips or twelve 20 mm round feed strips loaded by a loader. A more practical 41-round drum magazine also existed.
The side machine gun models are unknown. In the only existing photo, the machine guns are not mounted, so it is impossible to distinguish their type. It was probably not the Breda Modello 1930 light machine gun. It was the only light support machine gun used by the Italian soldiers and was universally known for being an unreliable machine gun.
The two medium machine guns that were plausibly used were the Mitragliatrice Breda Modello 1937 (English: Breda Model 1937 Machine Gun) and Breda Modello 1938, also used on the similar Lancia 3Ro Blindato.
These were two gas operated machine guns developed by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche. The Modello 1937 was developed in 1937 as a medium machine gun, while the Modello 1938 was developed in 1938 as a medium machine gun but with modifications to be used on armored vehicles.
They were powerful weapons adopted by the Regio Esercito as a company or battalion supporting heavy machine guns. The Modello 1937 version was the heaviest rifle-caliber machine gun of the Second World War, with a weight of 19.4 kg, while the Modello 1938 weighed 15.4 kg due to the modifications.
The practical rate of fire of the Modello 1937 was about 200-250 rounds per minute and was considered a bit low. The machine gun was fed by 20-round rigid strips loaded from the left side. After firing, instead of ejecting the spent casings like all firearms, the Modello 1937 reinserted them into the rigid strip to facilitate the recovery of reusable spent casings. The Modello 1938 had a practical rate of fire of 350 rounds per minute and was fed by 24-round top curved magazines.
Apart from the different feeding types, the two machine guns had different barrel lengths, 740 mm for the Modello 1937 and 575 mm for the Modello 1938. Another difference was the presence of a pistol-type grip.
The machine guns shot 8 x 59 mm RB cartridges developed by Breda exclusively for them. The 8 mm Breda had a muzzle velocity between 790 m/s and 800 m/s, depending on the round type. The armor-piercing rounds penetrated 11 mm of non-ballistic steel angled to 90° at 100 meters. Unfortunately, the quantity of ammunition transported in the vehicle is unknown and would have largely depended on availability.
The ‘Tullòn ‘dla Vërdura’ was surely deployed after August 1944 by the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico in the flatland area between Fiorenzuola and Castell’Arquato, the south east countryside of Piacenza. This armored behemoth could operate more easily on narrow flat country roads than on hilly roads among vineyards and other crops that characterized the rest of Piacenza’s countryside.
On 3rd August 1944, around 9:00 pm, numerous partisans attacked two different ammunition depots in San Giuseppe and Galleana villages in the suburb of Piacenza. The two garnisons held the line until 11:30 pm, when one of the armored cars of the 630ª Compagnia OP and a company-sized German and Italian force arrived to counterattack, putting the partisans on the run.
On one occasion, the vehicle, during a rescue mission from Piacenza to Fiorenzuola in August 1944, was stopped by 5 or 6 civilians in the village of Fontanafredda. Some hours before, a civilian truck loaded with salt from Genoa was stopped by a partisan car that blocked the street and ordered the men to exit the vehicle. The partisans then went back to the street toward San Protaso with the truck in front of the car.
The fascists decided to change their mission and started a chase with the armored truck. Despite the size of the vehicle, they managed to reach the two partisan vehicles before they reached the village of San Protaso. Some warning bursts were fired from the armored truck. The partisans, unprepared to combat enemy forces, abandoned the vehicles and ran the fields near the street. The fascists recovered the truck, which was returned to the Genoese civilians, while the car was transported to Piacenza and became the staff car of the Perfetto of Piacenza, Alberto Graziani.
During the same days, some militiamen of the GNR of Rivergaro were captured by the partisans and shot on 10th August 1944 near Agazzano, 17 km southwest of Piacenza. The FIAT 666N Blindato was deployed in a liaison mission the day after the shooting to transport the coffins of the eight soldiers to Piacenza.
On 30th August 1944, the soldiers of the XXVIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Pippo Astorri’, along with elements of the Compagnia ‘Baragiotta-Salines’ of the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ of Milan and an armored car of the 630ª Compagnia OP (model not specified) were engaged in an anti-partisan operation in the sector of Travo in Val Trebbia. While crossing a bridge in Rivergaro, the militiamen of the brigade and the Arditi of the ‘Muti’ were attacked by partisans, who blew up the bridge. The fascist column, taken by surprise and under heavy fire, managed to disengage and return to Piacenza without suffering any losses.
The operation was retried the following day. On this occasion, the Fascist column passed through the village of Piozzano, where it was again attacked by large enemy forces. In the clash that followed, the partisans had eight losses, among which a former Regio Esercito soldier and a former Carabiniere, were captured and shot immediately after the clash. The fascists suffered two deaths among the legionaries of the black brigade, while the Arditi of the ‘Muti’ had one dead and one wounded.
On 10th September 1944, the Provincial Command of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana of Piacenza planned an anti-partisan operation in the town of Castel San Giovanni and surrounding areas.
The armored car section of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico with an armored car of an unknown model, 1 officer and 12 men participated. Due to the number of militiamen deployed, it is impossible to identify which model of armored car was used in the action. The Ceirano 47CM Blindato could transport 12 soldiers and 2 crew members, but the FIAT 666N Blindato could transport a similar number of soldiers: 4 crew members and at least 8 fully equipped soldiers.
In the anti-partisan operation, two platoons of the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ with 1 officer and 50 soldiers, an operational nucleus of the Ufficio Politico Investigativo (English: Political Investigation Office) of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana of Piacenza, with 1 officer and 10 police officers, and 2 officers and 50 soldiers of the XXVIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Pippo Astorri’ were also deployed.
During the action, the Arditi of the Legione Autonoma Mobile ‘Ettore Muti’ captured a partisan, who was immediately shoot in the main square of Castel San Giovanni. At the same time, the armored car intercepted a group of partisans on a road, where they were changing a pierced tire on a car. The fascists opened fire, killing one partisan and dispersing the others. The fascists recovered many weapons and ammunition, including some Sten submachine guns that were immediately reused by the militiamen. During the action, about twenty suspects were also stopped and were transported to Piacenza for interrogation. In Castel San Giovanni, a small garrison of the black brigade of Piacenza was constituted. It had about fifty militiamen under the orders of Lieutenant Angelo Montesissa.
In the so called Battle of Ponte dell’Olio (1st October – 6th October 1944), numerous partisan forces attacked the city garrison composed of 65 Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana militiamen and 7 XXVIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Pippo Astorri’ soldiers.
The Ceirano 47CM Blindato and the FIAT 666N Blindato were deployed. Nothing is known about the Ceirano’s service, while the other armored behemoth of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico was deployed many times to force the partisan roadblock on the street between Piacenza and Ponte dell’Olio, 23 km South of Piacenza, to deliver food and ammunition to the besieged fascists.
In the first two days of battle, it forced the roadblock at 2:00 pm on 1st October. The fascists tried to pass at 6:00 pm again, but the partisans, positioned above the small road, threw hand grenades, Molotov cocktails and improvised explosive devices at the vehicle, which was forced to give up.
On 3rd October, the FIAT 666N Blindato began the supply mission at dawn. With the favor of darkness and fog, it managed to deliver food and ammunition to the besieged garrison. On the road to Ponte dell’Olio, the partisans had dug holes and placed mines to stop the advance of the enormous armored car.
The fascist, noticing the mined road, tried to clear it with two oxen pulling a harrow, but the system did not work and two militiamen detonated the mines by throwing hand grenades onto the road. The armored truck arrived at the garrison without other problems.
On the way back, when the FIAT 666N Blindato went out of the village, crossing the bridge over the river Nure, it was ambushed. The partisans used a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun, damaging the radiator and piercing the tires, temporarily stopping it on the bridge.
After a short time, the engine restarted and the armored behemoth slowly restarted its way to Piacenza.
The Officine Carenzi of Piacenza repaired the vehicle, replacing the radiator and the wheel rims, damaged by the weight of the vehicle that had traveled several kilometers with pierced tires.
The work of the Officine Carenzi was excellent and the vehicle was operational again in no more than a couple of days. In fact, on 6th October 1944, it participated in the final fascist counterattack.
The Repubblica Sociale Italiana’s forces were composed of about 160 militiamen of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico, of XXVIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Pippo Astorri’ militiamen and vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’. The FIAT 666N Blindato, an L6/40 light reconnaissance tank, an autoprotetta (probably a SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta), two Škoda 7.5 cm Vz. 1915 guns (in Italy know as Obici da 75/13 Modello 1915), a 47 mm Cannone da 47/32 and two mortars took part in the action.
After a fight that put the partisans on the run, the fascists, divided into two different columns, entered the village, but too late. The local secretary of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano (English: Republican Fascist Party) had decided to surrender to the partisans the day before, on 5th October, fearing that the partisans might retaliate against the civilians.
All the garrison members (apart from three members of the black brigade that escaped) were taken prisoner and transported to a partisan prison camp.
On 21st October 1944, an armored car of unknown model was deployed by some elements of the ‘Pippo Astorri’ Black Brigade in retaliation for a partisan ambush on the previous day. The fascists probably attacked on their own initiative and killed the owner of the house from which the partisans opened fire the day before. This was an old lady and they then stole some food from her house.
On 2nd November 1944, the Provincial Command of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana of Piacenza organized a vast anti-partisan operation in the area between the Strada Statale 9, usually called ‘Via Emilia’ because it was built on the old Roman-era road, the Po River and the Nure and Chiavenna streams.
The Repubblica Sociale Italiana units that took part in the operation were the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico with 3 officers and 60 militiamen, the Sezione Autoblindo of the same unit with an armored car, 1 officer and 9 men, a squad of the Compagnia della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana Territoriale (Eng: Company of the Territoriale National Republican Guard) with 1 officer and 15 legionnaires, some units of the two companies of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ with a tank and 3 soldiers and a squad of the Ufficio Politico Investigativo of the GNR with 1 officer and 10 police officers.
The Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano also took part in the action with 4 officers and 50 soldiers and one of the two companies of the XXVIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Pippo Astorri’ with 4 officers and 70 militias. The operation, which ended the same day, was a total failure. The soldiers managed to kill only one partisan and wounded a second one during a whole day of patrols in a territory under partisan control. The fascist forces also stopped several civilians who had taken refuge in the mountains to escape compulsory enlistment in the RSI armies or to escape forced enlistment as workers in wartime factories.
During the vast anti-guerrilla operation, code-named Operation Heygendorf, which took place in the last ten days of November in the Apennines, between the provinces of Piacenza, Pavia and Genoa, a large nucleus of the Piacenza’s black brigade was deployed under the orders of Vice Commander Barera, who was part of the Gruppo di Combattimento Piacenza (English: Piacenza’s Combat Group), under the orders of Major Kraus, together with the Black Brigade of Lucca and the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico. The soldiers were supported by an armored vehicle of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana.
This heterogeneous force occupied Rivergaro on 24th November 1944, despite a violent barrage of mortars and 47 mm Cannoni da 47/32 placed on the left bank of the Trebbia river that caused the wounding of a single soldier.
From Rivergaro, the Gruppo di Combattimento Piacenza then went up the Trebbia Valley where almost all the towns in the area in the hands of the partisans were reoccupied and where two hundred Italian and German soldiers, prisoners of the partisan brigades, were also freed.
After 14th January 1945, the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico was aggregated for a few weeks to the Gruppo di Combattimento ‘Bicci’, composed of elements of the XIVª Brigata Nera ‘Alberto Alfieri’ (English: 14th Black Brigade) of Voghera, and the Sicherheitsabteilung (English: Security Unit), an Italian police unit with German name at the command of the German 162. Infanterie-Division ‘Turkistan’. The Gruppo di Combattimento ‘Bicci’ stormed the area of Stradella in the Oltrepò Pavese region.
On 11th March 1945, the Ceirano 47CM Blindato was damaged during an air attack and then captured by the partisans.
The FIAT 666N Blindato was deployed until April 1945 when, on an unclear day, the vehicle was attacked by an Allied aircraft.
While the driver was trying to avoid the aerial attack, the vehicle skidded and ended up with its wheels in a ditch on the side of the ground, tipping over. Trying to get back on the road, the vehicle was “damaged beyond repair”. The suspension or an axle shaft had probably broken.
Between summer 1944 and late 1944, the FIAT 666N Blindato was virtually unstoppable against the partisans, causing numerous losses to the Italian patriots that tried to free the Italian peninsula. Despite its weight and size, it was a fairly maneuverable vehicle and faster than a tank. Its armor plates were thick enough to protect some parts of the vehicle from heavy machine-gun fire, protecting the crew inside.
It was also thanks to this vehicle that the fascists were able to impose themselves in the Piacenza area, avoiding being overwhelmed by the partisans before April 1945.
Obviously, in spite of its merits, the improvised armored car on a FIAT chassis was not without its faults. Probably because of the weight of the armored superstructure and the load it carried, it was constantly under stress, causing the mechanical parts to wear out more quickly. In spite of this, on 3rd October 1944, it was able to run about 20 km on its way back to Piacenza for the necessary repairs.
At the end of April 1945, the partisan units attacked the city, forcing the last Nazi-Fascist units to flee towards the north. Some members of the various fascist units mentioned managed to cross the Po River, while others were taken prisoner.
After the surrender of the fascist forces, the partisans drew up a list of drivers and commanders of the improvised armored cars and went to look for them in the prison camps in the provinces of Piacenza and Lodi.
Four were found, taken, brought to Piacenza and shot in revenge for all the comrades killed. The commander of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico, Captain Mayer, managed to disappear.
FIAT 666N Blindato Specification
~ 8 x ~ 2.4 x ~ 4 m
Weight, battle ready
approximately ~ 12 tonnes
4 (commander, driver, gunner and loader) + probably 6 or more militiamen
FIAT Tipo 366 9,365 cm³, 95 hp at 1,700 rpm with 135 liter tank
~ 35 km/h
~ 400 km
One Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 Modello 1939 and 4 machine gun’ slots
Le Brigate Nere: Una Documentazione Struttura – Organigrammi – Operazioni 2^ Edizione – Leonardo Sandri – E-book
Gli Autoveicoli tattici e logistici del Regio Esercito Italiano fino al 1943, Tomo Primo and Tomo Secondo – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano – Ufficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito, 2005
Italian Social Republic (1944-1945)
Improvised Armored Truck – 1 Converted
An improvised armored truck, built on an unknown chassis and used by the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ (English: 1st Black Brigade) of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (English: Italian Social Republic) after November 1944 was one of the dozens of armored vehicles produced by the RSI units.
Nothing is known about the original chassis or its service, and only two photos of the vehicle exist.
The Repubblicana Sociale Italiana creation and its situation
After the end of the North African Campaign with the defeat of the Axis troops in May 1943, the popular discontent with Fascism in Italy increased. The King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, took the opportunity to regain power.
With the collaboration of some fascist generals, Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, was deposed, and a Monarchist government was created, which almost immediately tried to organize an armistice with the Allied powers.
On 8th September 1943, the signing of the armistice between the Kingdom of Italy and the Allied powers was made public, to the great surprise of the Italian soldiers. They were left completely unaware of the situation.
The Germans launched Fall Achse (English: Operation Axis), which lasted from the 8th of September to the 23rd of September 1943, occupying all the territories under Italian control in Italy, including the northern and central part of the Italian peninsula in the hands of the Axis forces.
Mussolini was freed from a secret prison on 12th September 1943 by a task force of Fallschirmjäger and transferred to Germany. There, he met Adolf Hitler and decided to found a new republic in the Italian territories not yet occupied by the Allies.
On 23rd September 1943, Mussolini returned to Italy, founding the new Repubblica Sociale Italiana with two new military corps, the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army) and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Guard), its military police.
Apart from some well-equipped and trained units, most of the Italian military forces were composed of poorly trained and equipped soldiers, mainly used by the Axis command in anti-partisan operations or to support German troops on Italian soil.
The Black Brigades
The necessity of small units located in the small cities of Italy as garrisons to stop partisan formations was great. To cover this, Alessandro Pavolini, the secretary of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano (English: National Fascist Party), proposed the creation of a paramilitary corp at the dependencies of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana to the Italian dictator, the so-called Brigate Nere (English: Black Brigades).
The reason for the constitution of the Black Brigades was to preserve the life and property of the republican fascists. Additionally, to constitute auxiliary units, well-rooted in the territory where they operated (most of the members were born and lived in the cities where they operated) used in the fight against the partisans.
During their existence, the Black Brigades were also used to help bigger units in anti-partisan operations, maintain public order in the cities and prevent partisan sabotage against important city targets.
On 26 June 1944, Mussolini approved the Decreto Legislativo Numero 446-XXII (English: legislative decree no. 446-22), which Pavolini had proposed. The Roman numeral XXII signified 1944 documentation because it was the 22nd year of the fascist government in Italy.
This order constituted the Corpo Ausiliario delle Squadre d’Azione delle Camicie Nere (English: Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts), simply known as the ‘Brigate Nere’ (English: Black Brigades), under the control of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana.
On 5 July 1944, Pavolini sent a 5-point circular to the commanders of the Black Brigades that were in the process of being constituted. It indicated the order of battle of the territorial brigades as consisting of a Brigade Command, composed of the Commander, Vice Commander, Chief of Staff, Operations Office, Information Office, Office of Personnel and Discipline, Materials Office, Administrative Office, Office Assistance-Propaganda and Press, Health Service. The Brigade Command had at its disposal three battaglioni (English: battalions), each with about 320 militiamen divided into a command and three regular compagnie (English: companies).
Each company, with 105 militiamen, was divided into a command and three regular squadre (English: squads), which consisted of a squad commander and 33 men. Each squad was divided into three nuclei composed of 11 men, including the nucleus commander. Pavolini’s circular also provided that each brigade would receive the name of a soldier that fell for the cause of Republican Fascism.
Only two Black Brigades out of about 60 created received factory-built armored fighting vehicles, the Iª Brigata Nera of Turin, with a SPA Dovunque 35 Blindato, and the XIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Marcello Turchetti’ of Mantova, with an obsolete M11/39 requisitioned from a tank crew training school.
The other brigades were equipped with trucks (of military or civil origin) that they used as transport vehicles or that they armored themselves or in civilian workshops. These improvised armored trucks were meant to help them on anti-partisan patrols or to escort columns of trucks loaded with military equipment or food.
Some examples of improvised armored vehicles used during the Italian Civil War, which broke out during the last two years of the Second World War, were the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVI° Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade) and (even if not used by a Black Brigade) the FIAT 666N Blindato of the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico of Piacenza (English: 630th Public Order Company).
The 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’
After the announcement of the creation of the Brigate Nere in early July 1944, many militiamen loyal to Mussolini and his ideology arrived in the Caserma (English: Barrack) Vittorio Emanuele Dabormida in Corso Stupinigi (now Corso Unione Sovietica) in Turin. On 7th July 1944, the 1ª Brigata Nera, also known as Iª Brigata Nera (with Roman numerals), was created.
The soldiers were volunteers from other units near Turin. After the armistice, they had remained without command and were employed as police officers in Turin or the countryside. Other former Regio Esercito soldiers from other fronts had returned to their houses in Turin after the armistice and joined up, also accompanied by young fascists without military training but loyal to Mussolini and his ideology.
The unit was located until September 1944 at the Caserma Giuseppe Arimondi in Via Verdi, in Turin. Then it was moved to the Caserma Cernaia in Via Cernaia, renamed by the brigade into the Caserma Luigi Riva after the Secretary of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano, Comandante del Fascio Luigi Riva. He had been killed in a truck during a partisan ambush on 30th October 1943 on the road between Borgone di Susa and Turin, returning, together with a dozen of militiamen, from checking the damage done to the fascist headquarters in Borgone di Susa, which the partisans had vandalized.
The 1st Black Brigade, like the other black brigades, received the name of a fascist killed by the partisans. The fascist from which the unit took its name was Ather Capelli, born in Ferrara in 1902. He was a great supporter of the fascist ideology and participated in the March on Rome (a fascist march on Rome leading to Mussolini’s political party coming to power in Italy) in October 1922. He became a journalist before enlistment as a volunteer for the Ethiopian War of 1935, where he was badly wounded.
At the start of the Second World War, his request to re-enlist in the Regio Esercito was refused due to war wounds. He continued his journalist career and, on 20th September 1943, became director of the ‘Gazzetta del Popolo’ of Turin (originally founded as a liberal and anti-clerical paper in the 19th century this was, by the end of the 1920s, an avowedly fascist-party-supporting paper). After 17th January 1944, he was also director of the weekly ‘Illustrazione del Popolo’, part of the ‘Gazzetta del Popolo’.
Capelli was killed in Turin on 31 March 1944 by a commando of the partisan Gruppi di Azione Patriottica or GAP (English: Patriotic Action Groups) while he was returning home from work. Giuseppe Bravin and Giovanni Pesce (a famous Italian Communist Partisan leader) were the partisans who ambushed and killed him. In retaliation, on 2nd April 1944, five prisoners held in fascist prisons were shot without trial on a nearby street.
On 25th August 1944, the creation of the unit ended. The Black Brigade was commanded, like the other black brigades, by the city’s Federale (English: Federal), in this case, Turin’s Federale Giuseppe Solaro.
It was originally composed of two battalions. The I° Battaglione (English: 1st Battalion) commanded by Major Alberto Villa had in its composition the 1ª Compagnia Mobile (English: 1st Mobile Company) commanded by Captain Carlo Orsini, the 2ª Compagnia (English: 2nd Company) commanded by Captain Alfredo Maestroni and the 3ª Compagnia (English: 3rd Company) commanded by Captain Aldo Giacone.
The II° Battaglione (English: 2nd Battalion), under the command of Major Placido Tiseo, had in its composition the Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ (English: Action Squad) and Squadra d’azione ‘Albarella’ of the Compagnia ‘EIAR’ (English: EIAR Company), composed of a couple dozens of militiamen that defended Turin and Milan’s Ente Italiano per le Audizioni Radiofoniche or EIAR (English: Italian Body for Radio Broadcasting) buildings. The Compagnia ‘EIAR’ was commanded by Captain Cesare Rivelli.
In Turin, the Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ was located in Via Arsenale 21, where the leadership of the EIAR was placed, and in Via Montebello 12, where the production studios were located.
The 4ª Compagnia (English: 4th Company) was assigned to the II° Battaglione, commanded by Captain Giovanni Consiglio. In total, the unit was composed, on 25th August 1944, of over 569 Black Shirt militiamen and auxiliaries.
Table 1: 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ units until December 1944
1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ units until December 1944
Number of soldiers
Comando di Brigata
Federale Giuseppe Solaro
23 officers, 40 NCOs
Capitano Alessandro Sapey
Daily Press “La Riscossa”
Direttore Lorenzo Tealdy
Maggiore Alberto Villa
1ª Compagnia Mobile
Capitano Carlo Orsini
Capitano Alfredo Maestroni
Capitano Aldo Giacone
Maggiore Placido Tiseo
Capitano Giovanni Consiglio
Presidio di Pinerolo
Tenente Spirito Novena
Presidio di Buriasco
Presidio di Chieri
Tenente Giuseppe Carbone
Capitano Cesare Rivelli
Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’
Tenente Vincenzo Mortillaro di Ciantro
Squadra d’Azione ‘Albarella’
Over 600 soldiers
With the continuation of the war and the influx of new voluntary recruits and guns, the unit was reorganized in December 1944. The I° Battaglione, commanded by Major Alberto Villa (after 6th March 1945, commanded by Major Alfredo Maestroni) now had the 1ª Compagnia, which had changed its name, commanded by Major Placido Tiseo, the 2ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Alfredo Maestroni, substituted in March 1945 by Captain Victor Risso and the 3ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Giuseppe Motta.
The II° Battaglione, under the command of Major Pagnini, had in its composition the Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ of the Compagnia ‘EIAR’, commanded by Captain Mario Porta (Squadra d’Azione ‘Albarella’ was assigned in late 1944 to the VIIIª Brigata Nera ‘Aldo Resega’ of Milan), the 4ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Duodero, the 5ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Antonio Rubatto and 6ª Compagnia commanded by Captain Spirito Novena until 28th February 1945, after which Captain Umberto Ragona substituted him. In total, on 30th March 1945, the unit was comprised of a thousand Black Shirts, militiamen, and auxiliaries.
On 2nd April 1945, Turin’s new Federale, Mario Pavia, took over the command of the Black Brigade, because Federale Giuseppe Solaro was promoted Ispettore Regionale per le Brigate Nere (English: Regional Inspector of the Black Brigades) in Piemonte. He left the Black Brigade’s command on 23 April 1945, two days before the Great Partisan Insurrection of 25 April that would free the main Italian cities from Fascist and Nazi control before the Allied armies arrived.
The vice-commander of the unit was Lieutenant Colonnello Lorenzo Tealdy, also director of the daily newspaper ‘La Riscossa’ that dealt with topics of the fascist unions in Turin and articles on the activities of the unit.
In December 1944, the Compagnia Armi Appoggio (English: Support Gun Company) was also created under the command of Captain Luigi Rey di Villerey with some armored vehicles and support guns. A new addition was also the Gruppo d’Azione Giovanile (English: Group of Young Action), also known as Compagnia ‘Balilla’. During its operational life, from mid-1944 to April 1945, the black brigade also created the Presidio di Santena (English: Garrison of Santena) in Santena, about 15 km from Turin. It was active from September to October 1944. The Presidio di Caramagna Piemonte, about 32 km from Turin, was composed of 12 Black Shirts but, at an unspecified date (before 1945), it was assigned to the Iª Brigata Nera Mobile ‘Vittorio Rocciarelli’ of Milan. The same fate be fell the Presidio di Carmagnola under Lieutenant Michele Rizzi, the Presidio di Cavallermaggiore and the Presidio di Racconigi of Captain Fortunato Troini, all reassigned to the Iª Brigata Nera Mobile.
Other garrisons were the Presidio di Moncalieri, a couple of kilometers from Turin, the Presidio di Leinì about 12 km from Turin and assigned to the II° Battaglione, the Presidio di Venaria, part of the conurbation of Turin, with 12 militiamen and an NCO under 3ª Compagnia’s command, and the Presidio di Ulzio, about 67 km from Turin, created on 25th August 1944 under command of Lieutenant Elio Triola and then Lieutenant Giovanni Ancillotti, assigned to the II° Battaglione.
Tabel 2: 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ units from December 1944 to early 1945
1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ units from December 1944 to early 1945
Number of soldiers
Comando di Brigata
Federale Giuseppe Solaro
23 officers, 40 NCOs
Capitano Alessandro Sapey
Daily Press “La Riscossa”
Direttore Lorenzo Tealdy
Compagnia Armi Appoggio
Capitano Luigi Rey di Villerey
3 officers, 4 NCOs and ~100 soldiers
Capitano Guglielmo Gianoglio
Gruppo d’Azione Giovanile also known as Compagnia ‘Balilla’
Sottotenente Tullio De Chiffre
Capitano Luigi Starace
3 nurses and 2 auxiliaries
Servizio Ausiliario Femminile
Tenente Anna Maria Bardia
Presidio di Moncalieri
Maggiore Alberto Villa
1ª Compagnia Mobile
Maggiore Placido Tiseo
Capitano Alfredo Maestroni
Capitano Giuseppe Motta
Presidio di Venaria
1 NCO and 12 soldiers
Capitano Antonio Rubatto
Capitano Spirito Novena
Presidio di Chieri
Tenente Giuseppe Carbone
Presidio di Leinì
Presidio di Ulzio
Tenente Elio Triola
Compagnia or Presidio di Pinerolo
5 officers, 87 NCOs and militiamen and 5 auxiliaries
Capitano Cesare Rivelli
Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’
Capitano Mario Porta
Unfortunately the irregular nature of the units, and the poor record keeping that exact numbers are not known for many of the sub units.
Over 1,000 soldiers
The Italian writer Marco Nava, in his book ‘1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione’, mentions that the Compagnia Armi Appoggio had in its ranks an improvised armored car on unspecified chassis, a SPA Dovunque 35 Blindato, four 81 mm mortars, a 45 mm mortar, 2 Cannoni-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935s and 2 Cannoni da 47/32 Modello 1935s, about 100 militiamen, 4 NCOs and 3 officers: Lieutenant Pessot, Lieutenant Grindato, and the company commander, Captain Luigi Rey di Villerey.
The Comando di Brigata and Compagnia Comando, all the I° Battaglione, the 4ª Compagnia of the II° Battaglione, Compagnia Armi Appoggio were positioned in Turin at the Caserma Luigi Riva in Via Cernaia. The Gruppo d’Azione Giovanile was headquartered in Turin in Via Ettore Muti (Now Via Gagliani), in the Casa Littoria.
The Squadra d’Azione ‘Torresi’ of the Compagnia ‘EIAR’ was deployed to protect the radio buildings in Turin. The 5ª Compagnia was placed as a garrison in Chivasso, in the Caserma del Distretto Militare (English: Military District Barrack). The 6ª Compagnia was placed in the Casa Littoria in Pinerolo. It was the former 4ª Compagnia that was renamed after December 1944.
Table 3: 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ unit equipment on 30th August 1945
1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ unit equipment on 30th August 1945
In the armory
FIAT-Revelli Mod. 14/35
Medium machine gun
Breda Mod. 1930
Light machine gun
St. Étienne mod. 1907
Medium machine gun
SubMachine Guns (SMGs) and pistols
9,440 rounds in the armory
“Greek and Yugoslavian SMGs”
2,505 rounds in the armory
Rifles and carabines
Moschetti Cavalleria TS 6.5 mm
Moschetti Alpini Mod. 91
Fucili Mod. 91
Fucili Mod. 41
Fucile Mod. 37 6.5 mm
Fucile Mod. 38 7.35 mm
Fucile Cavalleria 7.35 mm
German hand grenades
120 without percussor
9 kg in the armory
Heavy armament (in January 1945)
Mortaio da 81 Mod. 35
81 mm mortar
Brixia Mod. 35
45 mm mortar
Not present in the armory
Cannone da 20/65 Mod. 35*
20 mm automatic cannon
Cannone da 47/32 Mod. 35*
47 mm support gun
* These guns were deployed by the unit from January 1945
About the trucks in service with the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, not much is known. The sources claim that, on 28th July 1944, the unit captured a Bianchi medium truck (model not specified, probably a Bianchi Miles) and a Lancia 3Ro heavy-duty truck in a surprise attack against the partisans. The communist units tried to steal military equipment from freight cars loaded with fascist equipment in the Bagnolo Piemonte train station. Cpt led the fascist attack. Spirito Novena was, at the time, commander of the Presidio di Buriasco (30 km from Turin) and the 16 militiamen-strong ‘Squadra Fantasma’ (English: Phantom Team) that managed to kill 12 partisans and wound another 20. Marco Nava also claims that the Compagnia Armi Appoggio was also equipped with an improvised armored personnel carrier on the FIAT 1100 car chassis.
According to an article on the Black Brigade written by Italian author Paolo Crippa on the website zimmerit.com, the 1st Black Brigade was also equipped with a FIAT 626 medium truck.
In the book ‘1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione’, the deployment of a column of vehicles of the Black Brigade “consisting of three trucks and two cars” is mentioned on 6th March 1945. This was for an anti-partisan operation during which at least 18 militiamen of the brigade were killed and probably some vehicles were lost.
From photographic evidence, it is known that the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ was also equipped with some motorcycles and a 1-tonne Autocarretta OM light lorry, probably used to tow the artillery pieces of the Black Brigade.
In Northern and Central Italy, which were controlled by the Axis, German and Italian troops had about 1,000 trucks in service. These were insufficient, considering that the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano and the Wehrmacht counted about 600,000 soldiers. Few trucks were delivered to Italian units, which, in most cases, tried to compensate by capturing others from partisans or requisitioning civilian trucks.
None of the existing sources mention on which chassis the improvised armored car was built. The Black Brigade had in its ranks a FIAT 626 medium truck and the chassis of the armored car might seem similar to the FIAT 626 chassis at a quick glance.
The FIAT 626 was a cab-over-engine medium truck produced by the FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin. It was one of the first cab-over-engine trucks of the FIAT company and could not be the chassis under the Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’. The armored car seems to be based on a conventional-cab chassis in the few available photos.
Thus, it is possible it was based on one of the only two other vehicles that we know that the Black Brigade had captured and probably reused, a Lancia 3Ro heavy-duty truck produced by Lancia Veicoli Industriali of Turin or a medium truck produced by Bianchi company of Milan, probably a Bianchi Miles.
The Lancia 3Ro was an enormous vehicle, with a payload capacity of over 6 tonnes and a maximum speed of 45 km/h. It was huge, and it is improbable that the improvised armored car of the ‘Ather Capelli’ Brigade was built on its chassis. To give a comparison, the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the XXXVI° Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ was a colossus that does not match the dimensions of the improvised armored car of the unit.
The last vehicle is the Bianchi medium truck, of which the model is not specified. During the war, Bianchi produced the Mediolanum and Miles. The latter seems more similar to the improvised armored car chassis.
Two clues that make the Bianchi Miles chassis hypothesis more plausible. One is the presence of headlights fixed on the engine hood-sides. This system was rarely seen on Italian trucks, which usually had them mounted and connected on the frontal mudguards. On the Bianchi Miles, the headlights were instead connected to the electric circuit through the engine bay sides.
The Bianchi Miles
The Bianchi Miles was a conventional-cab medium truck produced by Fabbrica Automobili e Velocipedi Edoardo Bianchi (English: Edoardo Bianchi Automobiles and Bicycle Factory) in the Desio plant, near Milan, in Lombardia.
The civilian version was produced until the start of the Second World War; while the military version was produced from 1938 to 1943 for the Regio Esercito and from November 1943 to early 1945 for the Germans, who received 90 newly produced vehicles.
The Regio Esercito used the Bianchi truck in the majority of the campaigns where it was involved: Southern France, the Balkans, the Soviet Union, and most importantly, North Africa.
Some specialized variants were also produced, such as ambulances, buses with 23 seats, mobile bathrooms with showers for the soldiers and mobile refrigerators. In August 1943, a Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) version armed with a 25 mm Mod. 38 cannon captured from the French in 1940 was also proposed. The vehicle carried 4 gun crew members and 380 25 mm rounds. A pre-series of 20 vehicles was ordered, but the Armistice canceled the project.
From 1946 to 1952, an upgraded version called Bianchi Civis 75 was built, with military and civilian versions.
The cargo bay was made of wood planks 4 meters long and 2 meters wide. Only the rear side was foldable. The maximum payload was 3,000 kg, while the loaded truck weighed 6,500 kg. For the transport of troops, 6 cross benches could be set up.
Engine and suspension
The Bianchi Miles was powered by a Mercedes-Benz MDU 35 M diesel engine produced under license by Bianchi, equipped with a manual inertia starter. The engine delivered 65 hp at 2,000 rpm and was powered by a pump and injectors manufactured under license from Bosch.
The maximum speed was 64 km/h and the maximum range was 350 km thanks to the main fuel tank, with a capacity of 70 liters and the reserve tank of 15 liters placed behind the dashboard, which fed the engine by gravity. This guaranteed that, in the event of a malfunction of the fuel pump, the truck could reach a workshop for repairs. This system saved many drivers from breakdowns in the middle of the desert.
The brake system was a two-disc dry clutch and could be disassembled independently of the transmission for easier and quicker maintenance. The Bianchi Miles had four gears and one reverse. A pneumatic servo brake pedal operated the hydraulic drum brakes.
The Miles had one 12-volt circuit powered by a 90-watt Magneti Marelli dynamo that served two front headlights, the license plate light, windshield wipers, an electric horn, and dashboard lighting.
The suspension consisted of leaf-springs on each wheel but, in the rear axle, were mounted in couple.
The improvised vehicle 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 Scotti, Madsen, and Lübbe, it was officially adopted in 1935. The Regio Esercito adopted it as a dual-use automatic cannon. It was a highly effective anti-aircraft and anti-tank gun and, in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, some Panzer Is were modified to accommodate this gun in their small turret to fight the Soviet light tanks deployed by the Republicans.
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. The Regio Esercito used more than 3,000 in all the war theaters. Hundreds were captured and reused in North Africa by the Commonwealth troops, who greatly appreciated its 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, who renamed it ‘Breda 2 cm FlaK-282(i)’.
It 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 meters. Against flying aircraft, it had a practical range of 1,500 meters, and against armored targets, it had a maximum practical range between 600 and 1,000 meters.
The muzzle velocity was about 830 m/s, while its theoretical rate of fire was 240 rounds per minute, which dropped to 200 – 220 rounds per minute in practice.
It was fed by 12-round clips on the field version and 8-round clips in the vehicle version. The type of clips used on the improvised armored car of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ is unknown, as is the number of clips transported in the vehicle.
Modification and Operational use
The Arsenale Regio Esercito di Torino or ARET (English: Royal Army Arsenal of Turin) produced artillery pieces, and small armored plates and helped develop some armored vehicles before the Armistice, such as the FIAT 665NM Scudato.
After the Armistice, it changed its name to Arsenale di Torino and its primary tasks also changed. In addition to producing artillery pieces, it specialized in the production of armored plates for improvised vehicles that it also converted in its depots or that the units mounted themselves at their barracks. An example of improvised vehicles built by it were the SPA-Viberti AS43 Blindata of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ of the Xª Flottiglia MAS, which received armored plates that were mounted on the chassis by workers from one of the Turin’s FIAT factories, and the two armored vehicles delivered for the defense of the Alto Commissario per il Piemonte (English: High Commissioner for Piemonte) Paolo Zerbino that were assembled in the Arsenale di Torino.
If the vehicle was really built on the Bianchi Miles chassis captured to the partisans on 28th July 1944 by the ‘Squadra Fantasma’, it means that the vehicle was transferred from Buriasco to Turin, where it was delivered to the Arsenale di Torino in the weeks after. The transformation probably required a lot of time. One source claims that the vehicle was delivered to the Black Brigade only in November 1944.
It is logical to suppose that the armor was made of steel plates recovered by the units from various sources, with a thickness from 5 mm to 8 mm, as on other improvised armored vehicles produced in that period. The frontal engine compartment was protected frontally with an armored grille for the radiator, while vertical armored plates protected the sides.
From photographic evidence, the armored car’s windshield was left unprotected, quite a questionable choice. It is plausible that the windshield had an openable shield with a driver slot that could be raised when a gunfight was imminent.
The only existing photo of the armored car’s side shows that the armored plates just behind the driving compartment were welded in a different position for an unknown reason.
The turret, of small dimensions, was trapezoidal-shaped with a square base. The gunner, probably the only crewmember that sat in the turret, had a hatch on the turret’s top, opening towards the front. From the poor quality photos of the vehicle, it is not clear if the turret top had a small periscope to check the battlefield from inside the vehicle.
It seems the gun had a limited elevation and depression and it seems that it did not have a coaxial machine gun. This is probably because the Breda gun mounted in the turret was a standard field one (recognizable by the differences in the barrel) that was not equipped with supports for a coaxial machine gun. The space in the turret interior was really cramped, and the loading operations were probably difficult.
The absence of slots on the sides of the turret suggests that the commander could only check the battlefield through the gun sight and probably from the small periscope mounted on the turret roof.
Only a slot was placed on the superstructure side, allowing the driver and commander to check the sides of the vehicle. A large rectangular access door seems to have been placed on the superstructure side, just under the turret, and probably another access door was placed on the rear side, such as on armored personnel carriers. This meant that, in case of emergency, the crew could enter or exit the vehicle quickly. Behind the turret, there was a transport compartment for some militiamen of the Black Brigade. From the images of the vehicle, it is visible that the rear part of the roof, behind the turret, was slightly higher than the other parts of the roof.
The crew was probably composed of four militiamen. The driver was probably on the right side of the driving compartment and the commander on the left. In the turret was the gunner, who operated the 20 mm automatic cannon, while a loader was also probably transported to facilitate the loading operations. At the rear, there were probably some benches for four to six fully equipped soldiers or enough space for a spare wheel and ammunition racks.
Nothing is known about the use of the improvised armored car and the armored personnel carrier SPA Dovunque 35 Blindato, even if the armored car was used for at least 5 months by the Black Brigade.
From November 1944 to April 1945, the units of the Black Brigade stationed in the Caserma Luigi Riva, where the vehicle was located, took part only in public order activities, where a vehicle with its characteristics was not needed.
The official documentation never mentions the service of the Compagnia Armi Pesanti, so it is currently impossible to know how they were used. On 13th November 1944, a “vehicle” (according to one source) of the Black Brigade was involved in a skirmish against partisans in Moncucco Torinese, a few kilometers from Turin. On this occasion, a militiaman, Secondo Casetta, was killed.
After 18th November 1944, some companies of the Black Brigade, supported by a couple dozen of the Compagnia ‘EIAR’ supported the Presidio di Caramagna in an anti-partisan operation that was a total failure. Only 13 deserters and partisans were arrested.
Starting 29th November, a company of the Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, composed of about seventy soldiers under the orders of Captain Amilcare Villani, took part in one of the phases of Operation ‘Koblenz’ in the provinces of Asti and Alessandria. Turin’s militiamen, reinforced by elements of the Vª Brigata Nera ‘Carlo Lidonnici’ of Cuneo, about 150 men in all, were aggregated to a company of the German SS-Polizei Regiment 15. Turin’s Black Brigade members raked the villages of Baldichieri, Villafranca, San Paolo, Savi, Castelnuovo Don Bosco and Murisengo, where the unit was stationed for a few days.
From Murisengo, the company moved to Felizzano and took part in the roundup operations in the area of Nizza Monferrato. Near Monastero Bormida, the unit captured numerous partisans who had escaped from the previous anti-partisan operation. On 10th December 1944, the company returned to Turin. The troopers did not suffer any losses during the entire operational cycle.
On 18th January, militiaman Bartolomeo Vittone was captured and killed. He belonged to the company of Pinerolo. For this reason, on 5th February 1945, 45 militiamen, under the orders of Captain Novena, made a raid in Villafranca Piemonte, where some of those responsible for the murder of Vittone were hiding.
After having surrounded a block, the Black Brigade’s militiamen entered into a lodging, capturing three young men armed with pistols and belonging to the partisan’s IV° Brigata Garibaldi (English: 4th Garibaldi Brigade). During the same operation the troopers, after a brief firefight that killed Giulio Maritano, former captain of the Royal Army, captured Ettore Carando, Chief of Staff of the partisan brigade, and Leo Lanfranco, political commissary of the Garibaldi formation. Before returning to Pinerolo, the soldiers also managed to capture the commander of the partisan police of the IV° Brigata Garibaldi, Enrico Carando.
In this operation, men from Caserma Luigi Riva were deployed, but nothing is known about the armored vehicles.
Between 19th and 20th February 1945, the Compagnia di Pinerolo, together with units of the Gruppo Esplorante (English: Exploring Group) of the Divisione Granatieri ‘Littorio’ (English: Grenadier Division), took part in a vast anti-partisan operation in the area of Torre Pellice, Bagnolo Piemonte and Campiglione.
The operation led to the discovery of the command of the 105ª Brigata Garibaldi ‘Carlo Pisacane’ (the partisans also used the names of fallen patriots for their units). Numerous partisans were captured during the operation, among them some well-known brigade leaders and 60 rifles, 8 submachine guns, 2 machine guns, as well as a considerable amount of ammunition and explosives. No losses were suffered by the unit or the militiamen of the Divisione Granatieri.
On 28th February 1945, by order of the Command of the 5ª Divisione Alpina (English: 5th Alpine Division), a platoon of the Iª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ (unknown if the improvised armored car was deployed) and the entire three company-sized XXXVIª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade) of Lucca were transferred to Cavour and Bricherasio in Turin’s province. Lucca’s black brigade had in its ranks 225 officers, NCOs, militians and auxiliaries (in March 1945) and the Lancia 3Ro Blindato. These forces, together with a company of the 5ª Divisione Alpina, took part in a police operation in the countryside east of Saluzzo. Divided into small units, the fascists searched the hills of the area assigned to them without finding any trace of partisan formations. The fascist forces also stopped several civilians who had taken refuge in the mountains to escape compulsory enlistment in the RSI armies or to escape forced enlistment as workers in wartime factories. The operation ended on the evening of 28th February.
On 25th April 1945, the new commander of the Black Brigade, Mario Pavia, ordered all the remaining soldiers to concentrate in the barracks at Via Cernaia, where about 300 militiamen arrived. Units of the 1ª Compagnia ‘Arditi’ of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ with some armored vehicles converged on the Caserma Luigi Riva.
In the morning of 26th April 1945, the partisans began the occupation of some factories in Turin and of the railway stations of Porta Nuova and Porta Susa. These were recaptured the same day by units of the Black Brigade, of the GNR and of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’.
In the afternoon of the 26th of April, from the nearby barracks of the Polizia Ausiliaria (English: Auxiliary Police) in Via Cernaia, where the agents had joined the partisans, a heavy firefight started against the barracks of the Black Brigade. Four tanks of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ and three armored cars, probably two of the ‘Leonessa’ and probably the improvised armored car of the ‘Ather Capelli’, supported by a platoon of soldiers of the brigade attacked the building in the late afternoon. After having broken through the main door with cannon fire, the armored vehicles and the squad broke into the building.
The agents and the partisans fled, leaving about ten dead on the ground, while the fascists suffered only a few injuries.
Throughout 27th April 1945, the fascists kept the partisans as far away as possible from the area where the republican units were concentrated. In order to break the resistance of the men of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, the partisans started to hit the barracks of Via Cernaia with artillery and mortars. Due to their inexperience with similar weapons, the shells did not cause casualties.
Towards evening, Colonel Cabras, commander of the GNR, gave the order to implement the plan ‘Esigenza Z2B’, which provided for the concentration of the republican units in Valtellina. The forces taking part in the retreat had to concentrate in Piazza Castello the same evening.
The column moved from Piazza Castello around 1 am on 28th April 1945. The armored vehicles of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ were located at the head and tail of the column, while the units of the ‘Ather Capelli’ formed the rear guard.
The column traversed Turin without being involved in clashes. A barricade at the bridge over the Dora was broken through by the armored vehicles. Once on the Turin highway, the column continued to Chivasso and then proceeded along the state road to Cigliano, where it stopped to avoid being hit by the Allied air force. The night after, the column moved towards Livorno.
Colonel Cabras, commander of the column, having ascertained the impossibility of continuing towards Valtellina, gave the order to continue north and reach the area of Strambino Romano, where the bulk of the German and Republican units coming from the western Alpine front were already concentrating. In Cascine Romane, the units stopped. The first American troops arrived in the area on 5th May 1945 and the fascist troops surrendered to them without resistance.
The improvised armored car of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’, was one of the dozens of improvised vehicles produced by Repubblica Sociale Italiana units during the last years of the Second World War. Its service is unknown but was probably limited, as were other similar vehicles.
It is one of the less known improvised vehicles of the war. In comparison, similar vehicles, such as the FIAT 666N Blindato of the 630ª Compagnia OP of Piacenza or the Lancia 3Ro Blindato that were deployed with the same tasks, have better detailed operative histories.
Its service was probably also limited due to the vehicle’s weight, which probably exceeded the 6.5 tonnes of the truck + load of the standard military Bianchi Miles version. Due to the vehicle’s weight, it was probably often under repairs due to mechanical failures.
Due to the critical situation of the RSI units in the last stages of the Second World War, it was probably problematic for the unit to find the necessary spare parts to keep it operational.
After the Armistice of 8th September 1943, when the Kingdom of Italy announced its decision to leave the war, abandoning its German allies, the Italian territories not yet liberated by the Allied forces were occupied by the Germans. They captured a million Italian soldiers and almost all the Italian tanks.
Some Italian units that remained loyal to Benito Mussolini continued the war in the new Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic). They operated the few tanks and armored vehicles left abandoned that they could recover from depots or workshops.
Brief Summary – from 13th May to 8th September 1943
On 13th May 1943, after furious and bloody fighting, the North African Campaign was brought to an end with the defeat of the rest of the Italian and German armies. On the Italian peninsula, the population was beginning to show displeasure with the fascist government.
By 10th June 1940 (the day Italy entered the war), the Royal Army had failed in the Invasion of Greece, and it would soon lose the colonies Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia in East Africa. In addition, in 1943, the Italian Army in Russia had suffered a disastrous defeat and thousands of casualties during its westward retreat.
This discontent was exploited by the King of Italy, who, on 25th July 1943, had Benito Mussolini arrested on charges of treason. On the same day, Marshal of Italy Pietro Badoglio came to power as the new prime minister of a royalist government that secretly began making contacts with the Allied forces to sign an armistice.
On 3rd September 1943, the Armistice of Cassibile was signed in Sicily, while the Armistice was made public by the Allied newspapers and Italian radio on 8th September 1943.
The same day, the Germans started Fall Achse (English: Operation Axis), which found the Italian soldiers unprepared. Apart from a few generals and politicians and, of course, the Germans, no one in the Regio Esercito was aware of the armistice. In a few days, the German soldiers suppressed any kind of Italian resistance in the Balkans, southern France and the Italian peninsula, killing about 20,000 Italians, capturing over a million soldiers, and a bit less than a 1,000 armored fighting vehicles.
Mussolini was freed by a unit of German paratroopers and SS that accompanied him to Germany, where he met Adolf Hitler. On 23rd September, Mussolini, after having decided the fate of Italy with Hitler, returned to Italy. In Salò, near Brescia, he founded the Repubblica Sociale Italiana in the Italian territories not yet occupied by the Allied forces.
His new republic could count on about 300,000 soldiers in the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (English: National Republican Army) and on about 140,000 soldiers in the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR (English: National Republican Guard).
Unfortunately, the Germans had occupied all the factories in Italy, forcing them to deliver all the newly produced tanks, planes, artillery pieces and logistic vehicles to their units, leaving only scraps to the Italian units.
The Carro Armato L6/40
In the late 1930s, the Italian Regio Esercito tried to develop a new light tank with a rotating turret to replace the older CV light tanks series in the ranks of its armored units. After a series of failed projects, on 26th October 1939, the FIAT-Ansaldo consortium proposed the M6T, a 6-tonnes tank (in that period still called a medium tank) armed with two machine guns in a one-man turret.
The Italian High Command was not impressed with the M6. On the same day, General Cosma Manera of the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione or CSM (English: Center of Motorization Studies), however, showed interest in the vehicle. He proposed 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.
The vehicle was then modified with a new one-man turret armed with a 20 mm Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935. However, it did not have enough elevation to hit flying targets. It was accepted in service anyway in April 1940 as the Carro Armato Leggero da 6 tonnellate Modello 1940 (English: 6 tonnes Light Tank Model 1940) or, more simply, Carro Armato L6/40.
In total, 415 were produced for the Italian Regio Esercito, plus another 17 for the German Army between 1943 and 1944. After the Armistice, the Germans captured the majority of the existing vehicles, leaving few serviceable tanks to the new Repubblica Sociale Italiana.
Operational use after the Armistice
The Repubblica Sociale Italiana had some L6/40s in service in the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana.
31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista
The 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment) was a tank unit deployed in the Balkans after 1939, first in Albania, then in Greece.
When the Armistice was made public, some of its soldiers did not accept the surrender. Some examples were Captain Ulrico Ripandelli, commander of the 6ª Compagnia Carri (English: 6th Tank Company) of the III Battaglione Carri (English: 3rd Tank Battalion), together with other soldiers and vehicles from the II Battaglione Carri (English: 2nd Tank Battalion) and other companies of the III Battaglione Carri. They all decided to join the Germans.
The Germans trusted them and, after painting some coats of arms to avoid friendly fire, immediately assigned them to the 118. Jäger-Division in Podgorica and redeployed them against the Yugoslavian Partisans.
The L6/40s were rarely deployed, as the 40 L3 light tanks that the unit had in its ranks were preferred.
Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano
Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’
On 26th September 1944, Captain Gian Carlo Zuccaro started the creation of an armored unit as he was instructed to do by the Army High Command in the previous days. This company was proposed on 20th September 1944 by the Ufficio Operazioni e Servizi of the Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito (English: Operations and Services Office of the Army General Staff).
Cap. Zuccaro had the task of concentrating all the available tanks under the dependencies into a single unit and not individually with small units scattered throughout the parts of the peninsula still in Italian and German hands.
He had already been trying for months to create an armored unit of the RSI without the Germans knowing it. The cover name he had given the unit to confuse the German authorities was Battaglione Carri dell’Autodrappello Ministeriale delle Forze Armate (English: Tank Battalion of the Ministerial Armed Forces).
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ (English: Armored Group) was created in Polpenazze del Garda near Brescia on 13th September 1944 by Cap. Zuccaro. It had all the tanks that should have been assigned to the Compagnia Autonoma Carri, which was never created. It was never deployed in active service apart from a few skirmishes on 24th and 25th April 1945.
The search for new tanks continued and, on 18th March 1945, the unit was equipped with 1 Semovente M43 da 105/25, 1 M15/42 tank, 4 M13/40 tanks, one non-operational L6/40, and 7 L3 light tanks.
Unfortunately, due to mechanical problems, the L6/40 was not quickly put into service and spent much time in the workshop for repairs. During March and April 1945, the partisan units in the Italian peninsula started a series of violent attacks and sabotages to weaken the exhausted Fascist and Nazi forces. On 25th April 1945, they launched the last attack in the last cities under Axis control. In a few days, they fully liberated the main cities from Fascist presence.
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ was only deployed during this occasion. A column composed of 5 medium tanks, the self-propelled gun and 3 L3 light tanks towed by the medium tanks to save fuel left Polpenazze on 24th April night to avoid air attacks. It had the new task of reaching Milan (ignoring the fact that Milan was being liberated by the partisans at those hours).
The Carro Armato L6/40 along with another light tank were left in Polpenazze with the unit’s workshop.
The Battaglione ‘Lupo’ (Lupo – Wolf) of the Xª Divisione MAS (English: 10th MAS Division) had an L6/40 in service, but, for many years, the sources confused its origin. The first theory written by Giorgio Pisanò and confirmed by veteran of the unit Emilio Maluta says that the unit captured the Carro Armato L6/40 from a partisan unit in Piemonte in September 1944.
The second theory, written by Sergio Corbatti and Marco Nava in the book …Come il Diamante, mentions that three L6/40s were recovered in the 2° Centro Esperienza Artiglieria (English: 2nd Artillery Experience Center) of Ciriè near Turin in September 1944. They were transported to Turin.
The book Battaglione Lupo – Xa Flottiglia MAS 1943-1945, written by Italian writer Guido Bonvicini, reports the testimony of some veterans that sheds further light on the story.
The L6/40 captured from the partisans was abandoned in Milan when, after the anti-partisan operations in Piemonte, the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ was reorganized on 6th November 1944. On that occasion, it was judged as being in a very poor condition and scrapped. On the same occasion, the unit bought 4 Cannoni-Mitragliere Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 and some 81 mm mortars from the black market.
The three L6/40s recovered in Ciriè were transported to Turin at the Caserma ‘Monte Grappa’ barracks. It is not clear if the three vehicles were too damaged and two were cannibalized to put the third one into service or if more than one vehicle were operational.
One was deployed to break through the partisan encirclement of the Reparto Arditi Ufficiali (English: Arditi Officer Unit) in Venaria Reale near Turin in late October 1944.
One L6/40 without the 20 mm main gun was deployed by the unit during the Reoccupation of Alba. The city had been freed from the Fascist forces in early October 1944 and proclaimed a Free Partisan Republic on 10th October 1944. On 30th October 1944, the Fascist Minister of Interior Paolo Zerbino ordered Colonel Alessandro Ruta, commander of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani (English: Anti-Partisan Regroupement), to launch an attack to regain control of the area.
The attack began on 2nd November 1944. Col. Ruta ordered the Battaglione ‘Lupo’, Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ and the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) to participate in the attack as well. The latter sent 2 AB41 medium armored cars and 3 M14/41 medium tanks. Together with these units, some companies of the black brigades were also deployed.
The L6/40 and the other armored vehicles attacked the city from the south-east, approaching on the Roddi-Alba road. Due to the road being mined, they needed to proceed on the roadside, where they risked getting stuck in the mud which was the result of many rainy days.
They easily broke through the partisan defensive line, but the battle finished about mid day, when a unit of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani attacked the partisans from the north by surprise, forcing them to retreat.
The Battaglione ‘Lupo’ then moved to Milan, where it scrapped the L6/40 captured from the partisans (probably after reusing all the spare parts) and armed the L6/40 that they deployed in Alba. The two other L6s found in Ciriè were probably left in Turin where they were scrapped or given for spare parts to the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’.
From the testimony of Walter Cagolato, captured by the partisans of the Divisione Garibaldi ‘Fratelli Varalli’ (English: Garibaldi Division – Italian Communist Partisans), due to poor reliability, the Lupo tank was abandoned in a tramcar depot in Milan and probably taken by the training company of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’.
The Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ (Fulmine – Lightning) seems to have used a Carro Armato L6/40 after early 1945. A soldier enlisted in the unit had been a tank crew member before the armistice. He was instructed to go to Turin from Gorizia with a truck to recover a light tank directly from the FIAT depots (which had probably repaired it).
The first part of the task was performed quietly and the tank was taken from the FIAT depots in Turin without problems. The second part of the trip was done during the night to avoid being targeted by Allied air attacks. Due to the weight of the tank, it needed to be unloaded from the truck to cross bridges all along the return trip of about 500 km long. During the crossing of the Piave river, probably between Treviso and Venezia, the unloaded truck was hit by machine gun bursts and put in flames. The partisans that shot at it then quickly disappeared.
The tank crew member was forced to continue the about 130 km journey from Piave to Gorizia on tracks. The tank reached Gorizia, but with the tracks and suspension damaged due to the long trip.
Due to this deterioration and the absence of a truck that could transport it, the tank could not take part in the breakthrough of the Yugoslavian Partisans lines that besieged the town of Tarnova, where the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’ was trapped.
Apart from this, nothing is known about this Carro Armato L6/40, neither its provenance, its camouflage, or its final destiny.
Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana
Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, the best-equipped Repubblica Sociale Italiana unit, was equipped with at least two L6/40s, probably found in or near Turin city.
One of the vehicles took part in the parade of the unit in the city of Turin on 23rd May 1944 and only one vehicle was shown on 24th July 1944 in the city of Milan during a parade to celebrate the anniversary of the attempted coup against fascism. On that occasion, the unit’s banner was placed on the raised antenna of the L6/40.
The two tanks took part in some anti-partisan operations in Piemonte in autumn 1944. When the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ of the Xª Divisione MAS left Milan for the Eastern front of the Italian peninsula, the Compagnia Addestramento (English: Training Company) of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Milan probably recovered the L6/40.
Not much is known about the Compagnia Addestramento of Milan. After the Great Partisan Insurrection, on 26th April 1945, the unit left the city of Milan with 4 armored cars and 10 medium and light tanks.
Of the 10 tanks, one was surely a Semovente L40 da 47/32, another was an M13/40 and another one was an M15/42. Unfortunately, the book …Come il Diamante does not mention other vehicles, apart from the armored cars. There were two AB43s and probably two AB41s.
It is possible to assume that the Carro Armato L6/40 in running condition of the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ was recovered by the training unit of ‘Leonessa’. It is not known if it was put in service again or if it was cannibalized for mechanical parts for the Semovente L40 da 47/32.
Distaccamento Operativo di Piacenza
The Distaccamento Operativo di Piacenza (English: Piacenza Operative Detachment) was created on 20th August 1944 with 50 soldiers and two AB41 armored cars under the command of Lieutenant Giovanni Ferraris from the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’. A Carro Armato L6/40 was deployed at an unspecified date.
A document from 20th January 1945 claims that the Distaccamento Operativo di Piacenza had 7 officers, 113 NCOs and soldiers, a Carro Armato M15/42, a Carro Armato L6/40, 3 L3 light tanks, 2 AB41 armored cars, 2 armored vehicles, 3 light lorries, 10 motorcycles, two trucks and a staff car.
The unit helped to defend the few Italian oil wells present in the Piacenza countryside. It also carried out escort missions when the oil barrels were sent from the oil wells to Milan, where the Oleoblitz company refined oil into fuel.
In a report from 17th March 1945, the garrison of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Piacenza had in its workshops two non-operational L6/40s.
On 25th April, the Great Partisan Insurrection began in Piacenza as well, but the strong Nazi-Fascist force in the area meant that the partisan assault was slowed down. After a battle with US soldiers and tanks in the area south of the city, on the night of 26th April, the Fascist soldiers destroyed their depot to prevent ammunition, armored vehicles and fuel from failing in partisan hands.
It is not clear if the second L6/40 was totally unusable and for this reason it was blown up or if, between 17th March and 26th April 1945, it was put into service again and then destroyed or abandoned during fighting against partisans in the days before the Great Partisan Insurrection.
The other L6/40 tank that was still under repair and avoided destruction was probably abandoned the next morning, when the majority of Fascist forces left the city with all the operational vehicles.
Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Valtellina
During the last months of war, the Fascist forces planned to retreat to Valtellina, a valley in Lombardia near the Swiss border. There, the Fascists could make their last stand, allowing Benito Mussolini to flee to Switzerland to avoid the consequences of his failed dictatorship.
A small unit of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was sent to the Tirano area (in Valtellina) in mid April 1945. The unit was composed of a Carro Armato L6/40 and two armored cars, of which at least one was a Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43.
On 27th April 1945, about 1,000 soldiers from the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, Compagnia ‘Pesaro’ of the Battaglione M ‘Guardia del Duce’, a few soldiers from the XV Brigata Nera ‘Sergio Gatti’ (English: 15th Black Brigade), from the XXXIX Brigata Nera ‘Raffaele Manganiello’ (English: 39th Black Brigade), the Brigata Nera Autonoma ‘Giovanni Gentile’ (English: Autonomous Black Brigade), the Fascist border guards from the III Legione GNR di Frontiera (English: 3rd GNR Border Guard Legion) and a battalion of French militias were ready to join Mussolini while fleeing north.
The commander of this column was the former commander of the 2° Battaglione (English: 2nd Battalion) of the III Legione GNR di Frontiera, Major Vanna. He planned to reach Sondrio, where they were to meet Mussolini and all escape to Switzerland.
The column was fully motorized with the last few operational trucks of the Fascist units and the armored vehicles of ‘Leonessa’. There were also some trucks armed with 20 mm automatic cannons for close defense.
When the Fascist forces tried to reach Sondrio, they were hit by partisan bursts, blocking them in an open field near the city of Tirano, 200 meter away from the Santuario della Madonna (English: Sanctuary of Virgin Mary).
The Carro Armato L6/40, the only tracked vehicle of the column, was used as a shield, proceeding slowly from the blocked trucks to the sanctuary, where the Fascist soldiers could open fire against the partisan positions.
After some hours of fighting, the Fascist commander, Maj. Vanna, understood that it was impossible to reach Sondrio by breaking through the partisan lines. Maj. Vanna retreated his forces to the Caserma ‘Luigi Torelli’ barracks in Tirano. He chose 250 soldiers out of the 1,000 available and tried to reach Sondrio by passing on the shores of the Adda River. The rest of the soldiers and the three armored vehicles tried to resist the partisan forces, but surrendered the next day after heavy fighting.
Camouflage and Markings
The Carri Armati L6/40s of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista were painted in a three-tone camouflage. The original Kaki Sahariano (English: Saharan Khaki) was partially covered by dark green and dark brown spots.
On the tanks used before the Armistice, white circles were painted on the sides of the superstructure and some cartoons on the front plate. After the Armistice, the white circles were covered with white bands that were also painted on the front part of the transmission cover. They did not cover the cartoons on the frontal plate. Two vehicles are known, one with plate ‘Regio Esercito 5484’ and one with plate ‘Regio Esercito 5488’ with a lion face.
Nothing is known about the camouflage of the L6/40 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leoncello’ and of the Battaglione ‘Fulmine’. They were probably in the original Kaki Sahariano monochrome desert camouflage.
At least one of the Carri Armati L6/40s of the Battaglione ‘Lupo’ was painted with dark green spots on the original Kaki Sahariano. On the turret sides, it had a wolf face, the symbol of the battalion, painted inside a black or red rectangle.
Unfortunately, the sources that speak about the rectangle color are discordant. Two veterans of the ‘Lupo’ Battalion give different versions, one with a red rectangle and one with a black rectangle. It is possible they may be talking about two different vehicles
The Carri Armati L6/40 of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ had the standard Kaki Sahariano monochrome desert camouflage. As a coat of arms, they had an ‘m’ in lowercase italics painted red, which was the symbol of Mussolini. A lictorian beam, the symbol of the Partito Fascista Repubblicano, intersected the ‘m’ transversely, and the acronym GNR was painted in red under it.
After December 1944, the L6/40 tank that remained in Turin had the Kaki Sahariano Chiaro base covered with reddish brown and dark green spots. The vehicle spotted in Valtellina had this camouflage pattern.
The Carro Armato L6/40 was an already obsolete light tank when the Armistice with the Allied forces was signed. Despite this, the tank was deployed by the Germans and by the Fascist forces, who employed all the vehicles not yet captured by the Germans.
Interestingly enough, in the anti-partisan operations in Northern Italy, the tank performed without any particular criticisms. This was also because, until mid-to-late 1944, the partisan forces were equipped only with light firearms that could not penetrate the armor of the L6/40.
Carro Armato L6/40 Specifications
3.82 x 1.80 x 1.175 m
Weight, battle ready
2 (driver and commander/gunner)
FIAT Tipo 18 VT 4-cylinder 68 hp at 2500 rpm with 165 liters tank
One Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 and a 8 mm Breda Modello 1938
Kingdom of Italy/Italian Social Republic/Italian Republic (1938-1948)
Heavy Duty Truck – 12,692 Built In All Versions
The Lancia 3Ro was an Italian heavy duty truck produced by Lancia Veicoli Industriali (English: Lancia Industrial Vehicles) for the civilian market and for military service.
Its production began in 1938 in many civilian and military variants, becoming one of the most used trucks of the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) during the Second World War.
After the war, production restarted and some upgraded variants ran out the factories until 1948, 20 years after it first appeared on the market, when it was substituted by more modern trucks in the production lines. It remained in Lancia’s sales brochure until 1950.
History of the Lancia Company
Vincenzo Lancia was an Italian car racer and businessman who founded the Lancia & Company car factory in 1906 in Turin with his business partner Claudio Foglin.
After some years of producing small quantities of racing and luxury cars that enhanced the brand’s reputation in Italy and Europe, World War I stopped the dreams of the founders. During World War I, Lancia’s only production plant was totally converted to the production of military vehicles at orders of the Italian Government.
After the war, Vincenzo Lancia felt the need to develop his own range of trucks in order to respond to changes in the Italian civilian and military market and also in the European civilian market.
In fact, many European car companies were physically destroyed during the war. Many others that had been converted between 1915 and 1918 from civilian to military production, may have survived, but were out of funds and forced to declare bankruptcy. Many did not have enough funds to convert the production lines from military to civilian production and were forced to declare bankruptcy. In this context, US companies, such as Ford, were doing big deals selling US-designed and built cars and trucks in Europe.
In 1921, Lancia Veicoli Industriali restarted civilian production of trucks in parallel with Lancia & Company, which restarted production of racing and luxury cars. The new post-war truck models were the Trijota and Tetrajota, 585 of which were produced until 1923 and 1924 respectively, and which were appreciated by Italian and European truckers. The Trijota was also deployed by the British Army in an armored car version. In fact, the vehicle was one of the most exported vehicles of Europe in that period, with a few hundreds sold in France and Great Britain.
The most important truck produced in that period was the heavy duty truck Pentajota (factory code Serie 254), 2,191 of which were produced from 1924 to 1933. It was really appreciated, with some hundreds bought by British companies. It became so popular on the European market due its payload capacity of over 6 tonnes, which only some much more expensive American trucks could match.
Another important model produced in the Interwar period was the Eptajota (factory code Serie 254), of which 1,827 were produced from 1927 to 1935. This vehicle was one of the first Lancia trucks that received special bodyworks, such as water or fuel carrier, ice transporter, milk delivery, and garbage truck.
The last chassis produced before the ‘Ro’ series was the Omicron (factory code Serie 256), produced as heavy-duty trucks and buses. It was 9 to 10 m long in the bus version, while the truck ones, also produced with three-axles, were even longer, at 12 m.
The Lancia Omicron was equipped with the Lancia Tipo 77 petrol engine with a displacement of 7,060 cm³, offering 91.5 hp at 1,600 rpm. Its maximum payload was 7.95 tonnes in the two-axles version. It was a reliable truck used by some Middle Eastern companies in the bus version on the road between Beirut (Lebanon) and Baghdad (Iraq). They were so reliable that they were retired after completing over 2 million km each.
The Omicron’s only flaw was the high petrol consumption, which led Vincenzo Lancia to decide to switch to better-performing diesel engines. The diesel engine was invented by Rudolf Diesel and first patented in 1892, but was little known. The first use of a diesel engine did not come until 1903, finding use as a ship engine. The first diesel engine for aircraft was created in 1914 but it was only in February 1936 that the first wheeled vehicle powered by a diesel engine appeared, the Mercedes Benz 260D car.
The research of reliable diesel engines was a feature shared by almost all car and truck manufacturers in the 1930s in Italy, but also in other parts of Europe. All European car companies looking for diesel engines went to Germany, where many German companies were already producing excellent high-performance diesel engines.
Almost every European car company had contracts with Mercedes-Benz, Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (MAN), and Büssing AG. However, Vincenzo Lancia was not satisfied with the engines of the big German manufacturers. All the Italian companies (except FIAT) bought blueprints for German diesel engines, with some companies buying blueprints for entire trucks, such as ALFA Romeo and Officine Meccaniche (OM).
At the beginning of the 1930s, Vincenzo Lancia signed a contract with Junkers, considered by the Italian businessman to be more advanced in the production of diesel engines.
Previous Models of the ‘Ro’ Series
After the reliable Junkers engines were chosen, Lancia needed new trucks to install them into. The first project had a license-built Junkers 2-cylinder engine produced as the Lancia Tipo 89. It had a 3,181 cm³ displacement and gave a maximum power of 64 hp at 1,500 rpm.
It powered the newly designed Lancia Ro (factory code Serie 264) heavy-duty truck, first presented at the Milan Motor Show in 1932. It was a totally new vehicle with more modern shapes that distinguished it from the Lancia trucks of the 1920s.
A total of 5,196 trucks were produced between 1933 and 1939 in five different series, two civilian and three military ones. It had a weight of 5.40 tonnes and a payload capability of 6.35 tonnes in the standard civilian version, while the military one had a weight of 5.30 tonnes and a payload capability of 6.45 tonnes. Its maximum speed was 35 km/h. The coachwork was primarily the work of Officine Viberti of Turin.
However, the Lancia Ro had power problems. In order to cope with the requests of increased maximum payload, a new Junkers-licensed engine mounted on a new vehicle was introduced in 1935.
The engine was the Junker 3-cylinder 6 opposed pistons version with a displacement of 4,771 cm³. It produced 95 hp at 1,500 rpm (produced under license as Lancia Tipo 90). The vehicle on which it was mounted was the new Lancia Ro-Ro (factory code Serie 265) heavy-duty truck.
This new vehicle was a failure because the Italian Royal Army was not interested in buying it, so, after a total production of only 301 vehicles for the civilian market, the construction was terminated. Lancia Veicoli Industriali wanted a common vehicle to produce simultaneously in military and civil versions to save up money and have that maximum percentage of common parts.
This was an unfortunate destiny for a truck that had a weight of 6.9 tonnes but a payload capability of 8.9 tonnes. During the Second World War, no other Italian truck had such a load capacity.
The Lancia 3Ro
Vincenzo Lancia, not satisfied by the license-built engines, decided to develop his own four-stroke five-cylinder diesel engine in order to decrease the production costs, as the Junkers engines were expensive, and to become more independent from foreign developments. In the mid-to-late 1930s, the Junkers engines that Lancia produced under license were not powerful enough to compete with the new trucks of other companies, which made the ‘Ro’ truck series become less competitive.
The new engine, dubbed Lancia Tipo 102, was mounted on the new Lancia 3Ro (factory code Serie 464) heavy-duty truck. The prototype was presented at the 10th Milan Motor Show on 28th October 1937. The new truck was bodied by Officine Viberti of Turin, now a leader in the sector and a valuable partner of Lancia. The prototype had an innovative drop-shaped radiator grille, inspired by that of the Lancia Augusta sports car. However, this would not be used on the first vehicle series.
Production began in late 1937, while sales of the new vehicle began in 1938. It replaced the Lancia Ro and Lancia Ro-Ro on the production lines. Initially, two models were offered by Lancia in 1938. A civilian one with factory code Serie 464 and a military one, Serie 564. These codes were rarely used even if some sources, for the sake of clarity, define the models as ‘Lancia 3Ro 464’ and ‘Lancia 3Ro 564’.
The first version of the civilian model retained a fairly rustic bodywork in order to keep the cost low, speed up production, and make it competitive on the Italian civilian market.
From 1906 to 1919, Lancia & Co. vehicles received very simple names, consisting of the horsepower delivered by the engine (Lancia 12HP, etcetera).
In 1919, Vincenzo Lancia’s brother, Giovanni, a scholar of classical languages, suggested to his brother to use the ancient Greek alphabet for the names of his cars. They first appeared during that year: the Lancia Lambda was the first, and then the previous models were renamed Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and so on. The Lambda made its debut at the Paris and London Motor Show in 1922.
In the same period, the prefixes ‘Di’ and ‘Tri’ began to be adopted to represent evolutions or simply similar vehicles. The last Lancia car to adopt the Greek letters was the Dilambda, the prototype of which was presented at the 1929 New York Motor Show.
Truck names likewise received the same name treatment. The ‘Jota’ series had several variants: Dijota, Trijota, Tetrajota, Eptajota, etc. Between 1929 and 1930, Vincenzo Lancia decided to switch to the Latin language, using old place names to baptize his cars: the Lancia Augusta, Aprilia, and Ardea were the most popular. In 1931, some of these cars received ‘ad hoc’ French names when Lancia tried to sell them on the French civil market, with mixed success.
For the trucks, strangely enough, the Italian businessman preferred to maintain the Greek alphabet with the new series of trucks, the ‘Ro’ ones. ‘ϱ’ was the 17th letter of the Greek alphabet. However, strangely enough, Lancia decided to use different nomenclature for these trucks, naming the second Ro-Ro instead of ‘Diro’, and the third one 3Ro and not ‘Triro’.
The steel frame consisted of two straight spars connected by five welded and two bolted cross sections. The two bolted ones supported the engine. At the ends of each spar was a towing hook, while the rear cross-section received the hinged hook to tow trailers or artillery pieces.
Some military trucks were equipped with a winch with a capacity of 9.5 tonnes, with a 31.5 m long cable. This hydraulic winch was operated by the truck’s engine thanks to a Power Take-Off (P.T.O.) system. When necessary, the driver stopped the vehicle, would shift out of gear on the gearbox, engage the handbrake, and, via a manual override, connected the engine’s flywheel to a second driveshaft that operated the winch’s gearbox, which regulated the speed of the cable.
The 4.8 m long, 2.3 m wide, and 0.65 m tall loading bay was built out of wood, with 2.5 cm thick planks, for an area of 10.34 m² and an internal volume of 6.72 m³. The civilian Lancia 3Ro, weighing 5.5 tonnes, was approved by law to carry 6.5 tonnes of cargo, for a total weight of truck and cargo of 12 tonnes. However, the maximum transportable cargo came to almost 10 tonnes. The military version, with an empty weight of 5.61 tonnes and a payload capability approved by law of 6.39 tonnes, could carry 32 fully equipped soldiers on two side benches or almost 42 sitting on the floor. Other possible loads were military vehicles, such as the series L3/33, L3/35, or L3/38 fast tank (~ 3.2 tonnes), L6/40 light reconnaissance tank (6.84 tonnes), a Semovente L40 da 47/32 (6.82 tonnes) self-propelled gun, or even 7 horses.
Engine and Suspension
The Lancia 3Ro stood out with its new diesel engine, designed and produced by the Turin company. The Lancia Tipo 102 diesel, 4-stroke, direct ignition, 4 valve, 5-cylinder in-line water-cooled engine, with a capacity of 6,875 cm³, delivered 93 hp at 1,860 rpm, leading to a maximum speed on road of 45 km/h. It had a 135 liters tank behind the cab. The fuel tank was connected to a license-built Bosch pump that injected the fuel in the chamber thanks to license-built Bosch injectors. The lubricant oil tank had a capacity of 10.5 liters.
It had a range of 530 km on-road, with an approximate consumption of 1 liter of fuel each 3.9 km on-road. The off-road range was 450 km, with an approximate consumption of 1 liter of fuel every 3.3 km.
Initially, the engine had an inertial starter connected to a crank. Some vehicles produced during the war and almost all the post-war Lancia 3Ros were equipped with electric starters. On some Lancia 3Ro produced before 1946, the inertial starter was substituted by electric ones later on.
Semi-elliptical steel leaf springs were used on all four wheels. A trick Soviet soldiers used to stop Axis vehicles during the great Russian retreat was to dig holes in the roads. With temperatures below -30° degrees, the leaf spring suspensions of the trucks would break when they hit such a hole, stopping the vehicle in place. The Lancia 3Ro and a few other models of Axis vehicles did not have this problem, probably due to the quality of the steel with which they were manufactured.
The rear-wheel drive was connected to a gearbox with 4 forward and 1 reverse gears and two-stage reductor, for a total of 8 forward and 2 reverse speeds. It had a single dry plate clutch, as on the Lancia Ro and Ro-Ro. It was built under license after a German Maybach model and was located behind the cab for ease of maintenance.
The Lancia 3Ro had expansion shoe-type brakes. The brakes were composed of tie rods that acted on the brake shoes and moved two servo conical pulleys. These used force from the transmission when the brake pedal was pressed. This meant that, in the event of a brake system failure whether the vehicle was moving or stationary, the brakes would be locked in place by the brake shoes. This system would be abandoned in favor of a hydraulic system after the war.
The brake system of the trailer was pneumatic, powered by a compressor connected to an air tank of the ‘Triplex’ type mounted on the truck. After the war, the 3Ro received new arrangements for towing 12 tonnes instead of the 10 tonnes authorized for the civilian variant. This increased the maximum weight of the loaded truck and the loaded trailer to 24 tonnes. On the military model, it was not uncommon to see vehicles carrying material for a total of almost 10 tonnes in the loading bay.
Thanks to the power of the engine, fully loaded trailers could be towed by fully loaded Lancia 3Ros even on steep roads, where other heavy-duty trucks, such as the FIAT 634N, were forced to stop. The pulley brake system worked very well on downhill slopes, braking the enormous mass of the fully loaded truck and trailers.
One of the Lancia 3Ro’s problems was the rear axle, which was composed of two load-bearing axle shafts. This meant that, in case the axle shafts broke, the Lancia would get stuck and it was very difficult to move it. Fortunately, this problem was rarely encountered and, after the war, this was replaced with a better-performing system. Civilian models produced with this axle were sometimes modified independently by the owners, replacing the axle shafts with stronger ones from other heavy trucks, such as FIAT 666Ns or Isotta Fraschini D80s.
The electrical system was a 6 volt one in the first 1,611 Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 vehicles produced, then replaced by a 12 volt system in the following models. It was linked to the Magneti Marelli D90R3 12/1100 dynamo produced by Magneti Marelli of Sesto San Giovanni. This was used to power the two front lights, the license plate and dashboard lighting, the windscreen wipers, and the horn. On the Serie 464, the 12 volt system was mounted from the start.
Artillery-type forged steel rim wheels could mount various types of tires produced by the Pirelli company of Milan or the French Michelin company. These were 270 x 20” tires on the 564 MNP and Pirelli Tipo ‘Celerflex’ solid tires with a 285×88” diameter on the 564 MNSP.
For sandy soils, the Lancia could use Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires. These, thanks to their wide profile, offered good flotation on loose sand.
The vehicle was also tested with rubberless tires before the war. This is because of the lack of rubber due to embargoes placed on Fascist Italy after the Ethiopian War. During its operational life, the Lancia 3Ro was often equipped with Pirelli Tipo ‘Raiflex’ tires for sandy grounds and produced with Rayon (Raion in Italian) synthetic fibers (RAI-flex for Raion) in order to save on rubber.
The main bodyworker for Lancia Veicoli Industriali trucks was Officine Viberti of Corso Peschiera 249 in Turin. This partnership began with the Lancia Ro model. This Turinese company was less than 800 m from the Lancia plant in the Borgo San Paolo district in Via Monginevro 99. It was easy for Lancia to deliver the truck frames to Viberti, which bodyworked them. Officine Viberti thus became the unofficial Lancia coachworker.
Officine Viberti was founded by Candido Viberti in 1922; he had previously been employed by another company. After a collaboration with the Ceirano car company, in 1928, he moved his company to the Borgo San Paolo district. In that period, the company abandoned car bodyworks and began to bodywork trucks for ‘special’ use (coaches, buses, trailers, and semi-trailers).
In 1932, Candido Viberti bought the Società Anonima Industriale di Verona or SAIV (English: Industrial Limited Company of Verona) and started the production of fuel or liquid carriers in parallel. In the same period, Viberti became a valuable partner of Lancia Veicoli Industriali, for which it bodywork the majority of the civilian trucks and all the military ones.
Also thanks to this collaboration, Officine Viberti grew. From just 150 workers in 1928, the firm reached 800 workers in 1935, and then 1,517 workers and 263 employees in 1943. This was also partly due to the continuous requests from the Royal Italian Army not only for truck bodywork but also for trailers, semi-trailers, etcetera.
Officine Viberti equipped the civilian 3Ro trucks with wooden cargo bays covered with thin metal sheets, but some customers sometimes asked specifically for only wooden ones or only metal sheet ones. Other special cargo bays could be added on the Lancia 3Ros, such as a tilting dump-truck cargo bay, a van-style bay, cold storage, transport of perishable materials, or live animals.
In the late 1930s, due the enormous amount of work entrusted to the company, occasionally there were delays in the construction of truck bodywork (not only the Lancia ones). Thus, many customers that had ordered a truck that they needed immediately purchased ‘naked’ chassis from Lancia. They then privately got them bodied by Carrozzeria Orlandi of Modena, Cab, Zagato of Rho, near Milan, Carrozzeria Esperia in Pavia, or even Carrozzeria Caproni of Milan and Carrozzeria Zorzi. This made some vehicles quite different and with lots of differences from the ones bodied by Viberti.
For the bus versions, these vehicles were fitted out by companies such as Carrozzeria Garavini of Turin, Carrozzeria Macchi of Varese, Orlandi or, the most popular and common, Officine Viberti.
After the war, due to the bad financial situation and the poor state of the infrastructure of Officine Viberti, many trucks were subcontracted by Viberti. The coachwork of the Lancia 3Ro was done by other companies, such as Caproni or other brands with just some small workshops with a few workers.
For the Lancia 3Ro, Officine Viberti offered a whole range of cabs and loading bays. There were the ‘short cabs’ with two seats for truckers that had no need to make long journeys. In some vehicles, the seats were substituted with a single upholstered bench for three men.
The ‘long cabs’, about 300 mm longer, had a single upholstered bench for three people and, behind the backrest, a berth. This cab came with many small modifications. The customers could request to equip the rear part with small windows with curtains or without windows. The Lancia 3Ro was the third European truck to have the provision for a berth, after the Italian FIAT 634N heavy duty truck (that could even have 3 berths if requested), its main rival on the Italian civilian market, and the French three-axle Renault AFKD super heavy duty truck (10 tonne payload) produced after 1936.
The berth was often made of wood between two sheets of molded steel, although some customers opted for the simpler solution of having the entire berth made of wood. Some owners asked for two berths, one on top of the other, with no exterior differences between single-berth cabs and two-berths cabs.
However, the Lancia 3Ro was the first truck that could permit one of the drivers to sleep while the other was driving. The FIAT and Renault vehicles only allowed the use of the berths when the vehicle was stationary.
Another modification of the Officine Viberti long cab was the one used in the fuel carrier variant. Instead of a berth in the rear part of the cab, it was separate and there was a compartment to store some refueling tools and tubes with doors on the cab’ sides. This modification could probably be done on other types of trucks as well. Usually, the owner of a ‘long cab’ Lancia 3Ro that needed to travel long journeys carried only a second driver so, when one of the two was sleeping on the berth, the second one could drive. It was common that, when both the two drivers were tired, one slept on the upholstered bench, which could be used as a second berth.
The first cab versions featured a vertical front grille with an exposed radiator, vertical one-piece hood sides, single-line vertical air intakes and almost vertical windshield, all inspired by the previous Lancia Ro and Ro-Ro.
In 1939, Officine Viberti introduced a new, more modern and elegant bodywork to increase aerodynamic performance, along with a drop-shaped radiator grille, like the Lancia Augusta luxury car. This model also had angled windscreen and more rounded shapes, exactly as the Lancia 3Ro prototype. The same thing was done by FIAT for its FIAT 634N in the same period. This new bodywork also had a short and long variant.
Another detail that not all cabs had was an overhead storage rack. The black square with a yellow or white triangle painted inside meant the truck could tow a trailer and warned drivers in its vicinity to be careful. If the rectangle was upright, the truck was towing a trailer. If it was horizontal, the trailer was not present. The triangle was only required by law on civilian vehicles.
All the Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 military trucks were bodied only by Officine Viberti.
The truck had a length of 7.40 m and a width of 2.5 m. Its weight was 5.5 tonnes and its payload capability was 8 tonnes meaning it could theoretically weigh up to 13.5 tonnes fully laden. This was even though the maximum weight allowed by Italian laws for these types of vehicles at the time was 12 tonnes. Thus, the permitted carried weight was a more modest 6.5 tonnes. The new Lancia’s engine guaranteed a maximum speed of 45 km/h that was enough for the 1930s standards, although by the standards of the 1940s this would have been a rather slow vehicle.
The total production of Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 was 1,307 vehicles produced until late 1941. The civilian version was homologated to tow two-axle trailers with a maximum payload of 10 tonnes.
In general, Italian truckers really appreciated Lancia’s new vehicle, which was fast, sturdy, powerful but, above all, very economical. The other Italian heavy trucks in the market at the time were the FIAT 634N, the Isotta Fraschini D80, the FIAT 666N, and the ALFA Romeo 800 (the last two entered service in 1939).
Lancia 3Ro vs other Italian Heavy Trucks
Lancia 3Ro Serie 464
ALFA Romeo 800
Isotta Fraschini D80
93 hp at 1,860 rpm
75 at 1,700 rpm
110 hp at 2,000 rpm
108 hp at 2,000 rpm
90 hp at 1850 rpm
37 – 49 km/h
The 3Ro was competitive with the first two trucks. The FIAT model 634N entered service in 1931 and was really heavy, at 6.36 tonnes, and permitted the transport of only 6.14 tonnes of cargo and had some problems when fully loaded on mountain roads due to the 80 hp engine. The FIAT 666N was modern and powerful but had a lower cargo payload. The Isotta Fraschini compared similarly in some aspects, as the truck had the same weight and payload capacity as the Lancia, but had a higher fuel consumption and higher costs due to a more refined structure. Only the wealthiest truckers or companies could afford such a vehicle.
Regarding the competition between 3Ro and ALFA Romeo, the ALFA vehicle was far better due a lighter weight of just 5 tonnes, which permitted a payload of 7 tonnes and a more powerful engine that guaranteed a top speed of 49 km/h with reductors. The problem was the absence of a berth for long journeys. The same issue existed with the FIAT 666N. It weighed 5.77 tonnes and could load 6.24 tonnes of cargo with a maximum speed of 56.8 km/h. The main problem with these last two vehicles was a series of laws passed in the Kingdom of Italy in 1937 that outlined the main characteristics required for all future civilian or military trucks. The Lancia 3Ro, fortunately, avoided being covered by the new laws, probably because the project was already almost finished in 1937.
This new law was passed for three main reasons:
Firstly, Italy was a rapidly growing nation with numerous companies producing dozens of different models of trucks. Standardization would lead companies to produce vehicles very similar to each other and with common parts, increasing the production capacity.
Secondly, there was also the problem of embargoes placed on Italy and the policy of autarky, or the aspiration of Italian leaders to be economically independent from foreign countries. Unified truck standards would certainly have helped to avoid wasting resources. An example was wheel rim size. After 1935, due the embargoes placed for the invasion of Ethiopia, Italy had little rubber with which to produce tires. If all the trucks had the same rim diameters and sizes, the companies that produced tires produced one-size tires adaptable on all trucks.
Thirdly, and probably the most important reason, was the unification of civilian and military truck standards, which meant that, in case of war, civilian trucks could be requisitioned for war needs.
With Regio Decreto (English: Royal Decree) N° 1809 of 14th July 1937, the so-called Autocarri Unificati (English: Unified Trucks) were born. For heavy trucks, the maximum weight did not to exceed 12,000 kg, of which at least 6,000 kg had to be of payload, with a diesel engine with a minimum road speed of 45 km/h. The ALFA Romeo 800 and FIAT 666N were the first trucks designed under the Regio Decreto N° 1809 rules.
This led Italian truckers to be reluctant to purchase this type of truck (the Autocarri Unificati rules also applied to medium trucks), as it was clear that, within a few years, the Kingdom of Italy would enter the war and, therefore, that FIAT 666N and ALFA Romeos would surely be requisitioned first. So, despite their better features, Italian truckers preferred to continue buying Lancia 3Ro or less performing vehicles that theoretically would not be requisitioned in case of war.
The Italian truckers nicknamed the Lancia 3Ro the ‘Lancia Trairò’, a pun between the Italian word ‘Traino’ (English: Towing), pronounced ‘Trài·no’, and the name of the vehicle, which in Italian is pronounced ‘Lancia Tré-Rò’.
Starting in 1940, fenders were painted white because of the regulations imposed by the so-called darkening laws. These rules dictated that motor vehicles and bicycles had to travel with their headlights partially covered to avoid being spotted by enemy planes that flew almost undisturbed in the Italian skies at night. The white band on the mudguards and on the hood made it possible to notice the few vehicles that were allowed to drive around at night.
The diagonal stripe painted on the radiator grille indicated the type of transportation license. If red, it was for the owner’s account, if white, for other individuals.
Like the Lancia Ro, the Lancia 3Ro was available in many special versions for civilian and army needs. It was produced as a standard duty truck, fuel or non-flammable liquid carrier, animal carrier, bus, and recovery truck.
Lancia also developed a methane gas-powered version of the Lancia Tipo 102, the 102G. It was used mainly in the bus versions (Factory code Serie P566), but a small series of standard Serie 464 were also equipped with this engine type and sold to companies that traded methane gas.
The version with a water or fuel tank was adopted for the Serie 464 and for the Serie 564, produced by Officine Viberti, with a capacity of 5,000 liters. It was mainly used in North Africa to transport fuel or water. A trailer with the same capacity produced by Officine Viberti could be attached to it, for a total of 10,000 liters. A civilian variant was also equipped with a Società Anonima Industriale di Verona fuel tank. These versions had an impressive fully loaded weight of more than 15 tonnes, about 6 tonnes for the empty truck, trailer of unknown weight, and 10 tonnes of water or other liquids.
Some Lancia 3Ros received some strange and relatively unknown special bodyworks. To give an example, in 1948, the Municipality of Pavia ordered an unknown number of Lancia 3Ros for the transportation of garbage bins. Is not clear if the Pavia Municipality asked for a specific model or if it was a decision taken by Lancia, but the vehicles that Lancia delivered were on the 3Ro P3 variant, specially developed for bus bodyworks. These became the first Lancia trucks with cab-forward configuration, 7 years before the appearance of the first ‘official’ cab-forward Lancia Veicoli Industriali’s truck, the prime mover Lancia Esatau A that entered in the market in 1955.
After the war, at least one Lancia 3Ro PL3 was converted into a food truck. Nothing is known about it, but it was probably converted from an old bus in the late 1950s or early 1960s. However, it seems it is a strange and curious homemade version.
Another interesting garbage variant of the Lancia 3Ro appeared in a scene of ‘Ladri di Biciclette’, an Italian film of 1948. In these scenes, at least 2 Lancia 3Ros of the Municipality of Rome that were used by dustmen are clearly visible. These particular vehicles had a rounded bodywork produced by an unknown workshop.
Officine Viberti also produced a small series of 3Ro Serie 464 with a towing hook and winch, meant to be used as recovery trucks. Some of these were used by the Trucchi company in the Turin countryside.
In 1939, Lancia Veicoli Industriali proposed the lowered chassis Lancia 3Ro P (P for Passo – Wheelbase), factory code Serie 266 and Lancia 3Ro PL (Passo Lungo, English: Longer Wheelbase) for the civilian market. These were 7,860 mm long compared to the 7,400 mm of the standard series.
These versions of the Lancia 3Ro were designed to tow a trailer in order to increase the passenger capacity. The Lancia 3Ro P, bodied by Officine Viberti, carried 32 passengers plus the driver, with the trailer taking the capacity to over 50 people. In 1940, 78 Lancia 3Ro P chassis rolled off the assembly lines, almost all bodied by Officine Viberti.
In 1942, Lancia Veicoli Industriali proposed a cab-over chassis version of the Lancia 3Ro called P3 (and P3L for the long wheelbase version), code Serie 466, of which 142 were produced. In parallel, a conventional engine forward chassis called Lancia 3Ro P2 (and P2L) was introduced. In total, 611 Lancia 3Ro were produced of the three Passo Lungo variants between 1939 and 1950.
The military model was only bodied by Officine Viberti. The following versions were produced: troop transport, animal or equipment transport, tractor for heavy artillery pieces (mainly 90 mm anti-aircraft cannons and 149 mm howitzers), quadruped carrier variant for cavalry divisions, mobile workshop, fuel and liquid carrier, ammunition carrier, tank transporter, and also truck-mounted artillery for a wide range of artillery pieces.
This model differed from the civilian version by having a length of 7.25 m and a width of 2.35 m, a wooden cargo bay, and 2 horizontal bars to protect the vertical radiator. On the upper bar, a white line was factory-painted, on which, after delivery, the army license plate was painted in red and black.
Other differences were an inertia starter motor under the radiator grille, doors with fixed windows, acetylene headlights on the sides of the windshield, a wooden floor, and only the rear side of the cargo bay openable.
The Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 was delivered starting in 1938, one year after the Serie 464 went into production. A prototype was produced and presented to the Centro Studi della Motorizzazione (English: Motorization Studies Center), the military department which examined new vehicles, in early 1938. After testing, it was quickly accepted into service in the Italian Regio Esercito as the Lancia 3Ro MNP (for Militare; Nafta; Pneumatici – Military, Diesel, Tires) version with standard tires and the Lancia 3Ro NMSP (for Militare; Nafta; SemiPneumatici – Military, Diesel, Solid Tires) with solid rubber tires. Apart from the difference in the type of tires, which changed the vehicle’s performance, the truck models were identical.
Each truck probably cost more than 65,000 Lira. This was the price for the earlier military variant of the Lancia Ro. In 1938, Lancia Veicoli Industriali planned that its maximum production rate would be 150 heavy-duty trucks (Ro and 3Ro) per month.
The unloaded weight was 5.61 tonnes for the Lancia 3Ro MNP and 5.89 tonnes for the Lancia 3Ro MNSP. The maximum speeds were 45 km/h for the MNP and 41.7 km/h for the MNSP.
According to Lancia sources, a total of:
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 Production
* Maximum production rate of 260 Lancia 3Ros per month
After three different bombing raids of the Lancia plant in Turin, in October 1942, production of the Lancia 3Ro was entrusted to the Lancia Veicoli Industriali plant in Bolzano, in the Trentino Alto Adige region, where it remained until the end of the war.
During the war, first the Royal Army and then the Germans and the Italian Social Republic requisitioned most of the civilian Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 to reuse them for military purposes. These are easy to identify due to their civilian-style cabs that differed from the military ones.
One of the main special variants was the Autofficina Mobile Modello 1938 (English: Mobile Workshop Model 1938). As the name suggests, these were standard Lancia 3Ro trucks equipped with tools and spare parts to repair Italian vehicles. These mobile workshops, composed of two trucks, one with machinery tools and the second with spare parts, were assigned to the Italian divisions and followed them on the front. After any battle, the damaged vehicles were transported to the rear lines, where the mechanics of the mobile workshops could repair them. The Lancia 3Ro were modified into mobile workshops by Officine Viberti but the number of vehicles converted was really limited. The Italian Royal Army preferred to use different vehicles, such as the old Lancia Ro. Apart from the prototype based on a Serie 564 MNSP, it seems that very few were produced. The few workshops produced remained in service after the war until the first years of the 1950s.
For operations in Africa, the Lancia 3Ro Tipo Libia (English: Libya Type) was created, even if it was probably produced in small numbers. It essentially was a standard Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 with the cab left open and without a windshield, windows, and roof. It had a water tarpaulin to protect the driver and vehicle’s commander. Another characteristic feature was the cargo bay’s walls, which were shorter than the standard 650 mm ones. It had a different radiator grille and it probably also had a fuel tank with more capacity to extend the range.
Another vehicle was the Lancia 3Ro fuel carrier or non-flammable liquid carrier. It was used mainly in North Africa as a fuel carrier. Its tank could carry a total of 5,000 liters of fuel or water. The liquid carrier truck could also tow a tank-trailer produced by Viberti or SAIV with the same capacity as the truck.
The fuel carrier variants were also extensively used by the Italian Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) and Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy) to refuel planes and warships.
For the transport of water or fuel, the Serie 546 could be equipped with two removable 2,000 liters tanks loaded on the cargo bay. These tanks did not require any modification to be fitted to the vehicle and were easy to remove, allowing the transport version to be even more versatile.
An example was converted into a mobile command office and donated to German Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, commander of the Deutsches Afrikakorps or DAK (English: German Africa Corps) in 1941. Unfortunately, not much is known about this variant. However, the Desert Fox did not appreciate its characteristics and, after a short use of the Lancia, changed vehicles and used an AEC ‘Dorchester’ 4×4 Armored Command Vehicle captured from the British forces.
Some Lancia 3Ros were modified by the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente near Genoa as ammunition carriers. These vehicles received box-shaped metal ammunition racks. Two different versions were created. The prototype had a single box of large dimensions, for a total of 210 90 mm rounds placed on the rear part of the cargo bay, permitting 8 gun crewmembers to take a seat on the front section. It was presented in March 1941, but the series models were slightly modified. The series variant had eight separate boxes with a total of 216 rounds. Between the boxes, placed on the sides of the cargo bay, a small corridor remained. There, a total of eight seats for soldiers were positioned.
These ammunition carriers were created to transport rounds for the Italian 90 mm Autocannoni (English: 90 mm Truck-mounted artillery) groups that were used in North Africa. A total of 64 Lancia 3Ro ammunition carriers were ordered by the Regio Esercito. It is not known if all were delivered.
During the war, a gasoline version of the engine was developed. This version was renamed Lancia Tipo 102B (B for Benzina – Gasoline). This engine was modified to work with cheaper and more available gasoline and delivered 91 hp. The majority of the 52 Lancia 3Ro produced for the Germans between 1944 and early 1945 were equipped with petrol engines. The Lancia Esarò (factory code Serie 627) medium truck, a ‘light’ version of the Lancia 3Ro developed in 1941, received an identical engine but with lower horsepower, the Tipo 102B, delivering 80 hp, coupled to the same transmission as the Lancia 3Ro. In 1946, 12 unfinished Lancia Esaròs received the Lancia Tipo 102 diesel, but giving out only 81 hp. In total, 398 Lancia 3Ros with petrol engines were produced during the war.
The Lancia 3Ro, in both military and civilian versions, could also tow two-axle trailers of the Rimorchi Unificati (English: Unified Trailers) type. These were produced under the same rules as the Autocarri Unificati. The Rimorchio Unificato Medio (English: Medium Unified Trailer) had a length of 4.585 m, a width of 2.15 m, a height of 1.75 m, an unloaded weight of 2.1 tonnes and a payload capacity of 5.4 tonnes for a total weight permitted by law of 7.5 tonnes. The Rimorchio Unificato Pesante (English: Heavy Unified Trailer) had a length of 6.157 m, a width of 2.295 m, and a height of 1.920 m. Its unloaded weight was 3.3 tonnes and had a payload capacity of 10.7 tonnes, for a total weight of 14 tonnes.
These trailers had twin wheels, a compressed air braking system connected to the cabin by flexible cables, a spare wheel, openable sides and, curiously, the triangular trailer connector could be mounted on the front or on the rear side in order to tow the trailer from both sides. These Rimorchi Unificati were produced by the ubiquitous Officine Viberti, Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche (English: Italian Company Ernesto Breda for Mechanical Constructions) or more simply Breda, Officine Meccaniche Umberto Piacenza (English: Umberto Piacenza Mechanical Workshops) of Cremona, Carrozzeria Orlandi of Modena, Carrozzeria Strafurtini, Carrozzeria Bartoletti of Forlì, and Sauro.
Before the war, the maximum weight of the Lancia 3Ro truck and trailer fully loaded was not to exceed 22 tonnes, 12 tonnes of the truck, and 10 tonnes of the trailer. After the war, the maximum came to 24 tonnes, 12 tonnes each.
During the war, Officine Viberti and Carrozzeria Bartoletti developed two different variants of Rimorchi a Ralla Unificati Grandi per Trasporto Carro M13 (English: Large Slewing Bearing Unified Trailers for M13 Tank Transport), more simply known as the Rimorchi Unificati da 15T (English: 15-tonne payload Unified Trailers) developed for tank transport.
Carrozzeria Strafurtini and Officine Viberti also developed a particular type of trailer that was discarded by the Italian Royal Army after long tests due to difficulties in production. This delayed the start of production of the Rimorchi Unificati da 15T, for which the Viberti ones won the contract. In fact, the Viberti trailer was accepted in service only on 24th March 1942.
The Viberti trailers had a payload of 15 tonnes and were designed specifically to be towed by heavy trucks for the transport of medium tanks and self-propelled guns. These two-axle trailers had a 5.7 m length, 2.4 m width, height of 2.02 m, and an unloaded weight of 3.75 tonnes, with a maximum total weight of 18.75 tonnes.
It could carry any tank of the ‘M’ series (M13/40, M14/41 or M15/42) and any self-propelled gun on their chassis (Semovente M40, M41 or M42 da 75/18) for a total weight of loaded truck and loaded trailer of almost 30 tonnes. Even if not fully loaded, the Lancia 3Ro could tow even 2 or three trailers at the same time. In fact, it was possible to correct the turning radius of the trailers to allow several trailers to be towed together by a single truck.
The Lancia 3Ro was probably also capable of towing the Rimorchio Porta Carri Armati P40 (English: P40 Tank Trailer), with a length of 13.6 m, a width of 2.76 m, a height of 0.5 m, an unloaded weight of 10.26 tonnes and a payload capacity of 30 tonnes. The Italian Regia Aeronautica (English: Royal Air Force) and Italian Regia Marina (English: Royal Navy) also used some Lancia 3Ro to tow some airplane trailers or to transports bombs or torpedoes to the airfield.
Brief Operational Service
The Lancia 3Ro, in civilian and military variants, had great off-road capabilities. In North Africa, due to these characteristics, it earned the nickname ‘Re del Deserto’ (English: King of the Desert).
The Lancias were assigned mainly to the autoreparti pesanti (English: heavy vehicles units) assigned to logistic units and usually transported ammunition, food, and other supplies from ports (for North Africa) or railway stations (for the Russian and Balkan fronts) to the front line, which could be several hundred kilometers away.
The 34° Autoreparto Pesante (English: 34th Heavy Vehicles Unit), assigned to the 2° Autoraggruppamento (English: 2nd Motorized Group) deployed in the Soviet Union, had the task of connecting the battlefront with the rear line. When it arrived from Italy, it had a total of 3,160 trucks and, in a few months, from 1st July 1942 to 31st December 1942, it lost 883 trucks, 28% of the total, to various causes.
Each Italian division had some heavy-duty trucks to tow the artillery pieces or the tanks of the division. The exact number of heavy-duty trucks changed for each division type. An armored division had a theoretical number of 246 heavy-duty trucks, which theoretically increased to 258 in June 1942. In 1942, an Italian motorized division had in service a theoretical number of 861 trucks (light, medium, and heavy), prime movers, and staff cars. The 101ª Divisione Motorizzata ‘Trieste’ (English: 101st Motorized Division) had 61 heavy duty trucks of all variants during the same year. An infantry division in North Africa had a theoretical organic strength of 127 heavy trucks, 28 SPA Dovunque medium trucks, and 72 FIAT-SPA TL37 light prime movers.
During the Second World War, many Lancia 3Ros were abandoned during the catastrophic Axis retreats in the Soviet Union and North Africa. Sometimes, these were fully operative trucks abandoned for lack of fuel or other parts. The Allied troops, particularly the British, reused them due to their robustness, power, and load capacity. There were trucks captured and reused by the Soviets in the Soviet Union as well.
On the Russian front, the Lancia 3Ro was mainly used for the transport of materials of the Alpine divisions of the Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia (English: Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia) that was then renamed ARMata Italiana in Russia or ARMIR (English: Italian Army in Russia). In this campaign, it proved to be a reliable vehicle. Even during the harsh Russian winters, the engine was reliable and performed well in very low temperatures that did not allow other Italian and German vehicles to move.
Some Italian veterans claim that the Soviet soldiers usually destroyed all the logistical vehicles that they captured from the Axis troops during the Don Offensive and the subsequent retreat from Russia, ramming over them or shooting them with tanks. Eventually, however, they began to appreciate the qualities of some vehicles, putting the Lancia 3Ro and FIAT 626 that they were able to capture back into service, while destroying the Opel Blitz and FIAT 634N, which they considered performed less well.
In North Africa, the Lancia was one of the most common heavy duty trucks of the Italian Royal Army, used for all tasks.
Due to the delay in the delivery of tank trailers, they were often used to tow tanks that were damaged or had mechanical failures. This task put strain on the trucks due to the sheer size of the tanks.
German, Partisan, and Repubblica Sociale Italiana Service
After 8th September 1943 and the armistice with the Allies, Lancia Veicoli Industriali stopped production until Germans entered the Bolzano and Turin plants, transforming them into ‘War Auxiliary Factories’. The production was quickly resumed and the Lancia 3Ros were built for the Germans and kept the same bodywork until order 7967/8153. This order, dated 5th April 1944, provided for the delivery of 100 trucks with the Einheits (English: Unity) cabs.
This cab, designed by the Germans, was made of hardboard planks on a parallelepiped wooden frame. It was very easy to mass produce, cheap, and adaptable to many Italian trucks, such as the FIAT 626, the SPA TM40, and the Lancia 3Ro.
According to German sources, the German Army Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht, and Kriegsmarine branches, but also the Todt Organization and Polizei units put back into service a total of 772 Lancia 3Ro between January 1944 and February 1945. These numbers are far more than the production declared by Lancia in the same period, 52 were produced between 1944 and 1945.
It can be assumed that the German sources were in error, and 772 did not represent the vehicles that were newly delivered by Lancia Veicoli Industriali, but trucks that had previously belonged to the Italian Regio Esercito or private companies and were requisitioned or captured by the Germans. All Lancia 3Ros were assigned to units under the command of the Oberkommando Sud-Est, commanding the Balkans, and Oberkommando Sud-Ouest, commanding Italy.
During the German occupation, 10 gas-powered Lancia 3Ro GT (GT for Gassificatore Tedesco – German Gasifier), factory code Serie 564 GT, were also produced. These trucks were like the ones produced with the Lancia Tipo 102G engine, but were instead equipped with a German-built gasifier and the Einheits cab.
Some were retained by Lancia Veicoli Industriali, which used them to connect its plants of Turin, Bolzano, Cismon del Grappa, and Padova. The drivers transported men, materials, and information to supply the various Italian Partisan units from Piemonte to Trentino Alto Adige regions and vice versa.
Some units of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI (English: Italian Social Republic), the Italian Fascist Republic created in late September 1943, and some Partisan brigades also used the Lancia 3Ro during the bloody civil war that broke out in northern Italy between 1943 and 1945. The Repubblica Sociale Italiana had its regular army, called Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR (English: National Republican Army), and its military police, the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR (English: National Republican Guard).
In Turin, in April 1944, not only the workers but the managers of the Turin plants made a deal with the Partisans to supply the fighters with lubricants, fuel, spare parts, financial assistance and, in some cases, also some entire vehicles. The numbers of vehicles delivered are not known. There were no new Lancia 3Ros supplied because they were being produced in Bolzano, but spare parts for such vehicles may have been delivered to the Partisans from the Turin plant.
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group), one of the better-equipped units of the RSI, had a total of 60 Lancia 3Ros in its ranks during its operational life. All were produced before the Armistice. Some other units were equipped with Lancia 3Ros, such as the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ (English: 1st Black Brigade) of Turin, the 36ª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’ (English: 36th Black Brigade) of Lucca, and the Comando Provinciale GNR (English: Provincial Command of GNR) of Piacenza. The vehicles of these units were also produced before the Armistice.
Armed and Armored Versions
Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro
The Lancia 3Ro heavy duty truck was also extensively used for truck-mounted artillery vehicles, such as the Autocannone da 100/17 su Lancia 3Ro (English: 100 mm L.17 truck-mounted artillery on Lancia 3Ro chassis). This was a standard Lancia truck modified by the workshops of the 12° Autoraggruppamento Africa Settentrionale (English: 12th North African Motorized Grouping). The cab was modified, removing the roof and windshield and adding a support in the center of the cargo bay, on which a Obice da 100/17 Modello 1914 gun was mounted. It was also equipped with two 50-round racks behind the cab and optionally a 8 mm Breda machine gun for anti-aircraft defense. In total, only 16 were converted. The first four were assigned to the 14ª Batteria Autonoma (English: 14th Autonomous Battery) that supported the 132ª Divisione corazzata ‘Ariete’ (English: 132nd Armored Division), but they were destroyed by friendly fire on 1st December 1941.
The last 12 produced, assigned to another three batteries, were assigned to the Raggruppamento Celere Africa Settentrionale (English: North Africa Fast Regroupment) in early 1942. In January 1943, the surviving vehicles were assigned to the 136ª Divisione Corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’ (English: 136th Armored Division) until their total destruction.
Autocannoni da 47/32 su Lancia 3Ro and Lancia 3Ro armed with Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935
Another two guns mounted in North Africa on the Lancia 3Ros were the Cannone da 47/32 Modello 1935 support gun and the Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 anti-aircraft gun. Usually, the Lancias were left unmodified and these guns were loaded in their cargo bays thanks to the 11 m² area, which could accommodate the gun, the gun crew and some ammunition. The Autocannoni da 47/32 su Lancia 3Ro used by the IV° Battaglione Controcarro Autocarrato ‘Granatieri di Sardegna’ (English: 4th Motorized Anti-Tank Battalion) were modified, removing the cargo bay’s sides and mounting the guns on a 360° traverse support.
Autocannone da 90/53 Lancia 3Ro
The only officially produced autocannoni on Lancia 3Ro chassis were the ones armed with the powerful 90 mm Cannone da 90/53 Modello 1939. They were modified by the Ansaldo-Fossati Plant in Genoa to mount the powerful 90 mm anti-aircraft gun.
These autocannoni were developed for anti-aircraft and anti-tank purposes and 120 were converted, 30 on the Lancia 3Ro chassis and 90 on the Breda 52 chassis.
These vehicles were assigned to 12 Groups with 2 batteries each, used in North Africa and Southern Italy. These vehicles had some problems caused by the heaviness of the gun and the recoil stress. In order to deal with these, the chassis was reinforced and manual jacks were adopted to lift the vehicle off the ground.
The increase in weight of the vehicle decreased the already moderate speed of these heavy trucks and the manual jacks forced the crew to exert a high physical effort and increased the times to get ready to fire and to leave the fire position, especially in dangerous situations.
GNR Armored Vehicles
The armored variants were improvised vehicles. All of the known ones were produced in workshops by Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana units.
The most famous one was the Lancia 3Ro Blindato of the 36ª Brigata Nera ‘Natale Piacentini’, modified by Arsenale di Piacenza (English: Arsenal of Piacenza). This was an armored truck equipped with a Cannone-Mitragliera Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini da 20/70 Modello 1939 on a 360° rotating turret, an 8 mm Breda Modello 1937 medium machine gun in a spherical support in the cab and two 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 medium machine guns in spherical supports on the sides.
It was only used in anti-partisan operations, first in Piacenza and then in Turin’s countryside. This armored truck became more known after the events of 25th April 1945, when there was a great Partisan insurrection. All the Italian Partisans of Northern Italy entered the main cities, such as Milan, Turin, and Genoa, occupying the main buildings and principal infrastructure, preventing German sabotage and waiting for the Allied arrival. The Lancia 3Ro Blindato, together with other vehicles full of Fascist militias, tried to reach Valtellina to surrender to Allied forces.
On 26th April, the 36ª Brigata Nera joined a convoy of Republican forces (178 trucks, 4,636 soldiers, and 346 female auxiliaries) that was moving to Como. From Como, the brigade and the Lancia 3Ro Blindato moved to Menaggio to escort Benito Mussolini to Merano. During the night of 26th to 27th April, a column of German Luftwaffe FlaK units arrived in Menaggio, which, along with the Italian vehicles, resumed the march to Merano, with the Lancia at the head of the column.
Inside of the armored behemoth, together with the crew, were transported Benito Mussolini, his lover Clara Petacci, and some military and political Fascist leaders.
On the same day, the column was stopped on the highway that runs along Lake Como at a checkpoint of the 52ª Brigata Garibaldi ‘Luigi Clerici’ (English: 52nd Partisan Brigade). The partisans only allowed the German trucks and FlaK cannons to continue, so Mussolini, dressed as a German soldier, got into a German Opel Blitz, which turned onto the road to Merano. The armored truck was then involved in a firefight between the Fascist and Partisan forces. During the skirmish, it was damaged and abandoned.
Other armored vehicles on the Lancia chassis are less known and only few details are known. The first one was used by the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Turin. It was armed with a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 on the cargo bay and had armored plates on the sides. The second one was used by the 630ª Compagnia Ordine Pubblico (English: 630th Public Order Company) of Piacenza. The only thing that is known about this vehicle is that it was armored. Nothing is known about the service or fate of these two vehicles.
Post-War Lancia 3Ros
In late 1945, the Bolzano plant and probably also the Turin one resumed the production of the Lancia 3Ro, both for the civilian market and for the army.
Initially, very different models grouped under the factory code Serie 564 NT and commercial name Lancia 3Ro NT. They first came off the assembly line in early 1946. These vehicles were hybrids between Serie 464 and old German production Serie 564. This was because, after the war, the warehouses of Bolzano contained dozens of incomplete trucks or parts for the military versions. In order to not waste time, they restarted production of trucks with these parts diverted for the production of civilian versions. These odd vehicles had military chassis, gasoline engines replacing the diesels, and elongated axle shafts, since the civilian version was wider than the military version (2.5 m instead of 2.35 m). In these vehicles, even for the civilian trucks, only the windshield was mounted. The side and rear windows were rarely mounted, substituted by waterproof tarpaulins or transparent materials. This was done because little glass produced at the time was delivered with priority to the construction companies that were rebuilding buildings in Italian cities.
In 1946, a new model came out, the Lancia 3Ro C (C for Conformità – Conformity), factory code Serie 564C. It had an electric starter, a new servo-braking system of more modern conception and a ‘full floating’ rear axle instead of the load-bearing axle shafts. It was followed after a year by the Lancia 3Ro C2 (factory code Serie 564C/2) with reinforced tires.
In the table below are the total production numbers of Lancia 3Ro trucks in all variants. These numbers come from the Lancia Archives, in which it was not specified which company bodyworked the vehicle. In the Serie 564, the Lancia 3Ro converted into ammunition carriers and Autocannoni are also counted.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 464
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564
Lancia 3Ro MB
Lancia 3Ro GT Serie 564 GT
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 NT
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 C
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 C/2
1937 – 1945
1938 – 1948
1943 – 1944
1943 – 1944
1945 – 1946
1947 – 1948
Number of vehicles produced
1,884 in total
Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp
Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp
Lancia Tipo 102B, 5-cylinder, petrol, 91 hp
Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp
Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp
Max trailer weight
over 10,000 kg
The Lancia 3Ro C versions remained in production until 1948, bodied mainly by Officine Viberti along with Orlandi and Caproni. The military versions were only bodied by Officine Viberti. In mid-1947, the Lancia Esatau, factory code Serie 846, came into production. This new powerful vehicle developed on the basis of the Lancia 3Ro entered production to replace it. It was equipped with a 122 hp Lancia engine and had a top speed of 58 km/h.
This vehicle did not receive the attention that was hoped for due to poor power, range, and overall costs.
In Italy, after the war, the Azienda Recupero Alienazione Residuati or ARAR (English: Company of Recovery and Alienation Survey) was entrusted with the task of reconditioning and selling military vehicles confiscated from the enemy or abandoned by the Allied armies on Italian territory after the Second World War. This led many truckers at the time to prefer to buy cheaper second-hand military trucks (of any nationality) at lower prices than a new expensive vehicle.
Some of the reconditioned vehicles sold by the Azienda Recupero Alienazione Residuati were Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 which were sold to companies, the Italian Police Corps, and private customers that used them, in some cases, until the early 1970s.
The father of the author of the article, who became a mechanic specializing in repairing truck brakes in 1975, recounted he had the opportunity to repair Lancia 3Ros in his early years of work in the city of Turin. Obviously, the 3Ro was totally obsolete after more than 30 years of service, but it was still adequate for carrying out secondary jobs, such as working as a snow plow vehicle or service truck for the Municipality of Turin, which used it to transport food in case of natural disasters, to transport the gigantic Christmas tree that was put in the center of the main square of Turin every year, and to transport the masons of the municipality to construction sites.
Surprisingly, when the Esatau was presented, many truckers preferred the old Lancia 3Ro to the Esatau, and Lancia was forced to produce them for another year and a half, until 1948. The early Esatau models were then upgraded with more powerful engines and other small modifications that lowered the overall costs. The first variant of Lancia Esatau and its military version, called Lancia 6Ro, were quickly replaced by other heavy-duty truck models with more powerful engines and overall better characteristics.
The last 3P and 3PL buses based on the Lancia 3Ro came off the assembly line of the Lancia plant in Bolzano in 1950. That year, the Lancia 3Ro definitively disappeared from the sales catalog of Lancia Veicoli Industriali. The Lancia 3Ro remained in service with the new Esercito Italiano (English: Italian Army) until 1964 as a medium truck, maintaining a high mobility and load capacity, outclassing even modern US-built vehicles produced in the 1950s.
Lancia 3Ro compared to other Lancia Veicoli Industriali vehicles produced post-war
Lancia 3Ro Serie 464 C and C/2
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564
Lancia Esatau Serie 864
Lancia 6Ro Serie 864 M
Lancia Esatau Serie 864 A
1946 – 1948
1938 – 1948
1947 – 1953
1949 – 1958
1955 – 1957
Number of vehicles produced
3,894 (all variants)
Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp
Lancia Tipo 102, 5-cylinder, diesel, 93 hp
Lancia Tipo 864, 6-cylinder, diesel, 122 hp
Lancia Tipo 864, 6-cylinder, diesel, 122 hp
Lancia Tipo 864, 6-cylinder, diesel, 132 hp
51.9 – 58.9 km/h
7.255 – 7.52 m
Max trailer weight
over 10,000 kg
The Lancia 3Ro was one of the best heavy-duty trucks produced in the Kingdom of Italy between the late 1930s and late 1940s. Although there were vehicles with superior features, the Lancia was the perfect combination of power, cargo capacity, and, most importantly, cost. It was one of the trucks preferred by Italian truckers for its ease of driving and low fuel consumption. It continued to be produced after the war and saw service for many years after.
With its military variants, it proved to be almost unstoppable, being used on all fronts with very few complaints from the military truck drivers, who used it for every task. Even opposing armies appreciated it, and when they managed to capture one in good condition, they immediately put it back into service with a new coat of arms.
Lancia 3Ro Serie 564 specifications
7.25 x 2.35 x 3 m
3 in the cab
Engine: Lancia Tipo 102 diesel, 5-cylinder, 6,875 cm³, 93 hp at 1,860 rpm with 135 liter fuel tank
After the Italian armistice of 8th September 1943, the armored cars, as the rest of the Italian armored fighting vehicles, were captured by the Germans. The Germans reused them in the Balkans, France, and Italy itself, while a few were recovered by the newly founded Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (English: National Republican Army) and the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: National Republican Guard) of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (English: Italian Social Republic).
After the fall of Tunisia in May 1943, the Italian Fascist Government began to fragment due to the loss of public support caused by the continued military defeats and the hardships civilians had to endure.
On 25th July 1943, the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele III alongside some Royal Army officers and Fascist politicians took over control of the country. Benito Mussolini was arrested on charges of having dragged Italy into the war.
For more than two months, the Kingdom of Italy continued the war fighting the Allied powers, but under a new Monarchical government with Marshal Pietro Badoglio as prime minister.
In late August, Badoglio initiated negotiations for an armistice with the Allies. On 3rd September 1943, the Cassibile Armistice was signed and it went into effect at 19:42 on 8th September 1943.
Italian troops were taken by surprise by the Armistice announcement and were left without orders while the German troops expected these actions and quickly activated Fall Achse (English: Operation Axis). Between 8th to 23rd September 1943, German soldiers managed to kill 29,000 Italian soldiers and captured more than a million others. In addition, the Germans captured over 1.3 millions of rifles, machine guns and submachine guns, 17,058 mortar, anti-tanks, anti-aircrafts and field artillery pieces, 16,631 trucks, cars and motorcycles, and 977 armored fighting vehicles.
During Fall Achse, on 12th September 1943, a group of German Fallschirmjäger performed a daring action, Fall Eiche (English: Operation Oak), freeing Mussolini from prison. On 23rd September 1943, with German backing, he created, in the German-occupied Italian territories, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI.
The Medium Armored Car AutoBlindo Modello 1941 (English: Armored Car Model 1941), or more simply AB41, was the most produced Italian armored car model during the war with 667 built. It was arguably one of the best-armored cars produced during the Second World War.
The AB41 was armed with a 20 mm Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 automatic cannon produced by Società Italiana Ernesto Breda per Costruzioni Meccaniche (English Italian Ernesto Breda Company for Mechanical Constructions). Secondary armament consisted of two 8 mm Breda Modello 1938 medium machine guns, one coaxial and one in a spherical support on the rear of the vehicle.
It was developed as a long range reconnaissance vehicle and had an operational range of 400 km thanks to the 195 liters of petrol and a maximum velocity on roads of 80 km/h. The AB41 had a double driving position, one at the front and one at the rear, allowing the armored car to be driven by two different drivers that could take the control only by lowering a lever. This permitted this fast armored car to quickly disengage from an enemy skirmish in narrow mountain roads and village roads. had an all-drive and all-steering wheels system, giving the vehicle excellent off-road performance.
The crew was composed of a commander/gunner, front driver, rear driver, and machine gunner/radio operator. The AB41 was also equipped with a powerful 60 km range radio with a 7 meters fully extended antenna on the left side.
Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano
The Regio Esercito, which had ceased to exist on 8th September, was replaced by the new Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano or ENR . The Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano had some AB41 armored cars in its ranks.
The first action of these armored cars for the RSI was in September 1943, when the ENR had not yet officially been created. Tank crews of the 31° Reggimento Fanteria Carrista (English: 31st Tank Crew Infantry Regiment), loyal to Benito Mussolini, took part in the actions of the 118. Jäger-Division (English: 118th Light Infantry Division) in Podgorica (modern-day Montenegro). These armored cars were the survivors of the XL Battaglione Bersaglieri Corazzato.
The armored cars were then assigned to the Plotone Autoblindo (English: Armored Car Platoon) and used in escort and patrol roles.
Gruppo Corazzato ‘San Giusto’
Four AB41s were used by the Gruppo Squadroni Corazzati ‘San Giusto’ (English: Armored Squadrons Group). These armored cars were delivered by the Germans in Gorizia and were assigned to the Plotone Autoblindo of the Squadrone Comando (English: Command Squadron. The AB41s were used by the unit to escort columns of military trucks or in anti-partisan operations.
On 31st May 1944, two armored cars were destroyed in a partisan ambush near Dobraule di Santa Croce. A FIAT 665NM Scudato armored personnel carrier was also destroyed in this engagement. The last two AB41s were still in service on 8th April 1945, when the last existing documents of the unit mention the armored cars in its ranks. One was deployed at Ruppa to help the local garrison, while the last one was subject to problems, probably lacking a trained crew, and was left in storage at the unit’s headquarters in Mariano del Friuli.
Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani
The Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani or RAP (English: Anti-Partisans Group) was created in summer 1944 in Turin. It consisted of four Battaglioni ‘Arditi’ (English: Arditi Battalions – Arditi in Italian literally means ‘The Daring [Ones]’). The 1° Battaglione had Bersaglieri (Italian assault infantry) and the 2° Battaglione had Alpini (mountain troops). There were also an artillery group, a cavalry group, and an engineer battalion. This unit had the task of fighting the partisans in the valleys near the city of Turin. The Partisans had managed to increasingly strike at valuable targets during the night. They also contacted factory workers with the aim of organizing strikes and protests.
In late 1944, the unit was equipped with an AB41 delivered by the German Aufstellung-Süd (English: Lineup-South). It was taken from the Deposito di Caselle (English: Caselle Depot) and assigned to the Compagnia Esplorante (English: Reconnaissance Company) of the Group. On 2nd November 1944, the RAP, together with the AB41, participated in the assault on the city of Alba, which was occupied by a substantial Partisan force.
The fate of the RAP’s armored car is unknown. It was probably present during the fight against the Partisans in Cisterna d’Asti on 6th April 1945 where the unit lost its L6/40 due to a mechanical failure and a Lancia Lince captured intact by the Partisans. Some sources claim that the AB41 was destroyed in that fight, while others claim that during that action against the Partisans, only an AB41 was damaged and it was one of the ‘Leonessa’.
During the Partisan uprising in the city of Turin, the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani was deployed to defend the city and their L3 light tanks were used, but nothing is known about the armored car.
The surviving vehicles of the unit left Turin the night between 27th and 28th April 1945, reaching Strambino Romano where they surrendered to US troops on 5th May.
Some damaged vehicles were left in the barrack of Via Arsenale in Turin, the unit’s headquarters.
Other ENR Usage
The Nucleo Esplorante (English: Reconnaissance Squad) of the Plotone Cavalleria da Combattimento (English: Combat Cavalry Platoon) of the Raggruppamento ‘Cacciatori degli Appennini’ received an unknown number of armored cars, some sources claim six, of which one was probably an AB41, while the others were of German origin. The 27° Deposito Misto (English: 27th Mixed Depot) in Verona had 2 AB41s, but their service is unknown.
Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana and Camicie Nere
On 23rd September 1943, together with the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano, the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana or GNR was also created. This was, theoretically, a military police corps but, in fact, acted as a second-line army countering the actions of partisan units.
On 26th June 1944, the Corpo Ausiliario delle Squadre d’Azione delle Camicie Nere (English: Auxiliary Corps of the Action Squads of the Black Shirts), better known as the ‘Camicie Nere’ (English: Black Shirt) or ‘Brigate Nere’ (English: Black Brigades), were constituted and put under the control of the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana. These units were assigned to each city to maintain public order and to counter partisan actions.
These second-line units, due to the lack of vehicles and the desperate situation of the Axis troops in the last years of war, were equipped with few armored vehicles.
Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ (English: Armored Group) was an exception. In fact, this GNR unit, first based in Brescia and, from January 1944, in Turin, was the largest of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana between 1943 and 1945. It grouped as many as 18 AB41s in its ranks in the 18 months of its existence. Some sources claim that the ‘Leonessa’ also had some AB43s, but there is no photographic evidence of this.
On 25th February 1945, the unit still had 12 armored cars in service. It is not known if this refers only to the AB41s or to all the armored wheeled vehicles, including the Carrozzeria Speciale su SPA-Viberti AS43.
The 18 armored cars were recovered from various military depots from late September 1943 to January 1944. They were used in the various detachments of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ in Emilia, Lombardia, Romagna and Piemonte. The AB41s deployed in Lombardia were used to escort columns of supply trucks from Milan to Bergamo and Brescia and to patrol the Valtellina roads to prevent Partisan ambushes and sabotage.
In Piacenza, the 3ª Compagnia of the ‘Leonessa’ arrived on 2nd January 1945, with 7 officers, 113 NCOs and soldiers, an M15/42 medium tank, an L6/40 light tank, 3 L3 light tanks, 2 AB41s, and 10 armored personnel carriers. The unit was tasked with defending the few oil wells of the Azienda Generale Italiana Petroli or AGIP (English: General Italian Oil Company) and supported anti-partisan operations in Val Trebbia and in the Piacenza Apennines. In February, the 4ª Compagnia, with 2 AB41s, was also sent to Piacenza as a reinforcement for the 3ª Compagnia.
One of these armored cars was deployed at Valleia, together with a platoon of the 4ª Compagnia, under the command of Sub-Brigadier Nazzarri. This unit was forced to retreat in late-February, joining the garrison of Gropparello. In Gropparello, 24 soldiers of the 3ª Compagnia of the ‘Leonessa’, together with the soldiers of the platoon from Valleia, were surrounded by partisans. These attacked the medieval castle where the Fascists had barricaded themselves with a 47/32 cannon, forcing them to surrender. When the soldiers surrendered on 2nd March 1945, the Partisans captured the AB41 and an armored personnel carrier.
On 4th March 1945, some reinforcements arrived in Gropparello and the Partisans were forced to run away and the vehicles were recaptured. On 20th April 1945, the general order to retreat further north was received, and all the garrisoned cities were abandoned with the help of trucks escorted by an AB41, bringing the remnants of the unit to Piacenza.
From 15th April 1945, the garrisons farthest from Piacenza were evacuated to avoid partisan attacks. The only AB41 of the ‘Leonessa’ in working condition in the Piacenza region was deployed to escort the trucks that transported the soldiers to Piacenza. The armored car was commanded by Legionnaire Medoro Minetti.
At some point between 16th April to 20th April, the armored car was attacked by a US ground attack plane. The armored car hid itself in a bomb crater on the road and the Allied plane, after a brief attack, returned back from where it came. When the airplane disappeared, the armored car restarted its journey, but when coming out of the crater, the differential broke. The armored car was then towed by a truck to Piacenza, where the mechanics had to inform Legionnaire Minetti that the damage was not repairable in Piacenza because of a lack of spare parts.
On 23rd April 1945, when the Fascist forces left Piacenza, Minetti left the city on board his armored car, towed by the other AB41 of the ‘Leonessa’. It arrived in San Rocco al Porto where it waited for three days to be loaded in a ferry that transported the armored car on the other side of the Po River. On the night of 25th and 26th April 1945, Legionnaire Minetti received the order to return to Piacenza with his armored car. He reached the city, now towed by a Lancia 3Ro heavy duty truck, at 07:00 on 26th April.
In the province of Turin, where the majority of the armored cars (10) were deployed, some AB41s supported dozens of Italian or German anti-partisan operations in the Val di Susa. They supported the attack on De Gaulle’s Free French forces, which tried to occupy the 3,130 m high Batteria dello Chaberton fort on Mont Chaberton.
In March 1944, an AB41 of the ‘Leonessa’ was used, together with about 500 soldiers of the Battaglione ‘Debica’ of the Italienische Waffenverbände der SS (English: Italian SS Weapons Units), against the Partisan’s IV Brigata Partigiana ‘Pisacane’ (English: 4th Partisan Brigade) in the Valle Lucerna, near Pinerolo.
On 21st March 1944, an AB41 commanded by Second Lieutenant Valerio Cappelli, with driver Equilio Cerri, and radio operator Mario Bonomi, and 50 militants of the ‘Leonessa’ were deployed in Val Chisone and Val Pellice on anti-partisan duties. During a patrol, the Partisans managed to separate the armored car and a medium tank (the only two vehicles of the patrol) from the rest of the soldiers using an explosion. The vehicles were then attacked with hand grenades and improvised explosive devices thrown from above. The AB41 was hit and fell, ending up in a creek. The three crew members died in the incident.
After March 1944, the 1ª Compagnia and 2ª Compagnia, deployed in Turin, operated almost every day against the Partisan brigades in the sector, breaking through their roadblocks towards the Valle d’Aosta and Valle di Susa.
Between 10th and 18th May 1944, an AB41 commanded by Second Lieutenant Raffaele Cocomello was deployed during Operazione Habicht, an anti-partisan operation between Val Susa, Val Chisone, and Valle del Sangone. The armored car was under the orders of Oberstleutenant Weiss, the commander of the SS-Polizei-Regiment 15 (English: 15th SS Police Regiment), and was used as a liaison and escort vehicle.
The first public appearance of the unit was on 23rd May 1944, when some vehicles of the ‘Leonessa’, including at least one AB41, participated in a parade from the Porta Nuova train station to Piazza Castello, Turin’s main square together with other Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ equipment.
On 28th May 1944, a vast anti-partisan operation in the area north of Turin started, called Operation Hamburg, and the ‘Leonessa’ took part in it. A company-seized force of the Gruppo Corazzato, with two tanks and two armored cars (models not specified), were deployed.
In June 1944, the continuous arrival of volunteer soldiers and the recovery of armored vehicles allowed the reorganization of the two companies. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ was now composed of the 1ª Compagnia Carri (English: 1st Tanks Company) equipped with tanks, 2ª Compagnia Autoblindo (English: 2nd Armored Car Company) equipped with armored cars and autoprotette (equivalent for English: armored personnel carriers), and the 3ª Compagnia Arditi (English: 3rd Arditi Company) with infantry.
A company-seized force with 5 tanks of the ‘M’ series and 10 AB41s was used to reoccupy Asti and Val d’Ossola in Autumn 1944. In the same period, an AB41 was detached to Novara, where it was assigned temporarily to the Brigata Nera ‘Cristina’ that extensively used the vehicle in anti-partisan actions.
A propaganda film of Italian Istituto Luce showing Fascist and Italian SS soldiers from the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (italienische Nr. 1) (English: 29th SS Mechanized Division Division (Italian No. 1)) during on 1st June 1944. It also shows one of the six PaK 40 anti-tank gun of the Brigata SS Italiana (English: Italian SS Brigate) of Pinerolo.
The AB41 shown in the video was from the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ as the coat of arms on the turret rear suggests.
In the book ‘…Come il Diamante, I Carristi Italiani 1943-45’ the authors Marco Nava and Sergio Corbatti mention that this video was taken during Operazione ‘Nachtigall’ (English: Operation Nightingale) anti-partisan operation.
Between 29th July and 20th August 1944, two AB41s and some tanks were used in an anti-partisan operation between Val Susa, Val Chisone, and Valle del Sangone, called Operazione ‘Nachtigall’. An AB41 was used against a roadblock in Perrero on 7th August 1944 created by the Partisans to block the road for the Germanasca Valley to the ‘Leonessa’ units supported by the Kampfgruppe ‘Celebrano’ of the 29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (italienische Nr. 1).
From 5th September to 15th September, Operazione Straßburg took place. When the operation was completed, an AB41 was placed at the town hall of Viù, near Germaniano in Val di Susa. The armored car had been immobilized by the launch of improvised explosive devices and the wounded and terrified crew had barricaded themselves inside. Only the intervention of the Italian SS allowed the soldiers to be evacuated and hospitalized, but the car could not be repaired.
A platoon from the 1ª Compagnia of Turin, with 2 AB41s and three M14/41 medium tanks from the 2ª Compagnia, were used during the reoccupation of Alba, near Cuneo, on 2nd November 1944.
On 21st February 1945, two AB41s, 2 M13/40 medium tanks, and some armored personnel carriers took part in an anti-partisan operation in the Villanova d’Asti region. The last major clashes between the ‘Leonessa’ and the Partisans took place in March 1945.
One of these actions, started on 6th March 1945, had the objective of reoccupying the towns of Cisterna d’Asti and Santo Stefano Roero, captured in the previous days by the Partisans that also sabotaged the Genoa to Turin railway.
In Santo Stefano Roero, between 8th and 9th March, a column composed of a platoon of the 1ª Compagnia Carri and two platoons of the 3ª Compagnia Arditi equipped with a SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta and one AB41 (in the book 1^ Brigata Nera “Ather Capelli”: Una documentazione writer Marco Nava mentions the presence of two AB41s of the unit, maybe one was of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani).
Some units from the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani with a Lancia Lince scout car, about 80 militiamen of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ (English: 1st Black Brigade), a company of the Battaglione Ordine Pubblico (English: Public Order Battalion) of Turin, the Compagnia Arditi Sciatori (English: Arditi Skiers Company), and 25 soldiers of the Distaccamento ‘Umberto Cumero’ of the Xª Divisione MAS (English: 10th MAS Division) for a total of about 350 soldiers and auxiliaries was ambushed by about 1,000 Partisans. The partisan units were: 6ª Divisione Autonoma Alpina ‘Asti’ (English: 6th Alpine Mountain Division) with three brigades, Divisione Matteotti ‘Tre Confini’ (Matteotti Division) composed of socialist Partisans with five brigades, and 103ª Brigata Garibaldi ‘Rolandino’ (English: 103rd Garibaldi Division) composed of communist Partisans.
The AB41 commanded by Lieutenant Fossati was the leading vehicle of the column, followed by a FIAT 666NM truck with a trailer full of militiamen, Lieutenant Berneschi’s SPA-Viberti AS43 Autoprotetta, and some more trucks full of soldiers and a Lancia Lince scout car of the Raggruppamento Anti Partigiani.
The bullets pierced one of the AB41’s tires, while the FIAT 666NM behind was set alight, with many of the soldiers on board killed. Lieutenant Fossati was wounded by a ricocheting bullet as he got out of the armored car trying to repair the pierced tire. In the afternoon, with the help of some artillery pieces of the RAP which had arrived from Turin, the two towns were occupied by the Fascist forces. In the fighting on 8th March, 9 Fascist soldiers were killed and 32 were wounded, while the Partisans suffered only minor losses.
On 23rd March 1945, the AB41s took part in the last Fascist parade in Turin’s streets. They shared the fate of the Fascist troops in the city. After 24th April 1945, some tanks were deployed to protect strategic points in the city, while the armored cars were used to patrol the streets and as a reserve to launch counterattacks. On 26th April 1945, the Partisans attacked the city, occupying the town hall, the railway stations, some manufacturing plants, and the Prefecture of Turin, which was protected by two M13/40 tanks and an AB41.
Tanks and armored cars in the city were used to counterattack the Partisan forces. Around 18:00 the same day, 4 tanks, 3 armored cars (models unknown), a platoon of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’, and one of the I Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ attacked and recaptured the barracks on Cernaia Street, the headquarters of the Black Brigade. The intervention of an ‘M’ series tank and an AB41 armored car made it possible to regain control of the town hall and free Podestà (Major) Michele Fassio. For the rest of the night, two armored cars (again, the models are unknown) and 5 tanks continued to patrol the part of the city still in Fascist hands. It was clear that it was impossible to repel the Partisans, so the Fascist command in Turin decided to resist to the bitter end, hoping for the arrival of Anglo-American troops to surrender to them.
On 27th April 1945, an armored car escorted a truck of the 1ª Brigata Nera ‘Ather Capelli’ to the Casa Littoria, the headquarters of the Italian Fascist Party of Turin, at Carlo Alberto Street number 10. There, a group of Avanguardisti of the ‘Fiamme Bianche’ (English: White Flames) had barricaded themselves in for unknown reasons. The Avanguardisti were 14 to 18 years olds who voluntarily joined the RSI troops but, being too young, were not assigned to front line units. The armored car (of unknown model) managed to provide adequate supporting fire, helping evacuate all the young men from the building, escorting them to safety at the Caserma Cernaia barrack.
The situation worsened by the minute so, at 01:40 on April 28th 1945, all the surviving Fascist forces in the city, about 5,000 soldiers, gathered in Piazza Castello and fled towards Lombardia to gather at the “Ridotto Alpino Repubblicano” (English: Republican Alpine Gathering). The protection of the column of trucks was entrusted to the tanks and armored cars of the Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’. The column reached Valtellina and waited with about 10,000 more men until 5th May 1945, when they surrendered to Anglo-American troops.
Two of the Gruppo Corazzato’s armored cars were captured by the Partisans in the Caserma ‘Cavalli’ barrack on 1st May 1945, along with a medium tank and a P26/40.
Other GNR Units
Two AB41s were deployed to Brescia and then, on 26th April 1945, they reached Bergamo, where the Batteria Leggera Motorizzata (English. Light Motorized Battery) was deployed. One of the two armored cars broke its rear axle shaft and it was impossible to repair it in a short time, so it was set on fire by its crew. The surviving armored car (which some veterans claim was an AB43) joined the column that had to reach Valtellina from Bergamo, where all the forces still faithful to Mussolini would form the last resistance to the Allied forces. During the night march (in order to avoid Allied air attacks) the AB lost the rest of the column and reached Como, where it was blocked and captured by the Partisans.
The Comando Provinciale della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana (English: Provincial Command of the GNR) in Varese had in its ranks an AB41 armored car recovered somewhere in its territory by the commander of the Compagnia Comando (English: Company Command), Captain Michaud. Used to escort convoys, in September 1944, it was meant to be used in an anti-partisan operation in Val d’Ossola, but it was unable to because of a mechanical failure, brought back to Varese for repairs, and then given to another GNR unit.
In the first months after September 1943, the Battaglione ‘M’ ‘9 Settembre’ (English: ‘M’ Battalion 9th September), one of Mussolini’s most loyal units (they fought after 9th September 1943 along with the Germans), had in its ranks an AB41. During its operations with the Bansen Battalion of the 2. Regiment of the Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg, another 5 AB41 armored cars were put in service with this unit. The unit was used by the Germans as an anti-partisan unit in the rear of the Gustav Defensive Line.
Afterward, it was sent to the rear of the Ortona, where it carried out more anti-partisan activities. Before the transfer to the province of Macerata, the Battalion was formally disbanded from the Brandenburg Division and officially accepted in the Republican Army of the RSI with the denomination of I° Battaglione ‘M’ Camicie Nere ‘IX Settembre’ (English: 1st M Black Brigade Battalion). In the Marche region, the unit established its headquarters in Camerino and carried out some counter-partisan operations together with Kampfgruppe Hettinger of the 3. Regiment of the Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg.
After the breakthrough at Cassino, the unit withdrew and, passing through Pesaro and Castrocaro, reached Val d’Aosta on 20th September. After a short operational period, the Battalion followed the destiny of the Brandenburg Division, on which it still depended, and fought for the defense of the Reich in East Prussia until January 1945. The armored cars were destroyed by Allied ground attack planes near Vittorio Veneto during the return to Italy on 29th and 30th April 1945.
The Brigata Nera Mobile ‘Attilio Pappalardo’ (English: Mobile Black Brigade) of Bologna had four AB41s assigned to the Compagnia Corazzata ‘Tupin’ commanded by Captain Cortonesi. During 1944, the streets of Emilia Romagna were crossed weekly by German and Italian convoys heading to the front and were threatened by attacks and ambushes. The brigade kept the roads safe and had the reputation of being the most ruthless Black Brigade in Italy.
In late summer 1944, 2 AB41s of the Black Brigade, under Cortonesi’s command, were deployed in Novara to act as personal bodyguards of Prefect Vezzalini. On 25th April 1945, the part of the ‘Tupin’ (in Emilian dialect Mouses) deployed in Novara tried to reach Como with 2 AB41s and a truck. They attempted to reach Mussolini’s column of vehicles towards Valtellina, but were blocked by Partisans on a narrow mountain road.
Camouflage and Markings
The AB41s of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana in some cases received some particular camouflages. The Gruppo Corazzato ‘San Giusto’ covered the original Kaki Sahariano Chiaro (English: Light Saharan Khaki) monochrome scheme of its armored cars with medium brown and dark green wavy stripes.
The Raggruppamento Anti partigiani covered its armored car with a similar three-tone scheme but with different types of stripes and with a small flag of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana on the superstructure’s side.
The Gruppo Corazzato ‘Leonessa’ AB41s were painted in Kaki Sahariano Chiaro until mid-1944 when they were repainted with a three-tone camouflage scheme with dark green and reddish brown spots. The coat of arms was the red ‘m’ intersected by a lictorian beams and with the acronym GNR painted in red. These were applied on the superstructure’s sides, turret rear, and front fenders. When they received the new camouflage scheme, the coat of arms were covered in some vehicles.
The AB41 of the Comando Provinciale della Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana received unusual dark green and reddish brown spots painted on the original khaki camouflage.
Some of the AB41s of the I° Battaglione ‘M’ Camicie Nere ‘IX Settembre’ received a German-style splintered scheme with defined outlined three-tone camouflage. It can be noticed in a few photos, for example, the one of the soldier with the MG42 in front of the armored car. The colors were probably the original Kaki Sahariano Chiaro and gray-green with brown stripes. The numbers on the turret were painted in red with white outlines.
In a photo of 28th March 1944, Lieutenant Colacino, commander of the I° Battaglione ‘M’ Camicie Nere ‘IX Settembre’ poses near an AB41 in the Marche region. The vehicle was painted in standard Kaki Sahariano Chiaro. This makes us presume that not all the armored cars were painted with a German-style camouflage even if we do not have the certainty that this armored car belonged to the unit.
The AB41 medium armored car was a great reconnaissance vehicle that demonstrated its performance also with poorly trained and equipped troops of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana that used it almost exclusively in anti-partisans and escorting operations. The majority of the AB41 armored cars in service with the RSI were recovered from Regio Esercito and were slowly repaired to be used by the new Fascist units loyal to Benito Mussolini.
5.20 x 1.92 x 2.48 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready
4 (front driver, rear driver, machine gunner/loader, and vehicle commander/gunner)
FIAT-SPA 6-cylinder petrol, 88 hp with 195 liters tank
Road Speed: 80 km/h
Off-Road Speed: 50 km/h
Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 (456 rounds) and Two Breda Modello 1938 8 x 59 mm medium machine guns (1992 rounds)
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